Sunday, 19 May 2013

How do you mend a broken heart?

I've been thinking about this a bit lately, having read a couple of books which feature a fair bit of heartache - and also writing my new novel, some of which is about the pain of lost love.

This has made me think about my own romantic past - and cringe a bit, too.  

It's 40 years (Jesus, that long??) since my first kiss, which is, I suppose, where my, um, eventful love life started!  Although I have experienced a few times the shock to the system, the period of adjustment, the loneliness and all the rest of the emotions that go with the end of a relationship, I've had my heart badly broken just once - and it was so bloody awful it had quite an impact on me and made me much more empathetic towards others who go through it.  I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.  But I got over it, and went on to be 'better off without him', as people tell you you will be (and no, of course you can't see it at the time!)

When I thought about it in some depth again (nowt like 'writing what you know!') I realised there were a few things I did that really helped me get through it.  So I thought I'd write about it in the hope that even one of them might help someone else who's going through it now.

Names changed to protect the innnocent!

I met Nick when I was 30, and we were together for 6 years, living together for 4.  In 1996 he left me for someone else, though I'd suspected he was going off me for about a year.  I had never been so completely in love with anyone before, and did not feel that strongly for anyone again for quite some time afterwards.  When he left me I collapsed; I remember actually falling against the wall when he finally drove away.  I couldn't eat; I really couldn't, I retched when I tried.  I couldn't sleep, and the pain was so bad I didn't know how I was going to bear it - hey, if you've been there too, you'll know what I mean!  But in stronger moments I kept telling myself, every day I live through this is a day closer to getting over it.  I remember looking out of the back door onto the sunlit garden on the 3rd day (it was a Monday in late  May) and thinking, it's like this now, but it won't always be.  One day I will get over this, and then my life will be better, because I won't have to worry about losing HIM anymore - he was one of those men who was very hard to pin down...!

I'll start off with something positive - I lost the stone (or possibly more!) that I'd piled on over the past year and went blonde again (he'd liked me dark) - suddenly I looked and felt more attractive, and that did wonders for my confidence.  Even in my depths of despair I found myself trying clothes on that previously I couldn't get into, and thinking, wow!!!  This is usually the first good thing about any break up.... now, the rest of it....

About two days after he left me, I had a phone call from his mother, herself a veteran of many relationships.  We'd never been particularly close but we liked each other well enough.  As I was drinking my morning orange juice spiked with the vodka I needed like I needed cigarettes and air to breathe at the time, I listened to her.  She told me these things, which I took on board, and I'm so glad I did:

Don't take him back, if he asks.  He will find the shock to the system of the break up hard too, and may have a few 'oo-er' moments, but unless he can really show you that he's made a genuine mistake, he'll probably do it again some time, because the things that made him want to leave in the first place won't have gone away - and then you'll have to go through this all over again.  (Incidentally, Nick started playing around behind the back of my successor after 3 or 4 years, too - I just thanked my lucky stars I was out of it!)

Get out and start living your life again as soon as you possibly can.  Every day you do this is a day you're building up your new life apart from him/her. 

I'd also like to add these few words of wisdom of my own, because they're things I did that helped me - look, I won't keep doing the him/her he/she thing, okay?  If you're a chap reading this, just read the 'him' as 'her'!  I can't comment on what it's like when you have children, because I don't have any, and this is nothing about the practicalities of a break-up - just the way to help mend a broken heart.

Right - the first thing is, refuse to see him.  He may want to come round to talk to you, just to see you, because he will miss many things about your relationship, even though he doesn't actually want to be in it anymore.  Every time he leaves, though, you'll be hurting as bad as you were at the beginning, all over again.  Nick still wanted to see me; I told him on the day he left that it wasn't going to happen. I knew I wouldn't be able to handle it.  He tried; I just didn't answer the door.   This was before mobile phones were everywhere, thank goodness; must be so much harder now, with texting, Facebook and all the rest of it.

Watch the drink.  Everyone drinks a bit more when they're heartbroken; what I did was drink enough to blur the edges a bit but not enough to get totally slaughtered. On the one time I did, in the company of a friend who had a drink problem and wanted me to drink with her, using "it'll help" as an excuse to get me drinking as much as she did, I felt much, much worse, and then had to cope with the hangover depression in the morning, too.  Also, you run the risk of making those late night drunken phone calls that make you feel such a prat the next day.

