When it comes to heartbreak, glossy magazines teach us that we should drop the past into the grave and begin a new life at all cost. We are told the past is unnecessary, that following a few mental exercises we’ll be able to love again in a matter of weeks.
In reality, nobody and nothing prepares us for having our hearts shattered, for the torment, the deceit and the excruciating pain of navigating a break-up.
We learn to leave, but not to let go.
After my engagement to a man ended abruptly and I found myself in the position of the griever who had to make the very best to survive. What initially seemed an easy mission turned into a painstaking battle. I was supposed to handle emotions at my best, which was in deep contradiction with reason, a daily reminder of the fact that moving ahead seems the only plausible option to maintain my mental health.
One of the many nights I spent awake commemorating my loss I Googled “how to move on from my ex”, “I miss having sex with my ex” and “I can’t take it any more”. Thousands of Internet pages flashed before my eyes, with tips of survival routines gathered from psychology books and glossy digest that resembled slimming diets.
They say the eyes you cannot see, you forget. But I didn’t want to submit myself to forgetting.
All in all, a connection as powerful as what we call love is something you wouldn’t want to dismiss, regardless the pain it caused you. You feel like you hadn’t had enough chances to discover the other, to see yourself through their eyes, to grow next to them. You repent most you didn’t take enough interest in them, or that you took them for granted. Or that, simply, they were infinitely unfair to you, that they failed to see you. So you have options. You may take the easy way and toss EVERYTHING. Post cards, pictures, clothes, papers and any leftovers of your shared existence. Or you can jump inside the vertigo and have the ride of your life. But taking the different road is explaining oneself how frustration from not having had the chance to fully enjoy a person’s universe, in a romantic or friendly connection, can outgrow the love and turn itself into repressed anger.
I usually exchanged a lot of possessions with my lovers, and I particularly liked to dress in their clothes. After every major break-up, the unfinished regard I had for these bearers of my gone lover made me explore thoroughly the areas of life he was attached to. I listened to impressive amounts of records, seen plenty of films and fed myself the art and work of authors I wasn’t enough curious about before.
With every spoon of this treatment, I felt simultaneously closer to my old love and, I wouldn’t use wiser, but definitely more schooled. This exorcism is a form of education. You take bits that you like, you toss what you don’t. In the end, you understand so much more about yourself and the other than you would have by “killing the baby in its crib”. You select what you need, and, at the end of the road, you have learned so much you might as well know most about where did it all go wrong.
I started shooting Polaroid film because of the man I ought to have married. Took to publishing my poems because of the one who got away. Inked my skin because the vows you make to yourself are the only ones that truly matter. Wrote novels because of the ones who left and came back.
You have to understand – there’s no regret in these. In the backside of my mind, in the kind of aloneness where the only living wish is to touch others – without knowing them, I did it all with love.
15 years into my active dating life, I find myself still keeping a soft spot deep inside for every person who has crossed my heart, my home and my bed in meaningful ways.
And even if I might never completely heal from some relationships that ended, I always tried to take some learning out of each one of them.
From one, I learned I liked Nick Cave, Tindersticks, Cranes and Mikhail Bulgakov.
From another, I took to photography. Years later, we did a show together.
The one who almost crashed his car after we first kissed sent me Michelle K. poems and made me learn I can be unforgettable.
Another one made me understand I suffer from anxiety and that repressed emotion is never healthy.
There was the one whom I exchanged passionate letters with but almost never real life kisses. He taught me I have magic powers, and that my depression is an accident of circumstances.
Then there was this one, with whom life felt like the Wimbledon of sarcasm. Our conversations seemed like matches all the time, and someone would always end up raising the bet for the next round. I would picture a ball boy running desperately through the field to throw us more pretentious, witty, and sometimes stuck-up new lines to entertain our dialogues with. I fell in love in spite of all and decided to never regret it, even when I became the woman who left, like in my poems. He was a DJ, and I still ask him for one of a kind music from time to time.
Now I’m dating someone who teaches me, as I speak, to learn patience, and most importantly, to learn I can be part of a relationship, after years and years of running with scissors. And I like that.
But my old loves are still out there, moving through the world, living life now in different cities, having changed or having remained the same. Other women lie now in the beds I once slept, different people came into their lives as friends, new jobs landed their laps. Some perhaps got engaged, will soon be married and have children. Social media makes it painfully easy to browse through their lives and keep up in some cases with the improvement or the loss.
I’m with a man right now, living a completely different life myself than the ones I used to lead in the pastimes. And while I don’t think about my old loves as much as I used to back in the day, life has a strange way to bring us blasts from the past in the shape of birthday cards, unexpected encounters on the street or at social events. Sometimes I greet them, some other times I will just sneak out of the room or cross the street to avoid the past rushing into my heart.
I don’t know if it ever gets easy, but I am hopeful it at least makes for good literature.