Breaking up with someone you love can not only be tragic, devastating, and heartbreaking, but it can also be enlightening. A breakup can often teach you a lot about yourself, your personality, and your insecurities regardless of whatever reasons it had to end. It allows you the opportunity to understand yourself and pursue personal growth so that you don’t repeat the same relationship mistakes again.
In my life, I have experienced romantic heartache on more than one occasion. While I wouldn’t choose to relive those experiences, I also wouldn’t trade them for anything.
The first time it happened I was 17.
I say it “happened” because I felt like I was witnessing some sort of cosmological event to which I was a bystander. It wasn’t really a breakup because we weren’t really a couple. We were just smitten teenagers navigating the very smudginess of love with many with miles between us, trying it on for the very first time. It was hard.
At some point, that love became untenable and suddenly this undefined relationship… was over. The instantaneous demise didn’t feel like something I had any agency over. I was a victim, a casualty. I was in the midst of some great misunderstanding. The unresolved conflict confused me. The constriction of my chest overwhelmed me.
I remember sitting in my kitchen and writing a desperation letter by hand on a white-lined pad. Three pages in my brutal, meandering print, to this girl two states away who had turned me manic with feelings. I had never felt such volatility inside me.
It was my first indicator of the emotional turbulence a romantic relationship could bring.
The feeling of heartache
Four years later I would have a similar experience, only heightened, broader and more profound. This time with a girl I had known longer, was closer to, and had been in an official relationship with. And when that relationship ended, I moved home to the other side of the country thinking that would shelter me from any kind of emotional fallout.
It did not.
Everything I thought would make breaking up easier, the distance, the detachment, only drove me further into my own head. Facebook removed the blissful ignorance I would have otherwise enjoyed. I was now a spectator to the digital reflection of my ex-girlfriend’s current life.
The feeling of heartache was not unfamiliar but it was certainly unwelcome. The generalized pseudo-depression impacting every moment of my day. The possible regrets. The very specific and localized heart pain. I could not understand why I was so unhappy when this had been my decision.
I was naive in matters of the heart. I always have been. I did not realize breaking up meant mourning; actively participating in the processing of one’s feelings. I did not mourn. I moped. I pined and wondered. I was controlled by internal tides of desperation and anger.
My guides through this time were my friends. Nascent adults the same age as me without much more experience to speak of. I didn’t have a clear model for grief and recovery. How did other men deal with this? I had few male friends, to begin with. I had never witnessed them in my scenario, up close and personal.
Two hundred percent of myself
In the middle of this experience, I returned to my college for homecoming. Over beers with a couple of guys older than me the subject of therapy came up. “I love it,” said one. “I feel like 200% of myself,” said another.
I had started to consider therapy but was afraid of it. It seemed like a desperate measure. A last-ditch effort. But with these guys any reticence or prejudices I had against therapy instantly vanished. Two hundred percent of myself sounded like a miracle. I would go to therapy.
I wanted clarity. I wanted progress. I wanted to be free of the leaden mold infesting my chest. I wanted the careless existence of being a 23-year old I had been anticipating.