Tag Archives: break-ups

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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A beginner’s guide to breaking it off: The phone call

My recent post on dumping someone by text proved to be pretty divisive. It seems that many people prefer a face-to-face break-up or, at the very least, a phone call.

It’s a common fallacy that bad news like this is better in person, or coming from a disembodied voice at the end of a telephone. Perhaps it seems more personal, or means more, because it’s perceived that tapping in a few digits, then delivering a knockout blow over the phone and waiting distractedly for the stunned reply, in some way takes more effort or is more respectful than sending a carefully worded text (or email if you’re feeling jazzy or are Christopher Ewing in Dallas).

While I believe texting the kiss-off can empower the recipient much more than a surprise attack via a voice call – at least then the dumpee can think about crafting a response rather than blurting out hysterical reactions they will almost certainly regret later – I’ll give the humble telephone the attention it deserves as a device for despatching paramours.

Pick your time carefully
When guys and gals in the ’60s and ’70s used the phone to chuck their lover under the bus, they had to rely on the landline, that dinosaur of the telecommunication age, to deliver the dismissal. That meant having a vague idea of when their future ex would be home and, if they were kind and considerate (which you really should be unless ending a toxic or abusive relationship), whether they would have anyone around them to comfort them. Now, of course, we have mobile phones – or ‘cells’ if you’re reading this somewhere exciting like Manhattan or, erm, Anchorage – so you can get your dump on any time you like.

Even though your unfortunate dumpee is always contactable, keep your head in the 1960s. Nobody wants to be in the supermarket or at a club when they receive the news that the chords of their parachute into lifelong companionship have been severed. Nor do they want to be in the middle of dinner, arguing with their mum, on the toilet, appearing on reality television (my long overdue sympathies to Kevin Federline there) or at work when the news comes through.

Before you make THE call, you need to find out where they are. So, either send a text (see, even the heartless SMS has a role to play here) to see what they’re up to, or give them a short call, before inventing some distraction which means you’ll have to phone back later. You do, of course, run the risk of spooking them if you act distracted or sound ready to deploy your weapons of mass rejection right here and now. Keep this text or call fairly light. Save the plummeting anvil for the main event. No need to stress them out unnecessarily before you end it. Kindness is key.

I don’t know how to say this…
Well, you really should. Starting off by saying that you’re not sure what to say is a total cop-out, because it leaves the recipient in a brief state of frenzy. Are you going to announce a death? Reveal a lottery win? Tell them you have met someone else? Confess to a bank robbery? If you can’t find the exact words straight away, do some stalling – and drop a few clues along the way – with a slightly more telling “Look, I’ve been thinking…” and make sure you say this in a SAD voice and are somewhere quiet, not in the queue for a bar with all your friends.

There’ll then be a brief pause while the cogs whirr in your almost-ex’s mind. You should struggle on, however, and say things aren’t really working out for you and that you think you should both break up. Yes, the ‘both’ is key here, as you need to make it sound like this would be mutually beneficial.

“I want to break up with you” or “I’m breaking up with you” somehow seem colder than “I think we should break up”. While it’s you who’s ruining everything and casting them back out into the kingdom of the singles, by introducing a ‘we’, you are giving the dumpee the chance to consider any doubts they have had about you themself. If you can, lead them to think it’s the right decision – one that may have even been reached mutually were the discussion to go on much longer.

Hanging up on you
So you’ve said the words, but what now? Do you just hang up and leave them to their feelings? Do you let them air their emotions – which could range from a barrage of abuse and grievances to heartfelt, uncontrollable pleas to change your mind? It’s your call, but bear in mind how emotionally charged the response will be. Do you trust yourself not to go back on it if they manage to convince you with tears and tales of all the good times? If you are going to cut the call short, do it kindly. Maybe even agree to talk it over in more detail some other day.

State your reasons for the break up, sure, but at least sugarcoat it to a degree. Nobody wants to hear that their laugh is too loud or their personal hygiene is akin to that of a wild boar. If things haven’t been working out and you haven’t felt fully into it or you want to be by yourself, then just say – put the responsibility on yourself, not them. You’re walking away from it all, anyway; you may as well take the flack (unless they were really objectionable, of course).

