Some people don’t believe hearts can break. Some people believe broken hearts only come with age; you can’t experience them without a certain maturity. And some people believe broken hearts are terminal and forever, that it’s a “one and done” kind of thing. Bless them. They’re all entitled to an opinion. I, however, disagree. Hearts break, age isn’t a factor, and it can happen over and over again.
You risk heartbreak by being of the world, by interacting with other people, and by falling in love. When you fall, there’s always the chance that your heart will be stomped into dust by the person you gave it to. It’s scary. Most people, however, seem to feel the reward is worth the risk, at least based on my informal study of people I know, who all seek out affairs of the heart and lament when they aren’t partnered up.
I’m not partnered up. I am alone, heart-whole, and content with it. I’m not “alone-alone”. I have a family. I have friends. I have a cat (insert older single woman joke here). I do not, however, have a romantic partner. I’ve been abstaining from affairs of the heart and body for four years. It’s a choice I’m making because of choices I made. Specifically, bad ones.
I’ve had some epically bad relationships. Abusive, corrupt, and emotionally and physically damaging. Relationships can be tricky when you have a diminished sense of self and no boundaries. It’s just begging for bad things to happen. Which they did. Repeatedly. And I decided I was tired of it. Tired of heartbreak, tired of treating myself like I didn’t matter, tired of the abuse, tired of acquiescing to dates and relationships because society and my circle seemed to feel it was the norm.
I will get back into the dating pool when I’m damn good and ready and if it’s dried up by then, so be it. The upside with staying determinedly single is I no longer worry about my heart shattering. It is whole and intact.
I wish I could say the same about my son’s.
His first adult relationship with the girl he wanted to marry came to an end this weekend. I opened the door Sunday night when the bell rang and there he stood, arms full, asking if he could move back home.
I stood in the foyer, unsure of my moves. This is new parenting territory. And, boys are tricky. I know what to do with a girl. Despite having raised one, boys remain a little alien to me. How was I supposed to comfort my son through this, especially considering he doesn’t really like to talk?
“Of course, you can move back in,” I said. “Of course.”
I asked him what happened. It’s mutual he says, or as mutual as breakups can be because mutual usually isn’t really a thing. His girlfriend, my almost daughter-in-law, is struggling. She was in an abusive relationship before the one with my son. She’s had two serious car accidents this year. She started college. And, like me, she struggles with depression.
She’s been sinking, he tells me. Drinking as well, she tells me later when I touch base, and not sleeping, and terrified for her future. She’s talked to her parents. She’s getting help. But she can’t do a relationship right now. She doesn’t want to. She wants to get well, get stable, get out of the hole.
Fair enough and my son thinks so too when he explained a bit of this to me, but understanding doesn’t take away the pain. There is something awful about having your grown-up child crying in your arms. Because you know you can’t fix it. This is an adult problem and I can’t make it go away with cuddles and kisses on the forehead. I don’t have any magic words.
One of the things you try to keep your children safe from is your own history. You want to spare them from the things that caused you distress and grief. I was obsessional about bullying with my children. I was so traumatized by my experiences that I was overly-focused on making sure it wasn’t happening to them. I’m sure by the time they left school, my children were exhausted by my inquiries. I wanted to spare them broken hearts, too.
I was lucky. I didn’t fall hard, all the way into love until I was in my mid-twenties. I dance around the edge some but I never went all in. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky in my choice of partner. He was damaged and wounded and I thought I could fix him. I thought I was his soul mate. I thought I was the one who would make everything better. I was wrong. He got worse the longer we were together and his violence and abuse and problems escalated as they are wont to do. I did not, however, pull the trigger on the relationship. I wish I had.
In hindsight, the collapse of the relationship was a very good thing. People with no boundaries should not get together with people who have a tendency towards abuse. But what you know and what you feel are different things. I was devastated by the loss of my life, my love, and my family.
I cried violently. I raged. I was sure I would die alone and that it would be soon because how can you survive a fractured heart? I sat on the floor and wept. I listened to sad songs I was sure were written especially for me. I raged at my friends ‘til they were sick of the stories. I shared with total strangers. I threw my engagement ring off a bridge.
My son is silent.
But he’ll heal. You heal. Broken hearts are rarely fatal even though they feel like it. Time passes and the pain eases and the anger abates. The older I get, the more I realize that the only thing a shocking number of things require is time. But in the now, broken hearts are hard and they hurt and it sucks. I would give anything to mitigate the experience for my son. I don’t want him to feel pain for even an instant, even though I know it’s a necessary part of life, even though we need experiences to grow.
I don’t want him to have a broken heart.
He will survive. He will thrive. He’ll love again – hearts mend, even when we think we don’t want them to. But I’m devastated I can’t fix this, can’t make it be six months from now when the sorrow has lessened and he’s grown easier about the changes and adjustments to his life he’s been forced to make.
Hearts break. It’s a requisite and thoroughly miserable part of life.
What do you do to deal with a broken heart?