That was when my heart broke. A love story gone horribly wrong before it even began.
It truly shattered me.
But I’m here now, a different woman.
It wasn’t a walk in the park, though. It took me 14 months to permanently close this chapter of my life. And now I want to share my experience with you in case you’re going through something similar.
1. It is okay to give yourself time and space away from the people who hurt you so you can process everything at your own pace.
If you are reading this, I am giving you permission to create your own space to heal.
Sometimes the situation makes it difficult for you to separate yourself from those who hurt you. Perhaps your ex is part of the same social circle as you. Or maybe you both work in the same industry. Either way, you feel guilty and awkward because you don’t want to create any tension, especially at group gatherings.
Both of those scenarios applied to me, so I understand how difficult it can be to distance yourself from someone that is so closely connected to your life.
If you’re too afraid to give yourself permission, allow me to grant you that permission. Your feelings are valid. You deserve the time and space you need to process everything on your own.
If anyone questions you, respond with kindness about your situation. Tell them you don’t feel safe around the people who hurt you. If they’re a true friend, they’ll understand.
So go ahead—cancel those plans, block them, mute them, become unresponsive.
Do all of this so you can properly grieve.
2. Lean on your friends for support.
This is extremely crucial, especially during the first week.
The night of the incident, I immediately messaged or called all of my closest friends. I wrote essays to group chats and had a short Ted Talk on the phone with my brother about how devastated I was.
It wasn’t my greatest moment, but it was a necessary act.
My instinctive response is repression, but my body didn’t have the capacity to repress what I experienced. And so my body went to the next instinctive response: venting.
For me, venting has been a great tool for release. It might not be the most recommended due to some negative associations around venting (e.g. gossip, taking up space), but I highly suggest it. And when used effectively in a safe way, it is quite healthier than keeping it all in.
To create a safe space for what I call healthy venting, ask these questions:
To your friend: Will you be able to hold space for me as I release my thoughts and emotions for processing?
To yourself: What type of support am I looking for? Do I want feedback on the situation or do I simply want my friends to listen?
Once you figure out what type of support you’re looking for, make it clear to your friends before healthy venting begins. That way the appropriate boundaries and dynamics are set in the group and the risk of offending or draining someone is lowered.
3. Question your beliefs.
I had an “internal working model” for how I viewed romantic relationships, heavily shaped by my parents and the media.
These were some of the limiting beliefs I held around romance:
I am not born whole. I need a lifelong partner to be complete.
Men are emotionally unavailable. It is my responsibility to convert them into emotionally available men.
Something must be inherently wrong with me if I am single.
Now let’s dissect these beliefs.
Why do I think I am not whole? Why do I need a lifelong partner to be complete?
Growing up, like most little girls, I watched most of the Disney princess movies where the princess meets her perfect prince and lives a life of perfect, marital bliss. A classic happily ever after. Even though I knew on a conscious level that those romances weren’t realistic, my inner child still loved those stories. My mind denied the reality and legitimacy of fairytale romances, but my heart still craved it. Perhaps I craved it even more after seeing my parents’ marriage fall apart at 9 years old. I wanted a happily ever after, and apparently so did every other girl.
Another story that made me feel like I needed my other half: The Red String of Fate.
For those unfamiliar with East Asian folklore, the Red String of Fate (Red Thread of Fate or Red Thread of Marriage) states that an invisible red thread binds two people destined to be lovers together. No matter how tangled or stretched the thread gets, the bond between the two soulmates is unbreakable. Fate will have them meet. It’s a romantic tale, and many have adapted this story with their own modern takes. There was something about this folklore that stirred the little romantic in me.
With so many modern tales and ancient folklores around love and soulmates, it’s easy as a child to adopt the mindset that love from another individual will complete us. We don’t realize how much this influences us well into adulthood.
Why do I think men are emotionally unavailable? Why do I feel like it’s my responsibility to make them emotional?
I grew up with a father who didn’t know how to show affection. And because he was emotionally unavailable, I did everything I could as a child to get a sliver of his attention. He split his time between work, home, and China, so he was hardly home too. Every time he smiled at me, patted my head, or called me smart, I viewed it as a huge win. The opposite was true as well. If he ever reprimanded me or called me stupid, I took it personally and would feel unseen and rejected.