At the beginning, you're in shock.  All your friends rally round.  In some ways this is the easy bit.  Give it two weeks down the line, though, and they'll expect you to be pulling yourself together a bit.  This is when the grief bit sets in, and sometimes you have to go through this alone.  Don't bore your friends witless. If you show them you're helping yourself, they'll be more likely to help you, too.  I had terrific, supportive friends, but they had things going on in their lives, too; I couldn't expect them to 'be there for me' all the time.

Rebound relationships - I'm in two minds about them.  I started one 6 weeks after Nick left, with someone who was totally wrong for me.  2 months later, I had to work out how to evict him from my life, too ...  I don't blame myself for this, because he was a twat, but I don't know that I should have got into the situation in the first place.  On the other hand, it turned my focus away from my broken heart.  So I'd say don't do it if a) you're just using the person, because it's not kind or b) it's someone who exhibits the sort of behaviour from which you would usually run a mile!  But a fling never hurt anyone, and can buck up your spirits.  Unless intimacy with someone else is likely to make you cry because it's not him, of course, in which case you're not ready for it.

This is a cliche, but it really works.  Think about all the bad things about them.  Nick was unreliable, late for everything, and a compulsive gambler.  He was horrendously untidy.  His gambling went in phases, but when he was 'on one' I would spend hours in casinos; it was the only way I got to spend any time with him.  Once he left, though, all this was over.  Hurrah!

Even during the first month, when your pain is at its worst, you will have whole half hours when you don't feel quite so bad.  Use these times to do something that will help you in the long run - things like packing up any of his remaining things and putting them away somewhere where you can't see them - thus, the sight of his favourite soup bowl will no longer set you off on another crying jag when you're in the next 'my life is over' phase!

Talking of getting rid of anything he's left behind, get a friend to be with you when you're doing it.  I got my brother to stand and talk to me in the bedroom while I moved all the furniture round - I made it look as much like a different room as possible!

Your favourite sad records.  Play them and cry.  Everyone has the ones that work for them - for me it was Aerosmith's 'What It Takes' and Thunder's 'Today The World Stopped Turning' - that title actually made me cringe to type it!  It's a bit of self-indulgence (especially coupled with the aforementioned carefully controlled drinking) that can help, just a little.

Make yourself look as good as you can.  Spend those lone, lonely evenings doing your nails and trying out different combinations of clothes, organising your wardrobe, plucking your eyebrows, applying your fake tan - whatever!  It sounds superficial, but looking your best never did anyone any harm, and increases your confidence.

Most women lose weight and have something fab done with their hair after a relationship break-up.  But it's such a bad idea to start deliberately turning up at places where you know he'll be, hoping to 'show him what he's missing'.  He knows what he's missing, he's seen it at its best and its worst and all the stages in between, and he's decided he doesn't want it anymore.  If you're just doing it to show him how great you look, and that you don't care, for your pride's sake, then yeeh-hah! Arrive there with a new man on your arm too, why not, it'll make you feel marvellous - just don't expect it to make him fall in love with you all over again!

When you're having a bad day, go to bed.  Have a long bath with lots of bubbles.  Wear a big furry dressing gown.  Sunbathe.  Do things that make you feel physically comfortable.  It won't make the bad day good, but it might make it just bearable.  I used to sit in the garden drinking my (weak!) vodka and cokes and crying.  The warmth of the sun on my skin made me feel better - oh, and I got a tan without noticing I was getting one, which was a bonus!  Don't try to do anything socially that you don't feel up to - it'll make you feel worse.  

If you go out to work, and it's at all possible, take some annual leave in the early stage.  Or explain to your superior that you need a bit of time off, and say why.  Collapsing into tears at work is horrible, and you probably won't be able to do your job properly anyway.

And finally.... once you're over it and you've moved on with your life (whether this takes 3 months or a year), be there for other people like they've been there for you - it might not be the same people, of course, but try to use the experience to help others through it a bit.  I don't mean to sound preachy or like some ghastly Pollyanna type, but doing this really is a way of getting the positive out of an awful experience.  I remember one day, about 3 weeks after Nick left me, I was sitting at home on a bright sunny morning feeling as though I wanted to end it all, when I got a card in the post.  It was from a friend of a friend, someone I hardly knew, but it was just a nice card to say that she was thinking of me.  It made so much difference to that day - it made me cry (in fact it's made me feel a bit teary thinking about it now!) but it helped SO much.  It made the day bearable.  

