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On the value of a broken heart

Several months back, I went to LA to visit my sweetie Gina.

There are a number of reasons I really dig her. She has the same deadpan, two-degrees-off sense of humor I do. She's smart, independent, capable, and sexy as hell. She knows a lot of things I don't know and has a lot of skills I don't have, which is something I tend to look for in people. She's a lot of fun to spend time with. She planted the seeds of an appreciation for horses in me.

And every now and then, out of the blue, she says something that I end up mentally chewing on for months.

One of the things she said while I was out visiting her is that she is usually only attracted to people who have had their hearts broken at some point in the past. People who are "lived in," I think was the term she used. And I've been chewing on that idea for months.

I think there's something to be said for the notion that a person isn't really complete until his heart has been broken.

Which is not to say that having a broken heart is a positive thing. On the whole, having been there myself, I think I'd rather have a root canal. From a myopic dentist with a seizure disorder. Using rusty implements. On a yacht. During a hurricane.

But how a person responds to heartbreak can really illuminate some important things about who that person is.

The easiest thing to do, I think, is react with anger. After all, how dare that no=good, rotten bastard treat you so poorly, right? And to some extent, that's probably normal and natural for most of us; anger is one of the recognized stages of grief, and grief is an appropriate reaction to losing a relationship that's valuable to you.

But it doesn't last forever--or at least, it shouldn't. It's too easy an out. Blaming the other person, the person who broke your heart, is seductively simple to do, and offers a powerful absolution from your own hand in the events. Even if the other person is completely at fault, though, there are lessons to be learned in the aftermath of heartbreak, and the lessons that a person comes away with are potent signs of that person's character. The worst breakups can still teach a lesson about partner selection, after all.

I've talked to folks who seem to have the worst luck in relationship. Every person they've ever been romantically involved with, or o it seems, is a no-account, worthless, shiftless, gormless right royal bastard, at least to hear them talk about it. I'm always slightly saddened to hear people talk about their past experiences that way, because it seems to me that there are valuable lessons in the experience which aren't being learned. And I do believe some lessons can only be learned by heartbreak, and even then only if the people involved are really paying attention.

Having your heart broken is a high price to pay for a lesson you don't bother to learn.

On of those lessons is about compassion, and it's difficult to even think about compassion when anger is occupying all of the space in your emotional realm. I'm not saying that folks who've never had their hearts broken are incapable of being compassionate, of course; but I do think that heartbreak drives the lesson home in a particularly immediate way.

I know that for myself, at least, my own greatest heartbreak occurred at least in part because in some small back corner of my mind, I assumed that my partner and I would always have a friendship, would always come round to being on good terms; and I think to some extent that prevented me from being as compassionate as I could have been, and of working in the most effective way I could have to resolve the problems between us. (Problems that were, to be fair, mostly of my own doing.) That idea that we'd always be friends led me to a tacit assumption that there would always be plenty of time to set things straight between us, so I didn't really need to worry about making things right right now.

As you might imagine, hat person and I have not spoken to one another in over fifteen years. And I still carry the lessons, and the marks, from that heartbreak with me.

There is another lesson that comes from heartbreak, too, and that lesson is courage.

To me, one of the single most valuable things a person can carry into a relationship is the knowledge that it is okay to be alone. I don't want a partner who believes that she must be with me, out of fear of being alone; to me, the healthiest relationships are those that are engaged in freely, as a matter of choice. I don't want the feeling that I must be with a partner; the knowledge that it is possible for me to lose a relationship, to have my heart broken, and that I can still move on and still be happy means that I am free to involve myself in relationships as a conscious choice. I can be happy even without a relationship; that means the relationships I am in, I am in because they add value to my life and to my partner's life, not because I have no choice about them.

Knowing that I can be happy without a relationship means I can never be trapped in a relationship. Knowing that my partners can be happy without a relationship means I never need to fear that a partner is only with me because she has no other choice, which means I never need to fear that a partner will leave me simply because some other choice presents itself to her.

Courage is grace under pressure. It takes courage to know that you can lose a relationship and still find a way to be happy. It takes courage to know that it is possible to face down the fear of being alone, and to release the idea that without your partner, things will never be good again. That's the light on the other side of heartbreak--the certainty that as painful as a broken heart is, there is always the possibility of happiness beyond it.

