There’s nothing romantic about unrequited love. Movies and poetry will have you believe that the pain of rejection is something that can be drowned with a few pegs of alcohol, or a song or two. It’s not that easy, as anyone who’s ever gone through a break-up can tell you.
The good news is, impossible as it seems at the time, the pain will fade and before you know it you’ll be laughing again.
I broached the subject of breaking up rather tentatively over dinner with my then boyfriend, who agreed – instantaneously and far too enthusiastically – that we need to cool off. Instead of talking me out of it like I’d hoped he would, he went on and on detailing the (many) reasons he believed we should not be together, perhaps to make sure I didn’t change my mind. But I did! And by the end of what was to be our last date I was in a state of panic. Unfortunately, there was no turning back. I tumbled into heartbreak, and here’s what I learnt in my attempt to piece myself together.
1. No matter how hard you try, you cannot make someone love you
I entered my home mortified, face hot with pain. Had I not been witty and charming enough? Was I not attractive enough? Was I not serious enough? Was I frivolous? Was it my nose? Anything negative anyone had ever said to me over a lifetime came rushing back and I analysed all my bad traits, trying to figure out what it was about me that he had so disliked.
I realise now that nothing was wrong with me. There was nothing I could have said, done or worn that would have changed anything, so there was no point in blaming myself.
2. You’ll get by with a little help from your friends
My friends and cousins rallied around and held me while I shattered. They made plans, got me out of the house and made sure I wasn’t left alone to brood.
3. Keeping busy is key
I signed up at the gym, and for sculpture classes. I worked, I partied. At night, when the day’s frenzy had calmed, when it was just me and the darkness, escape from my thoughts would have been difficult had I not exhausted myself during the day. More often than not, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
4. Dwelling will make it worse
If I caught him hovering in the vicinity of my mind, I pushed him away. This took effort, but the less I dwelled, the saner I felt.
Don’t be a slave to your mind. You can choose the direction of your thoughts, so choose wisely.
5. You may not be the first to move on, and that’s okay
After a break-up, not only do you have to deal with loss, but also with a complete and utter breakdown of your self-esteem, especially when they find someone else before you do.
If you have been holding on to hope that you may get back together, this news can in fact be a blessing. It can be the tipping point that forces you to move on.
6. Reckless dating is no solution
To distract myself from the pain of the present I went out with men I had no interest in. Once after a dreadful date, when I insisted I be dropped back far too early, my date’s face fell and the hunted look in his eyes was all too familiar. Nevertheless, I was done. He dropped me home, and I entered, racked with a mixture of guilt and sadness. The indoor air felt hot and stuffy. I took a deep breath but nothing entered my lungs. I passed out.
Although dating can be a distraction, dating someone you don’t know well is not without risks. Don’t let your break-up make you reckless – in your behaviour, or with other people’s hearts. Never lose sight of how magnificent you really are and whatever you do, don’t drop your standards. Keep them high, along with your head and heels.
7. Finding a new goal is the best thing you can do
I went back to law school, immersed myself in books and graduated a year later with a gold medal. My disbelief was replaced by excitement, enthusiasm, and incredible joy. I started work at a law firm. Things were finally falling into place. But the best laid plans don’t always turn out the way we imagine. Before I could settle into my law career, I met someone, and was married soon after.
8. Some things, however, stay the same
Over a decade later, unexpectedly, I ran into my ex. After the initial surprise passed, he asked how I was.
“Happy,” I replied. “You?”
We paused. Then, “Well, take care.”
Perhaps he replied, “You too.”
That was all. I went on home, feeling the same as I had when he’d dropped me off after dinner the night we broke up.
“Why does it still hurt?” I asked a friend over coffee.
“You’ve got it wrong. It isn’t about hurt or pain…”
I looked down at my hands, wondering how it could possibly be about anything else.
9. Change the way you think about your break-up
“Be thankful for the experience. You are stronger because of it. Be thankful he left, so you met your husband. Be thankful for feelings that may still be alive, because it means you are.”
10. Finally, know this
Bittersweet moments and memories make life worth living, and despite them, you will find happiness again. I did 🙂