I hope this has been a help to anyone who is suffering at the moment.  You WILL get over it, and be happy again - maybe even happier than you were with HIM!


Note: I met up with 'Nick' again in August 2013, having not seen him for 10 years; he got in touch with me through a mutual friend.  We still got on like a house on fire, but then we always did.  I really noticed, though, how I'd sort of 'moved on' but he hadn't - he was still starting up relationships without thinking about anything but momentary gratification.  He was currently single, and sleeping in his brother's spare room.  When we met we were 29 & 30 - we're now in our early 50s.  It was really nice to see him though!  At one point he said to me "I think our relationship ended because it was so intense at the beginning that it couldn't have remained that strong".  I said, "No, Nick, our relationship ended because you started shagging someone else."  

And who says women aren't the practical ones???!!


  1. Hi Terry. This all felt very familiar to me as someone who's been through this! The other tactic I can recommend is aversion therapy- once you're over the first few horrible months. Actually it was 2 years until i felt strong enough, but I went back to all our special places and just cried behind my sun glasses. It was hideous but very cathartic. So glad he dumped me now! Glad for you that you got such good advice from his mother!

  2. Hi Margaret! Thanks for reading and commenting. Bloody hell, two years? I know, some people's 'moving through it time' is longer than others' - it depends on what point in your life it's at, too, of course. I'd been through a divorce 7 years before the episode with Nick and I damn well wasn't going to go through anything that awful again, so I MADE myself get through it! I really know what you mean about going to those places - something that worked for me was going to them with someone else so that I could think, NOW the 'last time I went to this pub' was with my sister (for instance), not HIM! Yes, I listened to his mother because she'd been married 3 times and had several other relationships - hear the words of one who knows..... !! Oddly enough I never saw her again, but I did send her a birthday card a couple of weeks later, in which I thanked her. But yes, isn't it great to look back and think, yes yes, thank goodness he DID dump me!!!

  3. Great post Terry! :) And fab advice. I've had a couple of excruciatingly painful break-ups, and the worst of the two I was the dumper not the dumpee. Calling off my wedding six weeks before the big day, walking out on my man and then suffering a nervous breakdown, has to be the worst emotional pain I have ever felt and I wouldn't wish it upon anyone. He recently told me it was the worst time of his life, and to think I caused him that much pain still hurts me, but it had to be done. That was 20+ years ago and thankfully all was not lost - we have remained very best friends and see each other regularly. Those 8 years we spent together weren't in vain at all and I am grateful for them.

    I think it's important to remember that we can all suffer the most dreadful things in life, but they make us stronger people, and teach us lessons which contribute to our future life choices.

    I've always believed there is a reason for everything even if it isn't evident at the time, and therefore I try to approach life with a positive outlook even when things aren't going my way. What will be, will be. ;)

    1. Thanks for commenting, Alice! I know just what you mean about it hurting almost as much when you're the dumper not the dumpee; I wept buckets when I left my 2nd husband, I couldn't bear that I'd made him that unhappy. I was so glad when he found someone else and was happy again. I don't believe that everything happens for a reason as I believe that you make your own luck, and life is mostly a series of random occurrences of which you can make the most or the least, but I certainly agree with you about the horrible experiences making you a stronger person and more able to make better choices in the future. Also, it helps you understand others better. I'm glad, now, that it happened to me.

  4. Very good Terry. I'm happily married and there are another few million women I'm sure I could fall in love with. The difference with Anne is that I couldn't ever conceive of deliberately doing anything to hurt her. Is this love? I don't know. Over the years the initial romance and excitement changes to domestic routine and finally a sort of mutually dependent companionship. Sometimes I wish I could turn back the clock to those early days - the innocence, the glamour, the freshness, but also the naivety. It's reflected in my book The Badger's Holt Affair where I inhabit two worlds. My own and that of my alter ego. Who and where I really wanted to be perhaps. Not in the real world, but nice to dream. I think everyone experiences love in a different way, depending on their sensitivity and intelligence. When I was single I was falling in love every five minutes but it was another matter finding one who would see me in the same light. I grabbed the first one that did but I can't say I've never looked back.

    1. I think we experience love in different ways throughout our own lives, too, Ben; what works for me now at 50+ would not have been right for me at 25, 30 or even 45. I'm glad, now, that I've had so many relationships because I don't do that 'grass is greener' thing that some people who've been with the same person for many years do! Thanks for reading and commenting, Ben :)

    2. The grass IS always greener, but only until the Fall

    3. Great post Terry. Love how you delved into your personal experience and helped the lot of us cope with it. Brought wee tears to my eyes remembering the breakups I've been through. Horrible feeling! Keep blogging and don't forget no matter what I'll always lubs ya!

  5. Thank you, Ben..... and the lovely KJ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Lubs ya too, honey!! :)

  6. What an interesting post, Terry. I love the smiling puss at the bottom, animals really do smile don;t they? It's extremely interesting to hear how you felt, what you did, how you coped. You get the feeling that you had to walk off a precipice into the unknown, and for each person they have to cope in their own way. And maybe people without deep feelings it's just water off a duck's back? As you say a break up is bad enough, but how much worse it must be with children, money matters etc to think about as well? Literally a living nightmare. Really really interesting and thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences

  7. Thanks for reading and commenting, Geoff! Oh, believe me, I had the money matters to think of, as well - we'd shared a house, and now I had to run it on my own! I went through a phase of living on rice and beans and actually feeling a bit weak sometimes because I wasn't getting proper nutrition and had to walk miles to work every day - I needed those bus fares to buy food for me and the cats! Not a time I like to re-live - 1997, a truly awful year!

  8. Appreciated this post, Terry. My problem has always been that I'm probably too romantic. I've always believed in the 'one true' love thing and keep harking back to Genesis. If Adam & Eve had only stayed faithful to their God, they'd a) still be alive and b) still be deeply, truly in love! (Song of Solomon 8:6,7)

    1. Thanks for reading and replying, Jacy! I don't know why, but I've always been quite practical about relationships - I don't believe in that 'one true love' thing because people change throughout their lives, and you need different things at different times. As for Adam and Eve, I really can't comment!!

  9. I could barely read this through the tears. Yes, I've been there. I had a wonderful friend with a wonderful mother. My friend refused to let me sit in the house and cry and took me to meet her mother, who was is a retired GP and the wisest person I have ever met. She said a lot of really useful things.
    1. Don't expect them to change. It's possible but highly unlikely.
    2. It gets better, you just have to keep on breathing.
    3. Don't be horrified with yourself if you find you become promiscuous for a while. It's part of the process.
    4. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger (and more understanding for other people).
    I'd like to add that when I was trying not to be a burden on my friends more than one said it was a privilege. How would you feel if a friend of yours suffered in silence and didn't share it with you?
    Also I would like to repeat something my friend said when I tried to refuse to go out on the grounds that I had no money. She said give what you can to the system when you can and take what you need when you need it. It won't be the same people but that doesn't matter.
    I survived. I eventually found a wonderful man and I am a million times happier and better off now than I ever would have been if I'd stayed with my first love. And, as a special bonus, it's provided me with loads of material for stories.

    1. Thanks for reading and replying, Jenny! What sprung out most to me was that the giving and taking isn't always done by and for the same people - I couldn't agree more! The people you help might help others, who in turn will help different people, but it all goes round and round. And you're so right about the writing material! xx

  10. Were you able to work at all, or did that go down the toilet while you were getting over it as well? Were you writing then? Curious...

    1. Hi Paula! I wasn't working at the time, and yes, I had been writing, I'd written about 9 novels from 1993-96, but that ended it for a while. I didn't write again until 1999, when I was in a steady relationship again. Some people use writing to pour their stuff out into; I only do it when the rest of my life is stable and I can look back on things that have happened with a more dispassionate eye. Actually, I hadn't worked for some years when I was with 'Nick', but got a job 2 months after he left. Needed to get back into the world again. Thanks for asking!

    2. Now that's the scary part for me. When an event like that puts such a shock into my system that I can't do the work I define myself by. Terrible snowball effect to that. A job - any job - where there's some validation for your worth in the world, and connection to others that also builds the capacity for independence (i.e. being able to pay for your own food, clothing, and weak vodka and whatevs) is helpful. But it's a dark, scary hole and one of the most helpful things is knowing other folks who have been there and managed to climb back out. So good on you for sharing.

    3. It really changed me - for the better, I think. Made me understand what other people go through more, and I did become a bit of an agony aunt for a while; people were always saying 'talk to Terry, she's good with this stuff' - not because I was a saint (far from it) but because I appreciated so much the people who helped me that I wanted to be able to make it a bit better for someone else who was going through it! Thanks x