Compassion and courage together make for the most effective combination I've yet discovered for personal happiness.


( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 19th, 2009 12:20 am (UTC)
Thank you.
Feb. 19th, 2009 12:20 am (UTC)
This circles right around some issues I've been struggling with lately- battling with, really. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.
Feb. 19th, 2009 12:36 am (UTC)
well I agree....

Oh, you probably want a little more than that huh?

I have found that since my ex walked out on me for someone else that I HAVE learned great deal about myself. One of those things is that people who have NEVER had their heart truly trampled, as mine had been, never seem to understand why I still grieve the end of a relationship, that from the outside, looked horrible. (sorry about that run on sentence)

I have had a few friends now that simply cant handle the intensity/lack of impulsivity/depth of thought/seriousness. The most recent could not understand why I didn't coddle her whenever she got into a fight with her husband over stupid things (spending money on a bag of chips, not wanting to have sex RIGHT NOW etc.)

I would like to add that I have learned to appreciate a great many things ever so much more since the trampling. I appreciate friends, I appreciate being able to sleep late on a Saturday, Always having leftovers etc.

It was one of the hardest challenges I have ever faced, but learning that I CAN be solitary has been a good thing. 4 years ago the thought of being ALONE left me near panic, I would NEVER survive being alone! But here I am, and this coming April it will be the end of the 3rd solid year that I have not only managed, but been satisfied with being my own person.

Unfortunately, because I am in not in an area populated with folks who find independent women to be a good thing...I often do find myself feeling alone. Not the soul crushing feeling of being abandoned, but a yearning to share myself with someone else and not having someone else there.

I have had relationships since my ex left, but none, including my marriage, are what I would consider a failure. They were all learning experiences and I still find myself carrying around small things from each of them that reminds me of what I have learned.
Feb. 19th, 2009 01:19 am (UTC)
I totally agree on this one. I had a boyfriend once that had never even come CLOSE to having had a broken heart, and the first time things started to get a little tough, he had no idea how to deal with the emotions. It ended up being a really bad relationship for both of us, and sad to say, after it was over, he HAD had his heart broken... but then, so had I...
Someone who has been through a lot tends to come out on the other side either hopelessly damaged or tempered and honed by the experiences. I guess which depends on your own inner strengths and weaknesses. But if you have not had that strenghtening you are often not able to cope with the problems that come up in every relationship, no matter how 'perfect' or well suited it is...
I am still friends with every single person I have ever dated, because the qualities that attracted me to them in the first place did not magically go away when we broke up. That person may not be right for me romantically, but I would never date someone that I could not be friends with, so why would I give that friend up just because it didn't work out in that one respect?
I am often surprised at peoples surprise over this.... but with every relationship I have had that has failed, I have tried to grow and learn from the experience and I find it sad when some people can't seem to do the same...
Feb. 19th, 2009 02:15 am (UTC)
Heh, Dentist!

There seems to be this odd dental theme in the last couple days... bizarre.
Feb. 19th, 2009 02:21 am (UTC)
Thank you; for various reasons, this post was timely and comforting.
Feb. 19th, 2009 02:27 am (UTC)

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I'm <lj-user="punkerthanvomit">'s partner- I've heard a lot about your writings- but never really read them myself. Just opened up tess's laptop now, and saw this post, and hell- I couldn't agree more wholeheartedly.

I had a story to share regarding my experiences with such things, but decided against it as people involved may end up reading this. LJ is like that. But I digress, I couldn't agree more, and found this entry very well planned, and written. Bravo!

Feb. 19th, 2009 02:30 am (UTC)
lj-tag fail!
Feb. 19th, 2009 02:39 am (UTC)
Before I met my husband, I spent about 3 years alone.
Part if it was because I got my heart broken - part of it was just circumstance.

I am so glad that I really learned how to be alone! I had to learn to know and accept myself before I could move on and find love again - and I did. In the process, I also learned how to be more secure with my relationships so that now, jealousy is not an issue (it was when I was much younger).

Thank you for another enlightening and inspiring post.



