Because Valentine's Day is often a time when some of us watch as old heartbreak rises to the surface again, unexpectedly like a giant pimple on our forehead, I wanted to share an email I received from a reader of mine and the response I gave her on the topic of painful heartbreak.
I was browsing your website as I do quite regularly except this time I was in search of an article that I don't know if it exists: The Things I Learned From Heartbreak.
As I am going through (have gone through) a pretty ugly heartbreak, one thing I have learned is that taking advice from strangers is just as important as taking advice from friends because it reminds us we are not alone. For me, heartbreak feels like the most unnatural thing in the world. You create this intense and amazing memories with someone and even if you end on good terms there is still something so tragic about ending a romance...
The part where I become lost is what to do with all the left over memories and love?
I'm back home at my parent's house in Florida and one thing that my mom has been asking me to do over and over again is clean out my childhood room.
That room is quite the mecca of my pre-adult life. Push pinned into every wall, stuffed into every drawer are artifacts from the parts of my life I've grown out of -- or that have grown out of me. I'm talking love letters written in milky pen, tucked into yearbooks. Janet Jackson and Boyz II Men CDs and Minnie Mouse stuffed animals and clothes that wouldn't even fit my American Girl doll, let alone the bones of my 26-year-old self.
But every time she would ask me to do this, I'd throw a tantrum.
"Why can't everything just stay like it is?" I'd say kicking and screaming. "Why do I need to give things away and make this place look like the room of a grown-up I'm not ready to be?"
That stuff is all I have left. All of my deep-rooted memories live inside of that stuff. That stuff, though most of the time I don't even remember I have most of it, gives me comfort. It reminds me, on occasion, of the parts of my life I've had to say goodbye to or have simply just expired or no longer make sense.
That stuff is all I have left, right?
I'm not going to even begin to try to tell you how to heal heartbreak (as you can see, I have issues letting go) because I don't know how and I will stick my fruit-by-the-foot stained-tongue out at any of the people or books who try to preach these things to others.
Like you said, heartbreak is so terribly unnatural. Therefore, I imagine, there's no real cure or real trick to pull yourself out of it. I think the only way to get over it is to first simply sulk in it. Let it take over every single thought and bone and action of yours. Because even if you try not to and you do what your friends beg you to do: take a shower and put on pants, pick up a new hobby, or join them for a night of slamming tequila shots and grinding on the dance floor with a guy in a muscle tee, heartbreak -- like acid reflux -- comes out to play whenever the heck it wants to.
So give in.
I will tell you this -- though at this moment, you won't want to believe me -- it will get easier. It has to. Everything we go through at first seems so unbearably rough and disjointed.
Want to know why?
Eventually, we get used to things. We wake up one day and think, "Oh my god, I'm never going to be in love again or get out of bed again or be able to stop stuffing my face with these mighty fine Cheetos," and by week 47, you're going to find yourself on a third date with a guy whose smile makes you realize your heart is still working quite alright and your sweat glands are still properly functioning and responding well to nerves.
But anyway, yesterday, I finally did it.
I cleaned out my room. I tossed things away that I never knew I could. Because I remembered, memories don't belong in things. They don't even belong in people. That's the coolest and most haunting part about them -- is you don't actually need the person or place or thing to remember. You just will. You always will.
You two had darling memories together; I know that, because when you're in love, even the simplest and smallest thing can be the most delicate and strikingly gorgeous memory. You could be eating a ham sandwich that you got at Subway together on a park bench in the middle of August, as the leaves flirt with color changes, and never be able to forget it.
What I'm trying to say is you don't have to do anything with those memories -- that love. They'll always be a part of you. Don't even bother trying to erase them (spoiler alert: you can't).
We fall madly in love and we fall on the floor and madly cry. We laugh until we feel our world starting to spin and we do things that our make our heart run a marathon race.
Don't do anything with those memories. And when you're somewhere, far away, and you see a muted green Jansport backpack that looks just like the one he used to carry around or you smell a hint of lavender and it reminds you of the time you got a massage together on a vacation in Denver, let yourself feel every part of it.
Let yourself remember.
Because memories are the closest reminder we have that we're alive.
We're so painfully and mesmerizingly and daringly alive.