Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight
Hirsh '92 offers step-by-step advice for surviving a breakup
in her new book.
Delphine Hirsh '92
helps you get through the hurt
Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,
the saying goes, and Delphine Hirsh '92 definitely agrees. In her
book The Girls' Guide to Surviving a Breakup (St. Martin's Press),
Hirsh, a history major at Princeton who worked for several nonprofits
after graduation and now lives in Los Angeles, dispenses plenty
of advice for girls whose guys give them the boot and offers uplifting
fare to get love-shocked self-esteem back in shape. Her guide gives
specific advice on how to get through the first few hours, the first
month, and the next six by healing the hurt, pampering one's self,
and then looking to the future. Interspersed throughout are stories
from the frontlines both her own and from her friends
as well as end-of-chapter self-checks on progress and lighthearted
suggestions for additional support. Currently at work on a novel
and caring for her infant son, Hirsh spoke with PAW contributor
What inspired you to write this book?
The book is really a love letter to some of my friends and my former
self. I was looking for a book to give as a gift that was serious,
funny, and true to our experiences about the end of relationships
and couldn't find one. ... I feel like there are a lot of people
out there giving advice that's dated and retro and antiwoman. They
are offering advice that sounds familiar and plays on familiar fears
but that doesn't make it relevant to our lives. The world has changed,
I think for the better.
But don't women's magazines and self-help books cover this?
Is it really so different today than in years past?
The nature of romance has changed dramatically since the '60s.
Most of us are having more serious intimate relationships with men
that end before marriage. That's new. My grandmother would never,
never have considered living with someone before marriage. In my
parent's generation, that wasn't acceptable either. Today it's commonplace.
So men and women alike are negotiating romantic loss that's serious
but doesn't have a name like "divorce," and there is a
lot less material about it on the self-help shelves. I want to say,
though, that there is an upside to all these changes women
in the U.S. today are freer than women have ever been, possibly
in the history of the world.
There's a cultural change we're undergoing. ... For someone facing
romantic loss, it's helpful for her to know there are a lot of things
they can control. And, while it's hard to keep in mind when you
are dealing with such a personal situation, it's also worth considering
that with the changes of the last 40 years, women have gained a
lot of opportunities including the right to be who they want to
be and marry someone of their own choosing.
How did your Princeton years influence you in writing this
I loved Princeton and had an awesome experience there. I remember
bringing a novel of Joyce Carol Oates's to her to have autographed
and she made a comment that I took to heart: "Don't study creative
writing. Study something where you'll learn stories. You'll have
time to learn how to write when you have more experience and more
stories to write about." That worked out fine because I thought
I was going to law school then so I studied American history and
Afro-American studies. I was lucky enough to take a small class
with Toni Morrison, among other great classes. But, in general,
you could say that I was a student of human nature while at school.
In some ways a section called "Freedom Baby" is the
most important section of the book to me and definitely ties into
the social history that I studied at Princeton with professors like
Sean Wilentz, Gary Gerstle, Nell Painter, and Charles Brinkley.
Are the women you mention real girlfriends?
They're composites. The stories are real but I wanted to respect
their privacy. All my girlfriends had a chance to read the manuscript
and were comfortable with it before the book came out. They had
a lot of input, too, both in contributions and in edits.
How about the advice. Did you really decontaminate your living
spaces by going through them and dumping all boyfriend-related paraphernalia
into manila envelopes? Keep a break-up journal? Lie about taking
a day off from work?
I am crazy for manila envelopes so that one is all me. I keep a
journal so the idea for a break-up journal just seemed natural to
me.... I've kept a journal throughout my life. It's clarifying,
comforting, and helpful, especially in dealing with hardships. My
college roommate, Priscilla Glickman '92, died before our senior
year. That was my first real experience with grief that was unexpected
and immediate. There are tools you can learn to cope with grief
of one kind that can help you with another kind. And lying your
way out of work? I don't think I know a person who hasn't done that
at one time.
Why did you include the quizzes at the end of each chapter
and the lists, such as Top Five Movies to Distract You and Top Five
Marriage Myths, in your book?
The quizzes, which are quickie mental health checks, and the lists
were really to keep the book zippy and provide further distraction
from dwelling on the ex, calling him or possibly keying his car.
What kind of promotion and feedback have you gotten since the
book's been out?
I've done two talk shows, the Jenny Jones show, which was a nightmare,
and The Other Half, which is hosted by four guys, including Dick
Clark. It was surreal to be interviewed by Dick Clark! They both
had studio audiences, which was nerve wracking for me. I also have
been interviewed by Cosmopolitan, Australian Vogue, Seventeen, and
newspapers in Cincinnati and Denver. The book's been featured in
Complete Woman and Playgirl, too. It's incredibly flattering to
have interest shown by total strangers. But the most exciting thing
for me has been the e-mail response. The e-mails have been personal
and touching and it's gratifying to think that the book made someone
feel better. Some of the messages I've received are serious: one
woman e-mailed me to thank me and shared her personal story
she was two months pregnant and her boyfriend of four years just
left her. Another woman said the book's advice stopped her from
torching her ex-boyfriend's trailer! Definitely a good thing.
You're married and a new mother. Is your husband in the book?
My husband makes a brief appearance in the fantasy section of the
book. I was madly in love with him when he left for tour (he's a
musician) and broke my heart. Three years later, we got back together
and got married but I don't mention that in the book because it
seemed like the wrong message to be giving a potential reader who
is trying to accept the break-up at hand. There is, however, a section
later in the book about things to think about if you are considering
getting back together with an ex, which, like most of the book,
was based on personal experience.
Have you heard from any ex-boyfriends?
How about from guy friends?
I have a lot of guy friends, but this is really about the female
experience. I think culturally women still have the tougher time
with break-ups because of the expectation about marriage and having
children. There's a certain framework, timeline, which women have
to work with. It's expected that women want to be in a relationship
and want to get married. But for men it's different. A bachelor
party is a celebration of the end of a life stage for them. I don't
say I agree with this, but culturally I think it's still there.
What do you hope your readers will come away with after finishing
What I hope readers will come away with is that I'm optimistic
about the future of romance. Even though there are more break-ups,
it's an exciting time to be a woman. Some writers are telling women
that they should act less "modern" if they want to find
love and get married. I'm definitely not saying that. I'm saying
be who you are, don't feel like you have to play by old rules, and
don't romanticize the experience of the women before us. Trust yourself
because we are making history.
Is the endorsement on the back of the book really from Liz
Yes. I worked with Elizabeth at the American Foundation for AIDS
Research for years and when I thought about getting a blurb for
the book I thought, who knows more about break-ups than Elizabeth?
I was, of course, thrilled to get her stamp of approval.