Feb. 19th, 2009 04:15 am (UTC)
damn you & your amazing mind- I was JUST about to go crawl in to bed & I had to reasd this entry.... but I think I need to wait until tomorrow for my brain & heart to be able to respond to it fully *yawn* so good night....
Feb. 19th, 2009 06:09 am (UTC)
I have a question about something unrelated, the sexmap! The preorder status bar looks like it's full, does that mean they're going to print soon? I ordered on for my boyfriend's birthday, which happens to be tomorrow. Obviously it's a belated gift at this point (which is fine) but I wanted to know if I should go scavenge for something else tomorrow morning. Thanks!
Feb. 19th, 2009 03:37 pm (UTC)
I'm sure tacit will respond once he wakes up, but I can assure you that the order has been placed and he's just waiting to get them back from the printer :).
Feb. 19th, 2009 03:44 pm (UTC)
They've been ordered! Printer made the plates yesterday; I should have them in my hands by March 2. :)
Feb. 19th, 2009 06:35 am (UTC)
OK, so I just have to say something. You are a most insightful man, and I am VERY glad I friended you. I would love to meet you sometime, just to give you a huge hug for being so very sweet and so very unique.

Feb. 19th, 2009 07:30 am (UTC)
Out of all the posts I have read so far, I would say this is the one I have had the most 'Yes, perfectly said' moments.

I myself have been through a horrendous break-up,one which had serious repercussions not just for us, but for the social circle. We had been together five years, since we were in high school and I didn't know how to handle the idea of alone. I also assumed we were together for keeps and...yes, didn't do the heavy foundation work we needed. However I can always be proud of the way I handled the break-up itself; I learned lessons as I went along. I was criticised at the time for my lack of anger, or for my lack of acting on it, but I believe this has helped me come to terms with it overall, because I don't have so much guilt there. I also have the joy that we are now friends again, after a year or two's hiatus.

Being single is now something I can relish, and upon entering relationships I find it easier to spot the warning signs and work on them, and if necessary, as it was recently, end it. As you said in a previous post, it is important to realise that even if you like someone, and they like you, it is not a foregone conclusion that you must be with them. Sometimes these things just aren't going to work, but that's ok.
Feb. 19th, 2009 11:03 am (UTC)
thank you - this is awesome - mind if i share this via a link to your post?
Feb. 19th, 2009 03:51 pm (UTC)
Not at all! :)
Feb. 19th, 2009 12:46 pm (UTC)
I LOVE this paragraph! I think there's something to be said for the notion that a person isn't really complete until his heart has been broken.

Which is not to say that having a broken heart is a positive thing. On the whole, having been there myself, I think I'd rather have a root canal. From a myopic dentist with a seizure disorder. Using rusty implements. On a yacht. During a hurricane.

It sums up the way I feel & I suspect a lot of ppl feel about how horrible a breakup feels *lol*....
(Yes I'm more awake this morning)
Aboutthe kind of ppl you draw to you- usually it's those from whom you need to learn the most from- I was married to a man who didn't love me very ,uch & when he left I fgelt much better about myself. I'm learning to gradually love myself without validation from others & it seems that I'm finally attracting ppl who like me as I am- imperfections & all.. I'm also learning to draw difficult ppl who help me learn hard truths about myself.... not fun but good for me.
?Unfortunately I don't think that I really have learned how to be ok alone. I learned that I can be ok when alone but since I need ppl around me, being alone for too long I get depressed. I also have difficulty letting go & want to remain friends.... sometimes it's not such a good thing though, because what I want to remain friends with is someone who may not necessarily be good for me.
Life is a learning process I guess & I'm a slow *slow* learner ;)
thanks for this entry- when I took the time to read it fully (yes I'm guilty of being a skimmer! *lol*) I got a lot out of it- methinks I'll add it to my favorite emories if you don;'t mind- fine piece of writing & very thought-provoking....
Feb. 19th, 2009 01:00 pm (UTC)
I am always amazed with almost all of what you write tacit.

