The other day a girl walked past me on the street; she had the most beautiful face and the saddest eyes. I didn’t know her name or her story but I knew the sadness in her eyes; heartache. That fist in the stomach that wakes you each morning, the aching chest that clasps you late at night. A private pain that no doctor can treat and no one can see. Yet each and every one of us has experienced how physically real it is at some point in our lives. Irrespective of how beautiful, accomplished or popular we become, a broken heart doesn’t discriminate.
Experts say the average person falls in love seven times before marriage and considering the divorce rates, that’s a whole lot of breaking up and a whole lot of heartache. Seven tear soaked goodbyes to the happy times you shared in the past and perhaps even more painfully, seven goodbyes to the life you planned for the future. The emptiness that comes with feeling that after all that time and emotional investment you’re right back where you started, alone.
When Pat Benatar sang “Love is a Battlefield” she really knew what she was talking about. You put on your war paint, your flirty uniform and you bravely march out to the dating frontline hoping that with a little luck you’ll survive long enough to find peace in the arms of another. But with each promising relationship that blows up in your face, each breakup that pierces through your heart like a bullet, it’s easy to feel like you’re fighting a battle that can’t possibly be won. At times dragging your bleeding heart across a minefield, with no certainty that there will be a safe bunker to finally curl up in at the other end. You start wondering, is love really worth fighting for?
And just as there are military strategies for war, there are strategies for how to survive a breakup. For some, like my friend Tania, 29, it’s the ‘slow and painful death’ technique. Having broken up with her boyfriend of five years and unable to even remember life without him she continued to go back for more punishment. Random hook ups, obsessively checking his online status and those late night teary phone calls, that is, when he actually answered the phone because he wasn’t out with another woman. “I insist on him telling me if he’s been with other people even though knowing this stuff sort of kills me”. After months of this self-inflicted torture her heart and self-respect could take no more and she withdrew.
Some bleeding hearts go straight for the ‘cut them off’ approach. Photos are destroyed, Valentine’s Day cards are tossed and phone numbers are deleted. Sure there is an initial sense of independence and victorious euphoria, however too often this is followed by rummaging through the garbage and sticking ripped shots together and recovering deleted emails, all the while making a mockery of the “I’m a Survivor” track bellowing from the IPod.
Some girls, like my buddy Vicky, 27, don’t have time to pick up the pieces; they’re too busy picking up the next semi decent guy that offers to buy them a drink. Or she goes running back to a past relationship. Sure her ego is mended temporarily but this strategy often ends with her sharing a drink (or bed) with someone clearly inferior to her ex, making her miss him all the more.
Some girls hit the gym, some hit the double choc chip Haagen-Dazs and some hit the pillow. The only technical similarity being that at some point you have to hit rock bottom in order to bounce back.
Truth is, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. When it comes to surviving heartbreak you simply have to do just that, survive it. Allow yourself some mourning time, it could be a day or a week, but that’s it. Surround yourself with genuine friends who will convince you no matter how swollen your eye lids or how blotchy you mascara stained cheeks; you are the catch of the decade. Switch off ‘The Notebook’, it’s only a movie even if the lead characters are dating in real life. Then once the box of tissues is empty it’s time to put on a push up bra and push through with the belief that you will live to love again. Because in love as in war, fortune favors the brave. And you never really lived if you haven’t almost died, of a broken heart.