Girl's Guide to Heartbreak: Learning to Forgive Ourselves and Others
"I wish someone would break your heart so I could kill them for you." Frank Sinatra to Shirley Maclaine. I haven't been able to find proper attribution for the quote, but I liked it all the same.
Heartbreak comes in all shapes and sizes, some so small you can put it in your shoe and walk around for days or weeks, wincing with every step as you remind yourself over and over what's gone wrong. Some heartbreak feels so big it's rude of the rest of the world to keep on going, you apparently still have to do work now and then, that stupid sun keeps brightening and unbrightening your world, other people's happiness becomes an assault on your own all consuming tragedy. Most is of the first variety, but the real problem is the mid-range, low level heartbreak where all too many people find a resting place. Either an accumulation of all the bits and pieces you never really let go of, or a lessening, a settling into of the bigger heartbreak, like a big sweater that just rests over you, and becomes a part of your every day wardrobe.
Heartbreak is a brief and startling season, though, whereas sadness and depression are long term leases on heartbreak. I'm speaking mostly of the sorts of things that cause us to love other people and ourselves less, the actions and thoughts that close our hearts up and make it very hard to let anyone else in. Sorrow and sadness that seem in through a variety of pathways and keep us down for sharper, shorter periods.
Most heartbreak falls into three big categories, though I think there's two lesser categories that can plague us as well. I seem to be exceptionally adroit at making my own, seeking it out voraciously, a kind of aficionado of artisanal heartbreak. Falling in love constantly with the wrong sort of men who cannot love me back despite the love I have to give, or who move away to live in Sweden despite making me happier in a day than I'd been in a year, or who live in Australia and were secretly engaged the entire time we were involved -- I'm an all-in kinda girl who gives just as much every time. I'm kind of surprised I haven't found better boundaries, despite my continually broken heart, but I've been blessed with a blissfully bad memory, which helps me dive in just as fully every time as if it was the first time. Note: you should definitely have better boundaries than I do.
Things Other People Have Done To You
This is the big one, the one that we allow to shape our days and consume our thoughts, the wrongs that have been done to us by other people, whether intentionally or not. I like to believe that most people are not seething monsters, trying to wreak havoc and harm on others, and truly -- most people seem to be stumbling through life, not Machiavellian schemers trying to ruin your world. When other people break our hearts, it seems impossibly large, impossibly painful, but at least there's someone to blame. Whether they've disappointed us, abused our good faith and trust in them, or done something violent and aggressive to destroy our trust in ourselves and our abilities, even worse -- the validity of our love. Rejection of love is terrible, as when people reject our offer of love, it feels like they're rejecting us, too. What's even worse is when they disagree with us, when they don't think they've done anything wrong at all. Then you decide what you can take, you cut them out of your life, you banish them to distant memory and you try to forgive them as best you can, knowing they'd never even ask for it, knowing they disagree with you about how much they've hurt you, how much sadness you're allowed to feel and for how long. I wish so much that I hadn't spent as much of my life dwelling on the wrongs done me, and I wish that freedom for you too.
Things You Did to Other People
These are some of the hardest for us to bear, the heartbreak we cause others and it takes a real brand of self awareness to be able to assess it all and avoid doing it again in the future. Hurting other people can often seem to be the only course of action but it's often something we can forget, faster than they will. If they know what we've done to them, then we must ask them to forgive us, and allow for it to happen. Sometimes the people we love don't even know the heartbreak we cause them through our own terrible actions. I think we want to unburden ourselves when we do something wrong, such as lying or cheating, we want to tell our partner as a means of easing our own mind, but perhaps that guilt is ours and ours alone to bear. After enough time passes, telling them would certainly only hurt them and cause them to imagine or invent painful memories that they never asked for. Accepting that you have done things that are just as bad as what others have done to you is very difficult. Often, it seems that the heartbreak we cause other people often falls under:
Things We've Done to Ourselves
So often we are our own worst enemy, and we act as we do not want to act, not even knowing why we do it. A year ago I acted in a way that deeply broke trust placed in me by many individuals, compromised my own principles and made me question a lot about who I was as a person. I was obsessed with the incident, mulling it over, my stomach dropping to the floor every time, feeling sick and worried constantly. I spent days whispering "I forgive myself" as I went about my daily life, knowing and hating that I would eventually forget the wrongs I had done. And I did eventually forget, I did eventually forgive myself and begin to work towards being the kind of person who would never act that way again. But a funny thing happened in the process, I began to feel a great deal of grace for the people around me, people whose decisions I had previously judged harshly. I understood more about my own parents, that they were simply doing their best, that most people are simply trying to exist and make it through their lives.
Feist says, "Oh, I'll be the one to break my heart." And I think that's true, to a certain extent. I put myself out there, time and again, I choose to keep believing in the possibilities of humanity and the existence of love in other people. Let us love ourselves first, and let us forgive ourselves first, that we might love and forgive the inevitable heartbreak that is coming for us at some point.
Misunderstandings & Accidents
I hesitate to even mention these other than to say try to eliminate them in your own life. Often when we get sloppy and selfish with our actions we forget there are other living, breathing humans involved in our decisions. If you are confused by a situation, be bold, be brave and try to do your best to alleviate misunderstanding by asking questions.
If something horrible has happened, someone has greatly wronged you and you simply can't believe it, maybe you've got it wrong. Try to remember that the other person involved would probably never do anything malicious to hurt you, and ask them from a place of graciousness about your hurt. Try also to remember the pebbles in all our shoes, halting our gaits and that everyone is going through heartbreak both big and small, no matter how together they seem. This isn't to say that your heartbreak doesn't matter, it does! It just helps, sometimes, to remember that others are hurting and limping too, just as we are.
Don't stop trying though, don't learn to withhold and defend to the end. Be cautious, but recognize what a gift it is to try again and that you even have the capacity to be hurt! It really is a gift, and you have it, you brave, loving person.
I don't know if I can help, but I'd like to maybe offer up advice. In any case, email me your questions and if we get a good response I'll answer your anonymous questions in this space in an advice column next week. My email is first name dot last name at gmail.com.
Amanda Meyncke is also on twitter @amae and writes lots of screenplays about old boyfriends she is still mad at, the big hypocrite.