I myself find that when it comes to heartbreak both sides want to hurt the other as much as they feel hurt. They want the other person to suffer. I find this difficult to understand, why would anyone want someone else to suffer. Break-ups are bad enough but making someone suffer even more just boggles my mind. I don't understand why people can't just say "we had a good run and i'm sorry we can't continue, i hope we can be friendly or even friends"
Feb. 19th, 2009 02:48 pm (UTC)
Courage is grace under pressure.
I admit it. I skimmed the article. I'll go back later and read it when I have more time and I'm more awake.

But I wanted to comment on this line... "Courage is grace under pressure". I disagree.

Courage is doing the right thing when you will get hurt doing so.

I don't think you need to be graceful to be courageous. I think the men who stormed the beach of Normandy were courageous even though I know that they were probably screaming that they didn't want to go. They still did it even if it wasn't graceful.
Feb. 19th, 2009 04:06 pm (UTC)
Re: Courage is grace under pressure.
The saying "courage is grace under pressure" is attributed to Ernest Hemingway, who used "grace" to mean "doing what you think is right in the face of adversity."
Feb. 19th, 2009 02:49 pm (UTC)
What a wonderful post.

I wanted to say something else about courage. Another piece of courage that I would love to see talked about more is the courage to open one's self up to the possibility of a broken heart. I find being alone quite easy, if slightly achy and sore, because it's pretty much my default existence. I've always been single and pretty much on my own.

What's scary for me is the idea of opening up my heart in such a way that allows the possibility of it being broken. And ironically, that kind of closing off of the heart can cause it's own kind of heartbreak.

Fortunately, courage isn't about the absence of fear, it's about facing that fear, which I hope I'm doing.

In the inspiring words of Michael Franti:

In time we find that we can open
Up a heart that's locked or been broken
By the pain of words not spoken...
Feb. 20th, 2009 01:42 am (UTC)
I second this. Although I agree with everything tacit said, I, also, have no fear of being alone. I have always felt alone. I was a solitary child and I learned at a very early age that I was different from those around me. Even while in the midst of most relationships, I often have feelings of being alone.

What really frightens me is the opening up, of letting someone really see me, because that gives them ammunition to really hurt me.
Feb. 19th, 2009 03:39 pm (UTC)
It seems like people who are out of touch with what it feels like to lose closeness with another human being, tend to be more likely to take those people they are close to for granted.. As irrational as the whole emotional explosion of pain may be, it's important not to lose touch with the experience
Feb. 19th, 2009 05:34 pm (UTC)
You have a point.

The lesson from my worst heartbreak was that happiness is mind-created. I felt so happy to be loved, even though in actuality I wasn't.

And now that I think about it, the other person was the popular type who had never even experienced rejection.
Apr. 14th, 2010 09:03 pm (UTC)
Courage...and anger
"Courage is not possible without the presence of fear. It is not the absence of fear but the taking of action in spite of it."

Since reading that statement a gazillion years ago (I've probably started paraphrasing it over the years) it has enabled me to overcome so many spaces. Your post here is a great example of identifying that "courage space" within the realms of relationships.

In the case of relationships can be the courage to stop being angry in the ways you have described. To allow one's self to feel compassion for the other person on the other part of the heartbreak.

On the other hand I think it is important to acknowledge angry feelings too. What happens if you skip the angry part, don't acknowledge it, see it as a 'bad' feeling? For me it doesn't go away, not really. In my experience it melds into the background and doesn't allow me to *really* like someone again.

The process of heartbreak has several phases. To deny ones self any part of those phases retards the completion. So while I think courage and compassion are admirable they are only part of the spectrum of behaviors that help process heartbreak in a constructive way.

Having experienced heartbreak more than once I now keep asking myself in the middle of that dark space of 'life will never be happy again' feeling that is hearbreak: Where do I want to be when this is over? While emotions and feelings range all over the place (as they do) actions can be guided by an endpoint. This helps to remind one's self that your SO still has admirable qualities (you weren't totally dumb falling for them in the first place right?)and those qualities could be foundational in a future way fo relating to one another.
Nov. 25th, 2010 06:21 am (UTC)
this was long ago, but...
"To me, one of the single most valuable things a person can carry into a relationship is the knowledge that it is okay to be alone."

I'd nearly forgotten this. Thank you for the reminder. :)
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )