Some Notes on Love for the Recently Heartbroken
So I may have mentioned that I’ve recently had my heart broken. Shattered actually, crushed, obliterated. I had been in a romantic relationship with someone for three and a half years. He was and is a lovely person. Kind, gentle, warm, always doing everything “right” (actually this was to his detriment). We had a wonderful relationship and were best friends. We lived together and were planning a future as a duo. We also fought sometimes - I could be argumentative, he could be uncommunicative - but overall things were fab and I was smugly, blissfully in love. Until, out of the blue, he ended things abruptly and ran away. Leaving me to pick up the pieces of what had been our life.
For the last three months since, every day has been a battle. Each day feels strenuous and sluggish. The weight of my to do list amidst everything else that has been going on has been unbearably heavy. I had to force myself through another monotonous Melbourne lockdown, this time alone (lockdown when solo is very bloody different, by the way). I have also been left to deal with the other intense hurdles which have been thrown in my course since my partner left, including the loss of a beloved grandparent and ongoing health issues.
For the first month of my newfound singledom I coped OK. I was so distracted by the other stuff that was happening around me. I was so distracted by deep cleaning the flat, by another lockdown, by my newfound independence, that I sort of ignored my own reality. People commented on how well I seemed to be coping. As an eldest sister, proud Leo, wannabe pin up, etc, people always think I’m doing just fine. Though my facade is stronger than my soul sometimes. Just because I can somehow manage to keep my lipstick on under my mask doesn’t mean I’ve always got it together. However I’ve only really recently realised over these past weeks that it’s also up to me to share my own vulnerability with those close to me in order to receive the support and help I actually need from my peers when times are tough.
A few weeks after my partner left my grandfather died in New Zealand. I felt at peace with his passing, despite being unable to travel to him to say goodbye in person. He was 90 years old, had enjoyed a wonderful life, and was able to die peacefully at home, holding the hand of his partner of 68 years, my grandmother, and his son, my uncle. My grandfather and I spoke on the phone during his final days and the last thing we said to each other was that we loved one another. In many ways it was the kind of death one longs for and despite the pandemic obscuring travel for a lot of the family things weren’t too tricky.
As this was happening the memories of what had been my relationship were coming in thick and fast. I felt guilty to be pining for a broken romance when my family and I were experiencing bereavement, but I couldn’t help it. Instead of sleeping at night I would reminisce about those pure times at the beginning of the relationship - pre domesticity, pre problems, pre pandemic. We were so happy, so inseparable. These memories set against the backdrop of Sydney, where we met, a sunny, more positive city than uptight, cool, creative and intellectual old Melbourne (not the best place to be if you’re feeling low).
A few other hurdles were coming my way too. After my partner left I became so unwell, bedridden in fact. I literally lost my voice for three weeks. I am one of those fucking annoying people who doesn’t really get colds or anything either so this was particularly out of the ordinary for me, and a sign of sorts. Then I had my first jab and ended up in hospital with heart palpitations, just to add to the drama. In my world when it rains, it pours.
Of course with hindsight I can see why the relationship had unravelled. Some of it was my fault, some of it was his. Some of it was overall incompatibility, me wanting a big, bohemian life, him being more conservative and wanting to settle in a way that emulated his own family. I (foolishly?) thought our bond could withstand these arguments and differences though. And the reason he ultimately left was due to his own mental health issues, a serious set of challenges talked about in such a repetitive way amongst we millennials, but which were affecting him so seriously that he needed to make the choice to let me go so he could become better.
Love in a Paris cafe. Image via Flickr.
As he left I didn't just sit around… The moment he drove away from the flat we had shared I was on Amazon ordering break up books. I became more disciplined in my routine. I decided that the fabulous new me was what this was all about. Wake up. Meditate. Check too many astrology apps. Drag self out of bed. Make porridge. Eat porridge. Cry. Look in mirror. I am Bridget Jones, no, I am the new and improved Charlotte, Samantha Jones, not Bridget Jones!!! Shower. Set hair. Get on with day. Try and work. Walk with friend. Wine. Cry. Bed. Shit nights sleep. Repeat.
It’s so hurtful to have another person who you trusted suddenly decide your fate. We had been planning a life together over years, which was all derailed in a day. One wonders why we hand over so much power and autonomy to another person, especially as women, just because we love them. Now as I look back I can see that so much of the life that we had planned was just me trying to adhere to cultural norms, to compromise, to do right by him, and right by my more conservative peers and my family. Now that I am single I may be sad but at least I am closer to being my true self again.