And once the call is over, put the phone down and leave them alone. No late-night texts, no drunken regrets. Step away from rants on Facebook and save your saccharine apologies or sincere wishes for the future. Let them get over you. And you, of course, need to get over it too.

So, y’know, get over it.

If you’re really stuck, give this a listen before you call (or, if you’re just plain mean, play it down the phone):

A beginner’s guide to breaking it off: The text

Is there ever a nice way to bid adieu to an affair of the heart? Is the blow any less crushing because you have communicated it via a gift-wrapped box of (live) white doves, after an afternoon of champagne or during a shuddering orgasm? Probably not.

But there are many ways of delivering the fatal thud to the back of the head that so many relationships suffer. It’s just about picking your moment – and your method.

Textual ditching gets a very bad press. When Frasier star Kelsey Grammer fluffed out his hair, primed his best texting finger and sent the SMS which would end his 15-year marriage, the papers and news outlets that still cared about him were up in arms.

How could someone who so charmingly growled about tossed salad and scrambled eggs be so callous as to finish off all those years of wedded bliss with a robotic network message? While Grammer perhaps should have really thought that one over a bit longer, there’s a lot to be said for euthanising your relationship via text.

For relatively short flings, it is perfectly acceptable – as long as you get the language right. When dumping anybody by any method, the one thing to remember – and that so many forget – is: DON’T BE AN ARSEHOLE. As cathartic as it may be to list all your soon-to-be ex’s failings, it won’t help anybody and acting like a piece of shit is bad karma.

What texting does is give you the opportunity to get straight to the point, remain emotionless and, more importantly, get to the end of the dumping without any interruptions – like tears, or screaming, or a wine glass in your face.

Some examples to avoid:

“I’m shagging someone else.”
“You’re ditched.”
“The sex was totes abysmoid. Laterz.”
“You smell like a caged animal, so I’m setting you free back into the wild.”
“Don’t you think I deserved that last Emmy for Frasier? Really?”

 Some better examples:

“I didn’t really feel any spark.”
“I feel we’ve lost momentum after not seeing each other much recently.”
“I think I need some time by myself.”
“I’m not sure we’re right for each other.”
“I think I’d rather just leave it there for now. Can we stay friends?”

It doesn’t matter whether you don’t mean it or are lying or hiding your true feelings. Who cares? That’s not what this is about. You’re done here.

Those who think texting is callous miss the point entirely – they probably deserve to be dumped. Texting that it’s over is a kindness. You’re sparing them the humiliation of a very public break-up. They can put any spin on it they like:

“Oh yeah, we ended it over text; it was no big deal. We weren’t that serious.”

Or, more likely:

“Can you believe the total BASTARD ended it by text? A few short lines? Some bullshit about there being no spark. No spark?! What am I? A fucking Roman candle?! I hope he gets eaten by sharks. I’m better off without him.”

If you’re seen as a bit of a coward, so be it; if you’re merely ending a fling, there isn’t much to be gained by drawing out the whole process over a miserable drink in a pub, where everyone else is having a good time.

A text also helps the dumpee to react however they want, privately: nobody wants to get angry or cry in front of someone they’ve had sex with only two or three times.

When a ditching text is appropriate:

– You’ve been dating a month or two and haven’t been gelling particularly well.
– You’ve been going out for a few months, but seeing each other less and less – a ‘dwindler’.
– The last time you saw each other was an utter shambles and you’re both too ashamed to admit how dreadful it was.

When a ditching text is inappropriate:

– You’re about to jet off on a romantic holiday together.
– They’re waiting at the head of the altar.
– You’ve been together five years.

Use your common sense. Put the boot you’re about to lodge up their backside on the other foot. Would you be devastated if you got a Dear John text from them right now? Oh, you would? Oh. Well, send it anyway. Time is money.

Other reading
How to dump somebody over the phone
How to deal with being ditched by a fling