Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Necessity of Heartbreak

Every now and then, I will meet someone who ended up marrying their first love. That is all well and good, but it makes me feel two different things: jealousy and pity. I feel jealous, because heartbreak is so unbelievably painful. If I knew that I would never experience another broken heart, or even heartache for that matter, I would be SO happy! What an amazing thing it would be to never have to go through the wretchedness of a broken heart again.

However, at the same time, I feel a little sorry for those people. If dealt with properly, much good can come from the heartbreak. I have had my heart broken several times, and the biggest one of all led to an enormous amount of thought, reflection and introspection regarding my experience and thoughts on love, as well as what I want in a relationship, a girlfriend, etc. The wisdom and clarity that I came out with was absolutely worth it. Of course, I never would have thought that at the time, but in retrospect, there is no way I could deny it.

When I was in college, I was in an RA meeting, and I remember an exercise our boss had us do. He asked everyone: “who here has gone through something tragic in their lives?” A fair amount of people raised their hand. He then said, “okay, now keep your hand up if you think you learned from the experience, and came out a better person because of it.” All of the hands stayed up.

At the time I scoffed, thinking, “Yeah right. These people just say they learned something and are better because of it, because they don’t want to admit that their tragedy was for nothing. They want to think there is some sort of silver lining.” I was very, very wrong about that.

When you are in love, there are all sorts of things going on in your brain. Neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine are surging through your brain, giving you feelings of ecstasy, comfort and closeness. Unfortunately, your brain responds to those neurotransmitters like a drug. Your brain becomes used to them, even depends on them, and when your brain fails to get them, it FREAKS out! It will make you think that all sorts of stupid things are in fact good ideas. Just like a drug addict, you come up with the most ridiculous rationalizations, and excuses to try to get that feeling back. Your rational brain has taken the back seat, and your emotional brain is driving… like a maniac! You disregard the advice of your friends, saying “they don’t really know what it’s like.” Or, “I appreciate their concern, but I am okay, and I am gonna do what I want.”

Unfortunately, it takes an enormous amount of self awareness and self control to weather the storm, and let your brain return to its original state, in which it wasn’t hooked on relationship chemicals. How to go about that will be the topic of another blog, and for now, I want to try and explain the necessity of experiencing the heartbreak.

When you get your heart broken, or just get broken up with for that matter, you feel like crap. Your self esteem goes out the window, since you feel like you aren’t wanted. You become paranoid, and create (often crazy) theories about why your BF/GF broke up with you. “Maybe they met someone else?” If you are a girl, you might think, “Does he not find me attractive anymore?” If you are a guy, you might think “Maybe she found someone more charming?” The feeling that no one wants you, or that no one is attracted to you is not a fun feeling, and people will often resort to foolishness in order to try to regain that feeling. Your brain goes over every relevant, recent conversation, trying to find holes in their argument, almost as if you could argue the person out of their decision. It’s just a mess.

However, like with my own heartbreaks, if you weather the storm, you often come out a better person. However, this is not easy, and there are often what seem to be shortcuts, which look attractive, but just making things harder in the future. Ultimately, I think girls are more at a risk for this than guys. Let me explain.

When it comes to what the different sexes place the most emphasis on (in terms of what they find attractive), men place an enormous amount of importance on physical looks, whereas girls place an enormous amount of importance on confidence and humor. When a couple breaks up, both parties often go away feeling down, insecure and lacking confidence. The guy, lacking confidence, will probably not be able to meet anyone until he gets over his heartbreak. The reason being, girls just don’t want some mopey guy—they want a guy who is funny and confident. Basically, they want someone that is the exact opposite of what the heartbroken guy is feeling.

The girl, on the other hand, is still cute. Heartbroken or not, she still looks the same. So guys are still going to be attracted to her, and she won't have any trouble meeting someone new. However, while this might seem like a good thing—meeting someone new right away—it isn’t. When this happens, it allows you to push all those hurt feelings away, and focusing on this new, interesting person. However, those hurt feelings don’t go away, they sit there, waiting to boil up in the future. Like with any injury, unless you take the time to heal, you won’t ever be back to normal, and may end up weaker overall. Of course, this isn’t unique to girls, as guys do the same thing as well.

Unfortunately, the girl can then get caught in a vicious cycle, where she relies on the attention of guys in order to feel that she has self worth, is attractive, etc. If she isn’t involved with a guy, she feels like no one wants her, she has no confidence, etc. We all know girls like this, who go from boyfriend to boyfriend, and have since middle school. I am not judging, cause I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same thing if in that position. If I was heartbroken, and girls were constantly trying to get with me, I am pretty sure I would have gone with it. Sure, it’s not the attention of the girl I want… but at least it’s something!

So, how does one get around this? Unfortunately, it takes a fair amount of self control and understanding of why it is important to let yourself fully heal. Specifically, you have to make a contract with yourself that you won’t be involved with someone else for x amount of time. It also means recognizing that you will have to deal with a lot of pain in the meantime. It means you will have to deal with sadness, loneliness, anger, confusion, etc. It means you have to recognize that no matter how much it hurts now, the pain will go away, and there will be a day when it doesn’t hurt anymore—and you will be a much better person for it. It means you will be more emotionally stable, wiser about what you want in relationships and how to deal with them. Unfortunately, this is very hard to do in the moment, and I don’t blame people who can’t do it. A guy might do it, but only out of necessity. Unfortunately, I feel that for girls, it would be much harder, and take much more self-control.

In the end, if you are a serial dater, or are the type that ALWAYS has a boyfriend/girlfriend, ask yourself: "do I need the attention of the opposite sex to be happy? Do I get new bf/gfs quickly because I don’t want to deal with the pain of being alone?" If so, maybe it’s time to take a break, work on yourself; get to the point where you don't need the attention of others to make you happy. Being heartbroken sucks, believe me, I know. And while it will be hard at first, I promise the payoff will be well worth it.


  1. I agree that girls tend to jump right into relationships soon after their breakups and don't deal with some of the hurt that they need to work through, but on the flip side, I have seen guys instead of dealing with their emotions use distraction to avoid their feelings, such as hanging out with friends, partying and their healing ends up as delayed as the girls'.

    I will say that a vital part of healing is our support networks, because they can show us unconditional love and acceptance, the things we need when we feel rejected. But they also share their own personal experiences with heartbreak/love/relationships which I found incredibly enlightening and even strengthened many of my relationships.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, it's made me think about a few things differently.

  2. Ah, Kathryn! Such a pleasure to have you stop by!

    I think there is a difference though between your two examples. The first I would say is unhealthy, while the second is healthy (for the most part).

    I think it's totally fine and healthy to have your friend group, or hobbies or other things of that sort as a distraction. However, it would be bad if the distraction were specifically to make it so the guy doesn't have to deal with his feelings.

    With the girl getting the BF right away though, I feel like that can't be healthy in any way.

    I don't mean to pick on girls about this. I know guys do similar things as well, I just don't think it is as common. Actually, one time I heard someone say that the way to get over an ex gf was to sleep with 10 girls. I was like "wtf??"