A Completely Practical Absolutely Personal Guide to Surviving Heartbreak

A year ago, The Love of My Life broke up with me. In a pub, without taking his jacket off, as I was reapplying red lipstick in preparation for the salsa class I’d been told we were going to. In one fell swoop, life as I knew it ended and, as I alternated between glugging a pint of Guinness and the all-consuming desire to vomit, the complete hysteria of heartbreak overtook me. Now, I am prone to melodramatics but even so, as I balled my eyes out on the Aircoach home on the sodden shoulder of a completely flummoxed mother I was positive, absolutely, wholeheartedly convinced that I would never get over it. Never get over him, the rejection, the humiliation, the sheer and unequivocal grief of losing best friend, partner. I was also certain, in yet further proof of my narcissistic tendencies, that I was the only one to ever have felt this way, to have ever suffered the mortification of going from blissful ‘we’ to puffy-eyed ‘me’. My failure to predict the end of that relationship should give you some indication of, once again, just how wrong I can seemingly be.

Turns out, not only was I not alone, I was in the midst of one of the most invisible clichés of modern-day coupledom – “uncuffing season”.

That wonderful time of year that begins insidiously in the post-Christmas fug and builds incrementally until the full blown spring cleaning, long evening hysteria of March in which most couples decide – or at least one of them does – to consciously uncouple.

Whilst we have spent the past several weeks being relentlessly bombarded by Valentine’s propaganda – propaganda so successful it coerced Irish consumers to spend more than 200 million on the holiday this year – we have heard nothing of this far more interesting, and, let’s face it, far more relatable phenomena of mass heartbreak. Turns out, we’re all obsessed with having love, finding it, falling into it, keeping it but nobody’s interested in talking about the loss of it. As some of us wander through this lonely abyss of love lost, with more set to join the walking wounded as March approaches, let’s celebrate a true depiction of what love’s common end actually looks like, of what being alone and without a bouquet-buyer to hand actually means and how heartbreak, in all of its mascara-smudged, hyperventilating, caterwauling glory, can actually be the greatest gift the Love of Your Life Except Not Really can ever give you. Here’s my dignity and here’s what I learned.

YOU ARE A DRUG ADDICT 

Stop wailing long enough to hear me. You, like every other person who’s ever been in love, are an addict and, since your bearded drug of choice has put a staunch ban on all future fixes, what you are currently experiencing is not a slow, tortuous demise to solitary death by way of fried foods and Guinness but the agony of withdrawal. It’s not you, it’s science. Please remember this whenever you find yourself in the midst of strange or questionable behaviour and, instead of compounding it with a few dollops of unhelpful self-loathing, just repeat the helpful mantra, ‘it’s not you, it’s science’, ok? Desperately shoving old, affectionate messages into the faces of perturbed friends and siblings as you simultaneously bare your teeth and shout, ‘Explain this. Explain this to me!’ – it’s not you, it’s science. Spending inordinate hours fantasising about his remorseful return, composing his apologetic and tearful plea and conducting your own haughty but relenting response from the regal throes of your bed – it’s not you, it’s science. Hysterically crying as you spend hours reading interviews and inspirational quotes by divorced celebrities – it’s not you, it’s science. You are at the mercy of a physiological response and whatever you’re feeling, you need to ride that wave of particular mood swing.

Get thee to a spin class

 When the first bout of withdrawal fades, when the foaming at the mouth stops, the languoring in bed, phone in hand, rereading old messages with the crazed and glazed eyes of someone approaching instability, put on your runners and get thee to a spin class. You will not know what catharsis is until you are sitting on a stationary bike, sweating from every orifice of your body to Pink’s iconic U + Ur Hand as you pummel pedals faster than you thought possible and feel closer to a cardiac arrest than is probably sensible. Making faces nobody has a right to make in public, you will unlock a warrior within you, a warrior of the bike, of the push, the sprint towards closure and HIIT burn.

You are so preoccupied with not dying, not falling off and hopefully not fainting, that there is absolutely no mental capacity to think of anything other than the twenty seconds separating you from glute-splitting, thigh-wrenching, knuckle-whitening torture.

