Single survival

Why everybody needs a broken heart

You may think you don’t know what it’s like to have a broken heart if you’ve never had one, but, if you’ve ever been in love, that’s not true.

The beginnings of love and a broken heart are quite similar – cruelly so. The gut-wrenching feeling of not being able to eat or sleep or function without thinking of someone? Present and correct. The difference is that when you’re in love, you know it’s only going to get better. With a broken heart, you have no such guarantee.

Many people would think of being heartbroken as a negative thing and while it’s happening to you it certainly feels that way, but in fact having your heart destroyed is probably the best thing that can happen to you in the long run – it makes you more human. And once you’ve had a broken heart of your own, you feel much less keen to give one to somebody else.

I remember the first time I broke somebody’s heart. His face told of utter desolation and chaos; he drank a lot; there were tears. I felt devastated too, but strangely detached from it all because it had been my decision. And I’d never truly felt the pain of brokenheartedness, so while I acknowledged the sadness and wished I could make it all better, in no way could I fully understand what this man was going through. But I was about to learn.

The first thing I did when I moved out of the home I had shared with my boyfriend of eight years was make a huge mistake. I was definite the breakup was the best thing for both of us – and nothing has changed my mind about that – and I thought the best thing for me to do was throw myself straight into dating. So far, so cold. The real clanger was, after going on my second date ever in my life, hurling myself headlong into a turbo-charged relationship that was only ever going to end one way – and it came sooner than I thought.

Ignacio, late 20s and from Mexico, seemed exotic and interesting, which I suppose he was, but his main USP? He happened to be the first man I’d kissed since my breakup, and a spell was cast over me. I assumed it was a fairy godmother working her magic with an enchantment of love – I’d never imagined it would be the wicked queen granting me stupidity and short-sightedness.

Ignacio was young and laid-back and vague and not looking for anything serious. He had broken up with somebody mere days before we went on our date and did, in the early days, make a few comments about things moving very fast, but I ignored them because, as a huge control-freak, I reasoned I could turn things around because… well, that’s what I thought I wanted.

To say I made a fool of myself in this ‘relationship’ is an understatement. I still, all these years later, cringe with embarrassment at my neediness and stupidity. While my ex still reeled from our breakup, I insensitively ploughed on regardless, trying to make something out of nothing with a man who certainly liked me, but was never going to love me. What I really needed was to be single, but I didn’t know how, so I clung to the nearest rock as the ocean lapped at my chin.

I didn’t love Ignacio either, of course, but was carried away in the very idea – to a mortifying degree. Perhaps missing the familiarity I’d had with my ex, I talked to and about Ignacio as if we’d been a couple for ever, when we were barely three weeks in. Painful.

I sulked if I couldn’t see him, would gush about him to my friends (who rightly assumed I had lost my mind) and generally ignored every warning sign that this was a disastrous rebound that was going to destroy me. I was having tea on a level crossing. Rome was burning; I fiddled on and on and on.

Eventually, about two months in, Ignacio pulled the plug. He said he couldn’t be himself with me, which was quite telling as, if I really thought about it, I had felt the same. I didn’t know who I was; I was a bad photocopy, redrawn from memory.

He had been on his way over to mine for a bike ride – I mean, this is how far gone I was; I considered getting on a bike for him – when he’d had a flash of clarity and realised we weren’t meant to be together. He was right, of course, but I refused to admit it to myself, pretending this was a bolt out of blue and not what was going to happen all along.

And so an unfamiliar feeling set in. Panic. Disbelief. Anguish. I wanted answers, but he wouldn’t meet me or reply to texts or calls. I wandered from room to room in my depressing bachelor pad, biting my nails to the quick, wondering what I’d done or said. Was it because I didn’t like cycling? Had I taken things too fast? Was I no good in bed? Was he leaving me to get back with his ex? All but one of those questions remained unanswered for ever. All he would say was that I was a nice guy and was his “kind of Hugh grant” – God bless that pathetic RP of mine – but wanted to end it. And that was it. I realised, all too slowly, I’d never see him again.

That night, I went to a fancy-dress party, dressed as a pirate. Dreadful outfit aside, the photos from that night paint a desperate picture. My eyes are dead, my face ashen. My smile is Joker-wide but empty. A broken heart, then, I suppose. Broken only because I didn’t get what I thought I wanted.

But of course that’s not what really broke my heart – I’d known him two minutes. What actually ripped me in two was the realisation that if I had been feeling this way after a mere eight weeks of ridiculous infatuation, how must my ex have been feeling after eight years of actual love?

I felt like a louse, and the feeling wouldn’t go away. Even up to a couple of years later, I would remember that feeling and what I’d done and would have to go to the office loo and sit and cry it out. I didn’t want to go back, and my ex was now perfectly happy with someone else, but I’d never be able to undo the way I did what I’d done – and that, quite rightly, broke my heart.

I was glad to suffer; I’d definitely earned it. The burn of my tears felt appropriate and I endured them without complaint. And the eight weeks of rebound ridiculousness with Ignacio paid dividends. I never got so ahead of myself again, from then on approaching dating and relationships with a realism and possibly a coldness that has faded only fairly recently. And, perhaps best and worst of all, Ignacio’s rebuff was the catalyst for starting this very blog.

The end of this half-hearted affair, teamed with horrific guilt at how I’d ended my own relationship, brought my head back into balance. And I resolved not to lose it again and, crucially, not to be purposefully shitty to people.

I may have come close to breaking those resolutions a few times, and men may have shed a tear or two after receiving the “thanks but no thanks” text from me (though also very likely not), but I’ve never let it get so far that I’ve broken somebody’s heart.

So I’m glad my heartbreak happened when it did, early on enough for me to realise it wasn’t just my feelings that mattered.

If you’ve been heartbroken, you’ll know what I mean and if you haven’t? Well, just pray that when your time comes it’s swift and fixable – and that it comes before you break too many hearts yourself.

Postscript: My ex and I are still the best of friends and he’s very happily in a relationship with someone else. Ignacio and I became friends a few months after the breakup and we too are both very happy – with other people. Which is exactly as it should be.

Image: Thomas Hawk on Flickr

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  1. I know what you mean. I broke up with my first boyfriend,because he was clingy and jelous and I couldn’t get much freedom I needed in that relationship. We weren’t meant to be together, but I was so cruel to him when we broke up! I still feel terrible about it. But I was young and selfish.
    the relationship I had after (even my divorce)didn’t necessarily broke my heart in that sense. Usually, it was just a mutual thing, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t leave me heartbroken. If I ever need to break up with someone, I will remember to be more considerate.

  2. […] I was coming out an eight-year relationship when I moved house and my fragile state shows in unpacked boxes I have had to look in for the first time in five years. Books I must have known I would never read, old notepads filled with “just popped out” or “I love you” messages between me and my ex and, amid the valentines, birthday cards from dead relatives and pictures my little sister used to send me, an old Greggs bag. […]

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