It’s break up season right now anyway, everyone’s doing it! More importantly I know I’m not alone. Every millisecond someone has their heart broken. I have two girlfriends in their 30s ending marriages right now, and another younger friend texted me last night to share that she’d just left her long-term partner. My baby sister experienced her first heartbreak recently and my grandmother just lost her partner of 68 years. I know a lot of recent singles yet I seem to be the only person in my circle who’s been overtly dumped. Prior to this one, my other most major breakup was mutual-ish but more came from me. I was heartbroken at the time too but had come to that decision long before breaking the news to the other party. Sure the guilt is hard to bear when you’re responsible for breaking it off, but being dumped is comparatively gut wrenching. You are rejected. You have to piece together a new plan against your will. In my case I have been left to pick up and pack up the figurative and literal pieces all alone.
It’s a somber thing to say but it’s also good to be reminded that all relationships always end, either through separation or someone’s death. I don’t believe in the notion of soul mates, I don’t believe we float away together with a spouse into the afterlife, but I do believe that in this life we tend to attract and experience the relationships we need in order to learn necessary lessons and to become more fulfilled. That’s the mystic element to romantic love in my eyes.
The main silver lining of my situation is that he and I are getting on very well and that all is amicable. We are cooperating as I exit our home and we have even been having additional chats now and then. I have never been through a break up with much animosity, and in this case nobody has done anything especially shady, so that all makes it easier. In a nutshell I still find him a loveable and trustworthy person. I really do forgive him and I won’t just be casting him out of my life. People often find it peculiar that I remain at least friendly with my exes (all except one London lad who was violent) but I don’t want to disregard entire chapters of my story over a bruised ego or a broken heart. I let myself look back on photos of my recent ex and I with a smile on my face (without glamourising what really went on or pretending like we might get back together, mind you). I try to focus on the happiness shared instead, the memories, the good times.
Honestly there aren’t that many real life relationships which I look at and aspire to anyway. Much of what I witnessed growing up was incredibly heteronormative, and whilst that may work for many it certainly doesn’t for me - trust me, I’ve tried it. Equally unhealthily I’ve always romanticised Old Hollywood dynamics; Clarke and Carol, Ava and Frank, Richard and Elizabeth... I think wherever I end up next needs to be somewhere between the above examples, and prior to that I am looking forward to exploring singledom at this age and in this city.
Psychologists and experts will say that relationships tend to be where we learn our greatest lessons. Relationships in our 20s are often about us trying to work out our struggles with certain immediate family members. I look back at the two main partners I've had during my 20s and I can see the unhealthy patterns and the people they were emulating very clearly. As a recently single, almost 30 year old, I will say that those cycles stop now, with you, dear reader, as my witness. What I’m also realising is that the core of love is pure acceptance of the other person. Equally I also don’t think people can be accepted by someone else if they don’t accept themselves. So it’s not about “loving yourself” as much as it’s actually about accepting yourself. My recent ex partner has issues which he had let surmount until they overflowed. He now needs the space he feels he needs in order to rebuild. I have to find a way to accept that too.
Right now I have a deadline to begin to get it together again. I have to move out of the home we had shared and close my clothing business over the next two weeks. I have to pack up and purge. I have to find a way to earn more money on my own. I also have to get a post lockdown haircut urgently. Even though I feel I have navigated the last three months rather well, the sadness in the finality of it all is sinking in amidst these final days. For the last few days I haven’t been able to shake the sadness no matter how much I've tried. I resent the fact that I am the casualty of someone else's untreated issues, but then I know that’s not the whole reason why he and I broke up. For months since this started I've been running on almost empty, only being able to top up a few litres at a time rather than regaining a full tank of energy. However I’m on the home stretch now. I have made big decisions about my new direction and I have found somewhere else to live. And I want to move through all of these raw feelings whilst they’re fresh so I can truly put them to rest and not have them pop up in the next relationship dynamic (not that I’ll be actively seeking out another relationship anytime soon).
I will finish this by saying that despite all of my moaning I still think that you should fall in love anyway. I mightn’t believe in the concepts of soul mates or traditional marriage, but I do believe in love. Love is usually fleeting, but in the face of huge heartbreak I will say that true love is still entirely worth it. Because love is the point of being alive (love and clothes). You have no idea who you’ll meet, when or where, but when you fall in love the world gets better. After heartbreak, go and fall in love again, and again, and again, and then one day you’ll die and you can forget all about it!