There’s this line from the movie Drinking Buddies that I really dig:
“That’s the problem with heartbreak, to you it’s like an atomic bomb and to the world it’s just really cliche, because in the end we all have the same experience.”
I watched this movie while I was going through a break up and this particular line hit me because, yeah, it was pretty much exactly what I was feeling. Every time I tried to talk to anyone about my break up (which I felt the need to do fairly compulsively), their eyes sort of glazed over and their responses turned to really generic “yeahs” and “I’m sorrys” and then (the worst) promises that it would “get better with time”. The only people who would really commiserate were my friends who were also going through break ups, but I generally found these interactions to be kind of unsatisfying because they just wanted to talk about their own break up and how devastated they were and of course I just wanted to talk about mine. It would really bother me, of course, because it made me feel like everyone was belittling my feelings or not taking me seriously and I was in so much fucking pain.
Honestly though, now that I’m over my break up I have to admit that I don’t really blame anyone who didn’t want to listen to me bitch. Because in reality the shit I was dealing with sucked, but it didn’t really suck anymore than anyone else’s shit and it’s kind of boring to listen to people’s generic shit that you know they’re going to move on from eventually.
I feel like when you go through a break up you have a quota of how much you’re allowed to bitch about it and reasonably expect other people to give a shit. I mean, no one’s stopping you from going past that mark, but don’t be surprised if people stop caring.
As a good person and as a decent friend I want to say that I’ll sit and listen to people complain about their break ups for hours, but the reality is I work with people who have lost their homes, are going through major trauma, and have horrible home life situations and someone’s generic mid-20s break up just doesn’t seem to rank that high on the list of possible tragedies.
Oh, I know I know…you can say that other people’s tragedies don’t devalue your own personal tragedy and I think that’s true. I think it’s good to feel sadness and to mourn for yourself and I think its totally fucking weird and super unhealthy when people are able to just move on from long term relationships without caring…but there is a certain point where you can’t reasonably expect most other people to care. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about yourself and your feelings, but maybe its time to start seeking some alternative outlets for your pain.
Here’s a little anecdote to put things in perspective: during the months following my break up, I started going to Al Anon meetings because my ex was an alcoholic. At this point, even my sweet mother who is the picture of patience and kindness had started getting sick of listening to me complain about how depressed I was (though she would never admit to this), so my weekly Al Anon meeting became the only place where I could go and vent about my sadness. I’m ashamed to say I basically wouldn’t listen to what anyone else was saying because I was just waiting for the moment that I could vent my feelings. But at a certain point I realized I was just saying the same shit over and over, so I vowed to stop talking and just listen to what other people said. And (surprise) it turned out that everyone in the room was dealing with a tragedy, and most of those tragedies were way more intense than my break up. It also turned out that I felt better when I tried to help other people, rather than just complaining about myself. Furthermore, I suddenly realized that the people around me who I had been using as human soundboards were also going through their own shit which was just as important in their world as my dumb break up was to me…and I had been a pretty crappy friend to them.
Listen, people have been experiencing heartbreak for a really long time. It is an intense and profound feeling and it makes you question everything you thought you knew. But interestingly enough, nothing you are feeling when you go through heartbreak is unique. Someone else has felt the exact same thing…actually millions of people have been feeling those things for many many years. That’s why it’s awesome to read your way through heartbreak***: it reminds you that other people have gone through this and gotten through this and come to profound realizations via heartbreak that might help you along the way.
Whereas your friends and family can pretty much only nod and say “yeah, I’m sorry” and secretly wish you would just shut the fuck up.
****About the reading thing: I feel like you could easily read articles on Thought Catalog or MindBodyGreen or whatever dumb fucking website out their about “what to do when you’re going through a breakup” but the truth is, you’re just going to get the same generic and piddling advice that any asshole (including myself) could give you. If you really want to get some awesome insight into the fascinatingly inevitable aspect of the human condition that is heartbreak, you should read some real books. These are a few I recommend:
Heartburn, by Nora Ephron. The movie version (with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep) kind of sucks but this book is pure awesome. I read it in one day the weekend after my break up and then I read it again a few weeks later. It’s funny, relatable, and insightful.
Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy. This is probably the most depressing book in the world. Just warning you. But I feel like Thomas Hardy knew some shit about the condition of sadness and love and all that.
The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. Again, this is super depressing and recounts the year after Joan Didion’s husband died. But two things: 1. it has some great insight on the grieving process/the human condition/love etc and 2. it kind of forces you to put your heartbreak in perspective.