When I was 21, I had my first real broken heart. It was horrible. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I would just smoke cigarettes and drink instant coffee and lay on the couch wondering what happened to my lungs. What was this crushing weight? Why was there no air? I would put food in my mouth and I literally could not chew it. My jaw just would not co-operate, it was the weirdest thing. I ended up having to go buy a tin of Sustagen, lest I die. None of my clothes fit me and I couldn’t get through a day without floods of tears.
And the funny thing was, it wasn’t really the guy I pined for (although I learned the hard way that one loses all dignity when on the receiving end of a breakup. Let’s all imagine how I looked the time I walked to his house in the pouring rain with a flower. Go on. I’ll wait. You done laughing? Excellent, let’s move on), I could feel it was something deeper than that. I was breaking up with the old version of myself that was dysfunctional and struggling. I realised it wasn’t really the relationship I was mourning, but that I was shedding some skin.
The relationship was doomed from the start, only I couldn’t see it. I had just come out of an almost-three year relationship with an abusive drug addict who was seven years older than me. Almost immediately I started dating this new guy and was so stoked that he was not an older drug-addicted loser, I couldn’t see that it wasn’t working. That he just was not that into me.
I found out about a year and a half later when I was watching My Best Friend’s Wedding and Dermot Mulroney’s character was saying some lovely things about Julia Roberts’ character. It reminded me of the day before when I was watching Dawson’s Creek and Pacey was saying such wonderful things about how amazing Joey was. So I turned to my boyfriend and asked “why don’t you say those things about me?”
“Because I’m not in love with you any more”, he said sort of gently. Like he’d been wanting to say it forever. Since probably the week after we met.
Poor dear little ignorant me was blindsided. I didn’t know what a normal relationship was, so couldn’t see I still wasn’t in one. I thought I was girlfriend of the year, and hadn’t noticed that my love wasn’t reciprocated. It took me a good year of crying and writing in my diary and feeling as though I wanted to get up and just run, run, run until I couldn’t run any more to feel semi-normal. Eventually I realised I didn’t even want to get back together with him, I just wanted to feel ok again. I did things I shouldn’t have and I made lots of mistakes. My friends took me out for beers and tried to cheer me up, but it went so much deeper than a dude who didn’t love me. I didn’t love myself and I didn’t know how to start. But I knew once I did, I wouldn’t have these kinds of relationship disasters again.
So to some who have been through real, honest, searing pain, they may laugh that the worst thing I’ve ever been through is a bad breakup. It does sound silly on paper. But it was such a turning point for me, it helped me process my childhood, my teen years in an abusive relationship, and how to be kind to myself and put myself first. The hardest thing I’d ever been through was also the best.