A welcome respite from the hamster wheel of “will he”, “does he”, “how could he”.

Equally, one of spin cycle’s greatest selling points is its handy camouflage for your new penchant for inadvertent and unpredictable crying bouts. If a case of the weepies happens to overwhelm you as you hill climb to Eminem – let’s face it, we’ve all been there – you’re already sweating so much from your eyebrows that no one can tell if you’re neurotic or just preposterously unfit. Seeing as you will be doing a lot of crying in public places, finding a space where you can mask your tears of pain as talismans of physical perseverance is a necessity for some preservation of dignity. Also, if nothing else, the reminder that your heart is still intact – however precariously – and is still intent on working is, to pardon the pun, really quite heartening.

Being in love is not productive 

Being in a relationship is an almighty drain on time, precious energy, and finite resources that, rather than being plugged into the mains of one inconsequential individual, could be used to solve climate justice, the refugee crisis, where really is Wally? Break ups are liberation amplified, you are freed from the tether of another’s emotions, schedule, eating habits, wrested from the constraints of answering a phone or explaining where you are or how long you’ll be. The heartbroken are butterflies emerged from the cocoon, we are people on a mission to regain the time wasted, tears cried, hair torn out, love letters drafted.

Memory the heart, Frida Kahlo

Armed with our righteous pride and burning desire to prove just how well we’re doing to the world (and by world I obviously mean ‘them’) this newfound excess of time and freedom becomes a cesspool of manic productivity. Look at Jane Austen, for goodness sakes! Fleetwood Mac, Frida Kahlo, Hilary Clinton, ad infinitum. They used their heartbreak as material, motivation, catalyst. You can and will do the same…except instead of creating artistic masterpieces or running for President your productivity results in finally hand washing delicates or dubious vegan baking experiments. That’s cool too.

Tinder is very fun 

You will eventually decide it is time to jump back on the bandwagon and jump into the frigid online dating pool. While you will continue to delete it religiously every two weeks, you keep crawling back to the abyss because, it turns out, Tinder is very fun. You get to try out people as one tries on clothes – an experience that either goes very well or completely disastrously but is always endlessly entertaining as you regale friends of the car crashes and successes over a well-earned jug of wine.

You will start dating two men of the same name just because you can, juggling their schedules like a circus professional and constantly having to be told by either of the lucky interchangeables ‘but you’ve already told me this’ as you reuse your scant levels of charm and recycle even rarer nuggets of interesting anecdotes.

You will go out with a man who is a nude model for life drawing classes and whose suggestion for your second date together is to go wedding dress shopping in a scenario in which he is not the groom but rather the gay best friend.

Similarly, you will end up on a first date where you spend four hours discussing the effects of rape culture in society, the problematic implications of inherently patriarchal language, and how social conditioning propagates everyday sexism…before hopping drunkenly into a taxi and going home with this relative stranger who doesn’t really see the problem in equating women to poultry.

Better to have loved and lost…? 

Ugh, I know, why does every cliché have to be so darn accurate? Grief, loss, and rejection are fundamental emotions in our evolution; they are prickly, uncomfortable, unbearable, and almost impossible to shake off but they are also catalysts towards happiness, they are creators of empathy, gratitude, appreciation. While you will have that moment where your breath catches in your chest because the world feels bleak and black and devoid of purpose, it is just that – a moment. The haze passes and, as you realise the life you never thought possible is not only real but enjoyable, the flowers smell sweeter, colour appears brighter and you strut around town like nobody’s business because you did it – you survived the impossible, you outlived the unliveable, and embraced the unknown. The most important thing love has taught me?

You will forget everything you think you’ve learned. 

It’s 8am, also a Wednesday. A name pops up on my phone and I am sudden smiles and heart palpitations, an immediate reply. For the next forty minutes I am staring at my phone, waiting, willing, praying to see the blue double tick of a WhatsApp message and the unbearable hope, indescribable ecstasy of the best word in the world – “typing…”. It is several minutes before I recognise the voice of Dolly Parton in my head that I’ve unconsciously singing along to. The song? Here you Come Again. Typical.

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