Unknowingly, this dynamic played out in real life too. If you’re a woman, our relationship with our father plays a more influential role on our love lives than we realize.
It was only after I had my heart broken that I realized my pattern.
The same behaviors I displayed to win my affections were the same patterns I was going through to try to win the guy’s affections. I was treating the relationship more like a cat and mouse game than a serious, conscious relationship. If I could finally get him to show affection, specifically to me, I’d be a winner.
Why do I think something is wrong with me if I am single?
This one was a hard one to dismantle because it is actually a limiting belief held by a large sum of the world. Even though I considered myself confident, I still felt kind of lousy being single.
Whenever friends catch up, the most popular question is, “So, how’s your love life going?” I’m definitely guilty of asking that, because let’s be real, these kinds of stories are juicy. Why do we do that?
It’s because there is a collective bias against single people. It’s easier to judge single people, especially women. In China, they even have a term for women not married by 30—”leftovers.” Additionally, people in relationships come off as more kind, more caring, and more giving. There are also plenty of reality TV shows with a focus on love (The Bachelor/Bachelorette, Love is Blind, and many, many more).
When this narrative is repeated over and over again, we start to believe the legitimacy of it. Due to the perceived higher value of couples over singles, it’s easy to see how we create a connection between our self-worth and our relationship status.
Now, let’s rewrite those limiting beliefs.
With the help of some amazing friends, healing work, and journaling, I rewrote my limiting beliefs:
I am already whole and do not need someone else to make me complete.
I am able to attract emotionally available men without compromising my worth or values. I choose to move beyond my past.
There is nothing wrong with me and there is nothing wrong with being single. My worth is not defined by my relationship status.
4. Evaluate the relationship and take responsibility for your actions.
If you thought rewriting your limiting beliefs was tough, this next step might be a little tougher. It’s time to confront yourself and the relationship.
Ask yourself what the relationship dynamic was like and see if there were any red flags you may have dismissed. For me, there were consistent red flags once I took off the rose-tinted glasses. A couple of those red flags included:
He never opened up to me about his feelings, but his body and aura would say something else. This led to poor communication, as I was receiving mixed signals.
He didn’t put much effort into reaching out to me but would gladly accept any invitations I sent to him. I was giving way more than I was receiving.
While evaluating, it’s easy to fall into the victim mindset and blame the relationship’s failings directly on your partner. That is not the point. You have to own up to your mistakes and your role as well.
For me, I had to come to grips with the fact that I enabled all of those red flags myself.
I was intuitively aware that the guy wasn’t making himself available to me and that he was taking more than he was giving. But even though I was aware, I still enabled that pattern. I still made myself available and let him take more from me. While I can tell myself all day that he should’ve known better to accept my invitations, I ultimately should’ve stopped talking to him years ago. Yet I kept it going because I’d rather stay in a half-relationship and have someone to like than to not have anyone.
I have to take responsibility for my own role in enabling that pattern.
Once you are aware of your role in the relationship, forgive yourself for the mistakes you made when you didn’t know better. Now that you do know better, apply those learnings to your future relationships.
5. If you no longer align with them, cut them out.
This Instagram post by relationship coach Mark Groves sums it all.
After reading that post, I immediately unfollowed him and removed him from my phone.
How this experience changed me.
Let’s be real, no one likes to get their heart broken. I certainly didn’t!
But it was an extremely necessary experience for me.
Having my heart broken was the first time I realized I was capable of loving someone who was not family, platonic, or a furry animal. I didn’t think I was capable of loving another, given my lackluster record in the romance department. And yet ironically, it was having my heart broken that made me realize how much love I was capable of giving.
It was an eye-opening experience that forced me to question all the beliefs I held around romance, men, and intimacy. By removing the rose-colored glasses I wore for so long, I was able to recognize and learn how to appreciate the perfections in imperfections.
It reminded me that I am human. To hurt and to love is part of the human experience.