I spent many of teenage years scouring online articles and How Tos for managing grief after a breakup. I was especially consumed by anything with a zippy, empowering title. I couldn’t feign interest in articles that even slightly suggested that breakups were supposed to be sad. My priority was to breeze past the mourning period and step onto a bold platform as a self-actualized young woman. I was still young, so the breakups, while superficial, largely reflected the nature of our relationships, too.
Entering into my first serious adult relationship was uncharted territory. Despite thinking of myself as a seasoned dater, I was completely out of my element. Excited. A little intimidated. Most of all, I was afraid. I didn’t know what to expect from a relationship that was so mature and now expected the same from me. Conversations about previous relationships always seemed like a dance with awkwardness because as embarrassing as they were, the question that followed always seemed worse.
“What is your view on relationships? What do you want out of your relationship?”
You think of all the things you might say in response to that. You don’t want your reply to seem shallow and generic, but that’s exactly how it ends up sounding. Because for me, I’d never had to sit down with myself, much less with another person to answer them. That’s the exact moment when I realized that all the late night scrambling for finger-snapping articles that understated feelings to a near sociopathic level had done me a great disservice. They were Band-Aid fixes that never required me to feel, but also made it so that I never grew. I was never forced to look inside myself to understand why I was actively seeking people who were wrong for me. I never had to answer for the superficial nature of our relationships.
I never had to confront the fact that these relationships were part of a larger pattern issue that only I had the power to fix.
So when this mature, adult relationship ended, I was forced to answer for it all. I couldn’t escape the feeling of my heartbreak. The grief bubbled inside me and poured out from my eyes at the slightest provocation—like hearing my partner’s name, a sad song, even seeing our neighbour’s obnoxiously adorable dog. The grief was that much more profound because it was the first time I really let myself pay any attention to it. I am more grateful every day for that opportunity. Because for all my tears and for all the anger and the whirlwind of self-loathing that followed, I learned something.
To stop trying to avoid the heartbreak.
Because it had something important to remind me.
Foremost, it reminded me that I had reason to be sad. My relationship was ending. Despite our troubles, this person was my first love. We had a slew of inside jokes. We had our own language. We knew each other intimately. We loved each other both in spite and because of that knowledge. The fact that I was reeling from the loss was a reminder of the beauty that gave me so much to grieve.
It was that same grief that reminded me why the relationship needed to end. It was not enough that I loved my partner deeply, or that they loved me back. We were fundamentally different people who wanted different things. We could not reconcile those differences without changing the most important parts of ourselves. I couldn’t bear to compromise my beliefs and my partner would grow to resent me if they compromised theirs. Trying to avoid our inevitable breakup only lead to more tension and fighting between us. More hurt than being apart. The heartbreak—truly feeling heartbroken, reminded me of how much more painful staying together as bitter rivals, rather than lovers, would’ve been.
In that spirit, heartbreak was a powerful reminder of where things went wrong in our relationship. This isn’t where you should lament aimlessly or circle with pointing fingers. Sometimes things go wrong because you never had a chance to begin with. Because you were different people who wanted different things, who only managed to stay afloat before circumstance required you to reveal your differences.
Sometimes things go wrong from the very beginning, because you, a lot like me, didn’t have a firm grasp of what you wanted your relationship to look like. You weren’t sure of what you brought to the relationship. You weren’t sure of what you wanted them to bring to bring to the relationship. You might’ve hoped that you’d both eventually find a middle ground to grow from, but reality left both you and your partner scrambling instead.
Maybe it was that compounded by the fact that I was lagging unresolved relationship baggage behind me throughout our entire courtship. Unpacking at will. Inciting drama from old laundry. I was not faultless.
The heartbreak that I avoided for years thinking it’d blind me gave me new eyes. New perspective. An appreciation for the mistakes I was making now that I knew I was making them.
The point isn’t to romanticize the hurt of your heartbreak or prolong it. It’s to accept that it has an important job to do. That if you abandon your fear of being lost to your grief, you open yourself up to the potential for true healing and growth.