My first true, visceral heartbreak happened when I was just about to turn 23. I had never experienced anything like it before – it was a physical pain, one that felt like my chest was going to burst clean open and all the contents spill out, right there lying in bed in my shitty rented flat on sheets stolen from my parents’ house, drinking cheap prosecco until I fell asleep crying.[restrict]
When I say we’re talking crying, it was crying that can only be described as “face-altering”, I’m sure you’ll be familiar. I remember thinking to myself that I would never forget how painful it was, and to a certain extent I never did, but not in the way I expected at the time.
Going through it, you imagine this pain will be raw and hot forever and the pressure in your ribs will never go, but of course it does. What you’re left with instead is the new-found knowledge that break-ups are really, really shit – best defined as a weird half-grief without any bereavement – and this hard-won knowledge makes you much, much more sympathetic when you later encounter others in the thick of it.
They say our minds don’t let us remember the feeling of pain for self-preservation purposes (and so women will continue procreating, I assume). What you’re left with post-heartbreak is increased awareness from the whole messy, gruesome ordeal, if not the exact recall of how it actually felt. I still feel kinship and kindness towards anyone I know going through a bad break-up, and it’s all rooted in those sad days in that sad bed.
Nothing lasts forever. That’s terrifying and liberating in equal amounts because, on the one hand, it means that love ends, but it also means the pain of heartbreak will too. A wise friend told me back when I was 23: “The only thing that works is time. You don’t want to hear that right now, but it’s true.” She was right. I didn’t want to hear it. (And it was true.)
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the end of things – how it varies, almost as if it’s on a sliding scale of severity. I haven’t had a serious relationship for several years, and consequently I’ve been spared any grievous heartbreak too. Instead, over the past years I’ve had shorter and less committed relationships more frequently, which feels like mini splits on a conveyor belt. These break-ups aren’t like being repeatedly winded and I don’t take to the bed incapacitated like I did when I was 23. That’s both good and bad. I’m avoiding pain, but perhaps that also means I’ve avoided feeling very deeply. And when these minor relationships end, there isn’t much fanfare, so I don’t feel as entitled to wallow or permit myself the balm of much complaining to friends either.
That said, the duration of a relationship doesn’t necessarily always correlate with its meaningfulness, or its intensity. In fact sometimes brevity or circumstances imbue everything with even more magic. So where does that leave us in the aftermath of more minor … if not “heartbreaks” exactly, then maybe “heartknocks” instead? (I know that sounds like a bad David Gray song title. Forgiveness, please.)
Even in the shortest of dalliances, I regularly fall victim to the power of imagination and the intoxication of new possibilities. Those two always pull me under. The idea of a man is more dangerous to my emotional well-being than the man himself sometimes.
For example, recently I was seeing a guy for a nano-second and he mentioned he liked olives. In my next supermarket shop, impulsively I bought some. Rather abjectly, I allowed myself to imagine saying “look, I got you these!” and then I daydreamed about how this hypothetical exchange might be cute, or meaningful, or funny, or nice. He never wound up coming round to mine again, the way it worked out. So the olives languished in the fridge, a reminder of another little failure every time I opened its door. Mocked by olives. What a world.
The idea of a man is more dangerous to my emotional well-being than the man himself sometimes.
Brief romantic relationships are wandering interludes, an intersection into someone’s life for a month or two. You dip in, then out. Ah, you think. Mistaken again. You’re left not with the grief of letting go of a life together, but the smaller sorrow of having hoped for something to happen, wished for its potential even, only to be interrupted by the rude reality of disappointment. It’s not exactly a life-changing broken heart, but it’s still something isn’t it? There was a small and strange streak of loneliness in the dim realisation that I’d somehow imbued a bloody tub of green olives from Lidl with sentimental value – and what’s more, that essentially I’d done it alone.
In the end, I just ate them myself. The evidence left the fridge and so their memory began to fade, as it always does and always will. Onwards.
Main image via Mango[/restrict]