The question of how to get over a breakup is an old one. Unfortunately, no magic wand can make your feelings disappear when it comes to relationship dissolution. People often feel distress as they question who they are and what it means to move forward without their partner (2). Just take New Girl’s Jessica Day, who copes with her breakup by watching Dirty Dancing for days on end. While it’s tempting to process heartbreak in Jess-fashion, relationship dissolution doesn’t have to involve a sense of loss. Instead, it can be an opportunity for growth. 

Because our identities become intertwined throughout a relationship, you may want to shed anything you shared with a partner — just as Jess storms into her ex’s house to reclaim her possessions. Psychologists define self-concept as a person’s sense of self, including physical appearances, attitudes, and attributes (2). When you undergo a breakup, you might change aspects of yourself associated with the relationship by cutting your hair and taking up new hobbies (self-concept content change), or feel confused about aspects you considered a core part of you (self-concept clarity) (2). One study asked participants to reflect on a recent breakup, examining self-concept change through blogs and questionnaires (2). They found that individuals changed aspects of themselves, felt less clear about their identity, and used fewer words to describe themselves post-breakup (2). A reduced sense of self ultimately predicted emotional distress (2). It seems we can’t blame Jess for over-playing a predictable movie in a time of self-confusion.

Re-imagining your sense of self takes time. While you can’t wave a wand, there are ways to speed the healing process. A separate study divided subjects into four conditions (novel/nonnovel/interesting/uninteresting), labeling bricks with novel activities, such as going bowling (1). By pulling bricks towards themselves, participants integrated novel experiences into their identity (1). They found that novel experiences, which had nothing to do with relationships, increased individuals’ sense of self (1). The study provided experimental evidence that self-growth does not need to include a romantic partner and that even mental representations of novel experiences can positively influence your self-concept (1). Jessica Day may not have read the study, but she certainly took its advice, accepting Schmidt’s offer to take her out for the first time. 

A third study examined positive life changes that follow relationship dissolution. The study looked at college students to understand the impact of non-marital breakups on relationship skills, measuring growth, distress, and personality, among other factors (3). Researchers found that reported self-growth was common after a breakup, with person types of growth (such as improving personal traits) most reported through statements like “I learned to admit when I was wrong” (3). Environmental types of growth were also found, such as better family relationships and schoolwork achievement and changes in relational factors like improved communication (3).

They also found that agreeableness was uniquely correlated with more personal growth (3). Despite the Dirty Dancing movie-marathon, it seems that easy-going Jess will be just fine with the help of her apartment mates — who support Jess by singing to her in a public restaurant. Though Jess initially experiences self-confusion following her breakup, she ultimately grows into a more confident and ambitious woman who finds a more satisfying relationship with Nick. Relationship dissolution doesn’t have to be all bad — it just takes a positive outlook and willingness to explore new things without that special someone.


1. Mattingly, B. A., & Lewandowski, G. W. (2013). Expanding the Self Brick by brick. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(4), 484–490. 

2. Slotter, E. B., Gardner, W. L., & Finkel, E. J. (2009). Who am I without you? the influence of romantic breakup on the self-concept. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(2), 147–160. 

3. Tashiro, T., & Frazier, P. (2003). “I’ll never be in a relationship like that again”: Personal growth following romantic relationship breakups. Personal Relationships, 10(1), 113–128. 

4 Replies to “Understanding Relationship Dissolution Through New Girl’s Jessica Day

  1. I really enjoyed your article! I really like how you gave concrete examples of what Jess did post-breakup that was self-expanding, and that reflected confusion of self-image as it made the concepts you described even clearer. I think it would also be interesting to do a larger analysis of all of Jess’s relationships throughout the series to see her coping with her various breakups and see if how she manages each incident reveals how important that relationship was to her and her self-image.

  2. I loved reading this post, especially with the opening example from New Girl (I love New Girl!!). The various studies you brought in were all informative, and as Lita put it, very optimistic which I also really appreciated. I really love how you focus on how individuals can grow after a break up, and how break ups can improve personal traits. This blog post is very insightful and shines light on the growth that can come from a very devastating event in life.

  3. The optimism within this article is very refreshing, especially how you explain the abundant possibilities for self-growth after a breakup. To me, it seems like new experiences and embracing life outside the relationship is very important to move on, though, as the previous comment says, one must first get over the initial hurdle of being consumed by the other person.

  4. I think throughout, and explicitly at the end, you make it clear that self-growth is indeed possible when following something as devastating (to the self) as a breakup, as long as people can get over the hurdle of dwelling over the person you once shared a lot with; the extra studies you bring in support this point very well. I haven’t watched New Girl, but I nonetheless like how you bring Jessica’s situation into your point.

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