Heartbreak Then, Heartbreak Now

When we were younger, and our heart breaks, it felt like the end of the world–as if the ground would open up and swallow us whole in chaos.

When we are older, we know that the world will not end and that indeed, life goes on. But with age, so does our pain mature in that the feeling of hurt is rooted in reality. The reality is that as days pass, we are psychologically compelled to forget and mend ourselves.

In this sense, our heart heals but instead we are introduced to a new type of pain. This pain does not grab you in one fell swoop, but rather gnaws at you with numbing persistence. The sorrow in understanding that what once was beautiful no longer exists, and continues to fade. The disappointment in knowing with every morning, it will continue to become a distant memory, in knowing that it will be replaced. There is pain in wondering how something and someone who made us so happy could become nothing more than a faint imprint on our lives. The pain in not wanting to let it go, but having no other choice.

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Freedom on a Friday Morning

I took the bus into work yesterday and seeing how it was Friday, decided to skip filling my tumbler with coffee from home in lieu of a quick stop at a downtown Starbucks. The thrill of Friday was definitely in the air, paired with the uncharacteristic upbeat music playing in the coffee shop. Walking through the streets of Seattle with my iced latte in hand, I realized that since purposely avoiding the downtown scene for the past few years, the people of this city have become increasingly fashionable and trendy.

Watching the people bustling to work that morning made me also realize that for the first time in a while, I felt a small sense of joy. I’m not sure if it was because I was living vicariously through the strangers passing me on the street–each dressed to the nines, and undoubtedly ready to power through the work day in time for cocktails–but I felt and embraced the liveliness.

Being in a relationship made me a suburban homebody, and perhaps a part of me missed the exhilaration of that carefree, city life. I’m not sure if it was the joy that brought on the sadness, or whether it was standing in the shadows all along, but I suddenly felt an overwhelming wave of emotion as I got closer to work. I did not think it was possible to feel both joy and sadness at the same time.

For some reason, catching myself in a state of happiness after being miserable for the past few months brought on a catharsis. I found myself sad that I was happy. I was sad that I was able to finally see the good in a world without him. I was sad that in that moment, I did not care about where he was, or what he was doing. I was sad to realize that I could go on.

Deep down, however, I know that I have outgrown the fast-paced, mile-a-minute lifestyle filled with grande americanos in the morning and vodka sodas in the evening. I know that these had been replaced by something deeper and more meaningful. But on that Friday morning, I remembered what it was like to be happy, if only for a moment.

The Race to the Bottom

Who can move on the fastest? Who is more miserable? Who is better at pretending they are okay and well-adjusted? Which one of us can still look at the world with the same refreshing optimism?

Off the heels of a break-up, I feel like this is the unspoken competition that couples embark on. Which one of us can sweep our relationship under the rug best? It is a sad commentary on the way people view emotions and the depth of our time with someone. A series of beautiful memories are reduced to a thing we should quickly get rid of, because who wants to be the last one wallowing?

When I was younger, I felt no shame in being transparent with my feelings–elation, sadness, joy. When I was sad, I spoke brazenly about how much my heart hurt on whatever form of social media was available at the time (ie: Xanga, facebook before it was widely used). I posted lyrics or quotes that un-subtly hinted at my pain, or shared songs that outlined my heartbreak. I was unafraid of how I would be perceived and relieved to let out my emotions. I was young and naive.

Then I grew up, as did the avenues of social media, and I realized how pouring out your hurt is perceived as weakness and pitiful. I realized that in today’s swipe-left, swipe-right, attention deficit society, dwelling on our emotional injuries is seen as abnormal and irrational. Moving on is seen as a positive, self-affirming action. It means you know your worth, and recognize your value.

So I did what most people did: hid all remnants of me and you and never once hinted at the pain I was going through. No sad lyrics, or provocative quotes, no mention of you, or us. Everything calculated to ensure that no one could construe that anything was wrong, that I gave you a second thought, or that you still lingered in my dreams.  And it sucks.

But here is the thing that no body knows…Our relationship is something I never wanted to pretend didn’t happen, to be swept under the rug, to be forgotten. It happened, it was the happiest I’d ever been in my life and it makes me sick to my stomach to act otherwise. My love for you was never some flippant decision, and my heart was never something freely distributed.

S.O.P.

There is a protocol that exists when we experience a break up, apparently. First, we cry and it’s socially acceptable to do so. Then, we’re supposed to look within ourselves for happiness. We are obligated to “find ourselves” again, and find joy in being alone. If we can’t be alone, then we must be broken, so we’ll need to take this time to rediscover and fix ourselves–we have to “love ourselves before we can truly love others.” We are told to sweep our memories under the rug, because he obviously wasn’t Mr. Right if things have gone so horribly wrong. We are supposed to think about all the negatives instead of idealizing and obsessing over the positive aspects of the relationship. Stop clinging onto the memories, because they obviously weren’t that great if it ended in heartbreak right? We are told to channel our energy into doing the things we love, and find inner peace in being single. And then we are told that it will be difficult, but we need to stop crying, because it is no longer okay or healthy to wallow so long. When “we are ready,” we should start dating again and keep our hearts open.

Let me be blatantly honest: this is a bunch of shit. Yes, perhaps this applies to some women. These types of articles are about empowering yourself to climb out of the rubble; to learn from mistakes and mend broken hearts, to vilify him so we can feel better about no longer being together. Yes, perhaps if you came out of a relationship where you fought all the time, where you treated each other like crap, lacked respect and understanding or were overtly codependent.

But it is entirely possible that we already knew ourselves when we entered the relationship. What if we were already strong, independent women before him, we were already content being single…but we wanted more. What if we wanted what everyone inevitably wants out of life–to share it with someone? What if we had already learned much of life’s hard lessons, already experienced the feeling of loss over and over again, yet still managed to keep our hearts open? What if the relationship was not toxic or abusive? What if the positive aspects of the relationship outweighed the negative? What if the happiest moments of your life were a result of the relationship? What if the relationship made you a better person?

How do we then overcome the feeling of grief? We know our inner strength, we know our own worth, we know about letting go, we know we should occupy ourselves with hobbies and surround ourselves with friends and family. We know it’s a part of life. We know all that. This is for the women who love themselves, who know what it means to be with and without. This is for the women who are smart enough to know they should move on, but also understand that there was a profound value and significance to the relationship.

This is to say that it’s okay. When you have a firm grasp of yourself, you know your limits and capabilities. You know more than the repetitive insert-a-number step guides to getting over him, because you know yourself. The real comfort is in knowing what you felt was real, despite any other circumstances. You were true to yourself, and to him. You loved deeply and with intention. You loved him when he drove a rusted Ford Contour, when he spent his food stamps to buy groceries to make you a romantic dinner on one of your first dates, when he opted for a kiss on the forehead after your first meeting. You loved him when he set aside his discomfort to spend time with your family, when he offered to pay for half of your new laptop (but you declined), when he planned a Marvel movie marathon, and bought two-player video games just so you could play together.

That love is real, un-replaceable and unforgettable. Getting over this break-up is not so much about finding myself as it is about taking comfort in knowing that I loved him wholeheartedly, purely and without malice, or ill-intention. It’s in knowing that I don’t seek vengeance, or retaliation, that I loved him in a way that was sincere and true to who I was. This is the real way to accept what you cannot accept–to face it head on.