Is there a panacea for the broken hearted? Only the lonely need to find out
Few of us make it through life without the horror of a break-up. But how to mend a broken heart? As JOANNE SAVAGE reports, it requires time, true grit, learning to let go, possibly a lot of ice cream and airing of grievances, and learning to look beyond the prison of your own ego
English poet Wendy Cope, known for her acerbic humour has a poem entitled ‘Two Cures for Love’ which is perhaps one of the most brilliant pieces of advice to the love-lorn. The poem has two simple directives that I will quote in full.
Two Cures for Love
1. Don’t see him. Don’t phone or write a letter.
2. The easy way: get to know him better.
What a wonder is Wendy, and these are indeed fine strategies. Though geared at women, the poem equally applies to men who find themselves falling out of love when they realise any number of things about their lover, such that she, say, is an awful harridan obsessed with the purchase of hoovers and curtains, has deeply ingrained right-wing tendencies that lead her to establish a household resembling The Fourth Reich, or has unsightly bunions that look heinous in every kind of open-toed footwear available. Or indeed perhaps a woman realises that her beloved is something of a Daniel Cleaver type who has affairs with stick insect American models behind her back, and then belittles her for her lack of geographic knowledge and implies she is overweight before she promptly tells him she would rather work for Saddam Hussein than remain in his presence a second longer, and plays Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Surive’ on loop for months afterwards while going on a strict diet, chainsmoking and necking copious amounts of vodka.
But perhaps it isn’t that you have grown weary of the one you love and ache for them deeply above all else, elevating them in your mind to the status of a god or goddess in human clothing, the Romeo or Juliet of your dreams who dumped you unceremoniously by text or refused the marriage proposal you had planned after you extravagantly hired a helicopter for the crucial moment spinning high above the Grand Canyon before you presented her with a sparkler pricey enough to have involved taking out a second mortgage.
As Neil Sedaka observed ‘breaking up is hard to do’ and not just because you have to split your DVD collection, decide who gets to keep the biggest Le Creuset pot or who gets custody of the children, pets, BMW, or Aunt Kathleen’s family heirloom fine bone china collection, but mostly because the pain of love once possessed and lost hits us so deep we are knocked sideways into a dark abyss: for the price of true love when it all comes crashing down is surely grief.
They say that it is better to have loved and lost than not loved at all, but there are very many of us who robustly reject this dubious tenet with much gnashing of teeth.
So what practical steps can you take to mend a broken heart?
Experts say it is all about the journey to healing after the demise of a relationship. And that journey may be arduous, it may lead you to far flung places, to drinking too much, smashing plates, tearing your hair out, or praying on your knees to a God whose existence you might still be ambivalent about. Certainly the Almighty probably has more important things to worry about, like say the Middle East, or the dominion of the Tory party than your particular beef with your ex.
First up, give yourself time to grieve. Loss is a process and feeling loneliness, rejection, disillusionment, or even relief are all normal depending on your particular circumstances.
Gina Moffa, a psychotherapist based in New York City who shared her views with PsychCentral.com, says that the details and circumstances of a breakup determine how you feel.
“If you feel you’re leaving someone in a painful place after you end it, you may be ridden with guilt and sadness. If you’re the one who’s been broken up with, you may be in a state of shock and go through different phases of grief, including anger, bargaining, depression, and anxiety.”
Dana Bottari, a psychotherapist based in Florida who also outlines her advice on PsychCentral.com, adds: “When you’re feeling down, you may engage in behaviors you typically don’t.” For example, you may skip showering, decide whiskey for breakfast is a valid choice of nutrition or avoid getting together with friends and family. “Give yourself time. Do not try to find someone new right away.” So that idea that getting over an ex is best resolved by setting up five Tinder dates in the immediate aftermath is not the sane solution. You cannot escape your grief by foisting your damaged heart’s focus immediately onto someone else.
Moffa adds: “We need to tend to our wounded hearts and take the time to allow the healing to happen with time, care, gentleness, and deeper self-understanding,”
Then you should try to find a new source of joy to distract yourself, whether that involves a video game addiction, staunch yoga practice, early morning plunges in the cold sea, knitting or binge watching old movies that allow you to cathartically weep with impunity.
Another idea, though especially hard if you are the dumpee rather than the dumper, is making a list of all the good things you appreciate about yourself, like a kind of self-love inventory that reminds you that even though he or she thinks you are the devil incarnate, you’re not actually a bad spud, and have things going for you, like wit, humour, a symmetrical face, a fine set of teeth or hair with more oomph than Jennifer Aniston’s circa the Friends era. Appreciate that you are enough, even if you feel distinctly less than (virtually nobody is as bad as Hitler and even he found Eva Braun to love him).
When thoughts of your ex arise, don’t block them. Bottari says you should practice being a “witness” to these thoughts. When the thoughts come up, take a step back and acknowledge them.
“They are passing through your mind. Observe them and let them go,” she explains.
Letting Go. Imagine yourself like Elsa in Frozen, in fact, replay that Let It Go tune until you know all the words verbatim. If you have been rejected by a partner you do love, learning to let them go is an act of love in itself and one that will set you free from personal torment.
Express your feelings and share them with others who care about you and will be prepared to listen to your litany of grievances over full-fat ice cream without losing patience - this is what true friends are for. And try turning your attention towards the needs of others, because this takes you out of the prison of your own ego, and as pop philosopher and arch provocateur Jordan Peterson has said repeatedly, there are few things that will make you feel better about yourself than doing something good for somebody else; there is arguably no better way back to self-esteem than to try momentarily to forget your own needs and put somebody else first.
Then you will realise that the world does not begin and end with your heartache, that you are part of the vastly connected human race, and are therefore a worthy member participating in the fray, because you are still capable of altruism and kindness that will take you beyond yourself and help you see the bigger picture.
Never morning passed to evening but some heart did break. Your heart may be broken, but in time, it will mend. And then, if you are lucky, you will realise that losing your beloved is not in fact the end of the world. Not unless the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse do become manifest.
And take Wendy’s advice, if you didn’t have time to get to know your partner long enough for them to begin driving you up the walls, don’t see him or her, don’t call, don’t write a letter and block them on every social media platform.
Buck up, stand up staight with your shoulders back, and move on. Let it go.