Why We Let Our Hearts Break

broken heart

noun − despair; disillusionment; devastating sorrow, especially from disappointment in love.

I’ve always found the notion of a “broken heart” to be slightly misleading. For starters – and to point out the obvious – your heart doesn’t actually ‘break.’ It doesn’t falter, it doesn’t bruise, it doesn’t even crack. It continues beating away, if a little heavier than before; pumping blood through to your vital organs, keeping you alive – whether or not you want to be.

Isn’t it funny the way our hearts pay our minds such little consideration in the midst of a crisis?

Claiming to be heartbroken has become our way of self-diagnosing; validating our emotional state as being a tangible, researchable, and somewhat treatable condition. It packages our pain into an easily-understandable, socially recognized term. It is, after all, much easier to say “this person broke my heart” than it is to say “this person — for whatever reason — no longer loves me and, as a result, I’ve slipped into a deep state of uncontrollable, circumstantial depression from which I may or may not recover.”

I guess you could say that it’s become a twisted form of new-age slang; our way of addressing the intricate layers of love with the simple click of an emoji.

And the thing is – we encourage it.

We encourage it because we can all empathize with a broken heart. We know the pain: the way it swells and consumes so relentlessly, the way it thuds consistently from within. We get it – and we genuinely want to help. Just as one speaks with heightened consideration to the clinically unwell, we tend to conversationally tip-toe while in the presence of the broken-hearted, understanding all too well the mental fragility it causes.

As a result, the broken heart has become a social ‘hall pass’ of sorts, indulging us the hollow perks of an emotional concession card. If there’s one thing I know to be true of us Gen Y-ers, it’s the way we love our concession cards. We reap the rewards of structured narrative and consequently crave the attention heartbreak provides.

I suppose it fills the sudden void of love; gives us something to hold onto — regardless of how painful it might be. I can’t help but wonder, however: is there a chance we’ve developed a case of romance hypochondria?

Indulge me for a moment.

Hypochondria is a mental condition stemming from an often ungrounded fear of falling ill; a person searching for symptoms of disease in amongst all their wellness. It’s the uncontrollable desire to be sick — the writing of a non-existent subtext. I think we have the tendency of approaching our relationships in a similar fashion; as though we’re scaling a two-rung ladder — love and then heartbreak, one always leading into the other. We erase all shades of grey in favor of the certain boldness of black and white.

We jump the figurative gun, subconsciously tying certain experiences to certain outcomes – and certain outcomes to certain feelings.

For example, I was recently (albeit briefly) romantically involved with someone who – for reasons which remain unclear — decided that it’d be fun to all-but vanish from the face of the Earth. No call, no text, no email, no hand-written note delivered by carrier pigeon. Silence was their breakup method of choice.

At first I was left feeling sad, confused by their sudden and apparently reasonless abandonment. But then I felt ripped off.

How could I be treated so poorly by someone I’d had feelings for, and be left with the mere B-Grade emotions of sadness and confusion? I’d been sold short. I wanted something more, I needed something more. I deserved the validity of heartbreak. So I broke my own heart — or at least tried to. I found the symptoms, despite their not being there, and I expanded upon them. I played the right songs, I drank the right number of the right drinks, I said the right things to the right people.

I slowly, but surely, became officially, certifiably heartbroken.

You see, it was my way of memorializing something which had never truly been alive. By heightening my emotional response to this person’s leaving, I was turning our relationship into something more than it ever was, posthumously sculpting the love story I’d so craved.

I guess that’s the hidden danger of using a term such as ‘heartbreak’ — it sets an emotional standard, an expectation; gives definition to something which is, in essence, undefinable. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Check out Sam’s latest book Love or Something Like It here.


featured image – Humberto Marum

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