- Gender and Relationships»
- Relationship Problems & Advice
Heartbreak: A Learning Experience
Love is a very powerful entity. So much so that even the potential of love itself can be quite powerful. Lust, intrigue and infatuation can all be overwhelming as well since they can be easily confused with love, especially in a less-than-mature mind. The fact that love can uncork such extreme emotions both in its bliss and in its loss should tell even the most casual observer that it is not to be taken lightly or for granted. Of course, when we are in love, we often have this feeling that it will never end. Then there are those such as myself who fear it will end. A common consequence of these very combustible emotions is heartbreak.
As they say, 'live and learn' or, as I say, 'love and learn'. I feel that you can only really learn from love if you've had it taken from you. Heartbreak, some call it. One of my writing teachers in college once told me, "don't write about love unless you've suffered for it". Some of you may disagree with this, but this is how I roll.
Now, how do you learn from heartbreak? Well, I don't really know. At least, I can't give you any kind of step-by-step pattern that works for every situation. Well, actually, accept, forgive and move on is a good one, but that's awfully general. Therefore, I'll provide for you the five most prominent examples in my life and what/how I learned from them.
The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Actually, scratch that . . . that's a lie! The names have been changed to protect me!
I met her at the beginning of my junior year in college. She was a pretty hippie-chick who had a knack for loving life and all it brought to her. I was absolutely taken with her almost immediately. As it turned out, she was quite attracted to me as well and we quickly became an item. So much so that it took only about six weeks for us to exchange 'I love you'. Next thing I knew she was staying over at my apartment almost every night . . . you know, 'fools rush in' and all that. Like it is with a lot of relationships experienced at this age, the intensity did not last. After about four months, I started to feel smothered. We were attached at the hip way too much. In short, I cheated on her. Don't worry ladies, she caught me . . . red-handed, in fact. What she did as her immediate reaction was (and you ladies who've been cheated on will love this one) she took all my food containers from the fridge and cupboards and emptied them onto the floor. Can't say I blamed her, since she pretty much caught me in the act. I probably could've convinced her the other girl was just a friend had she been wearing her skirt when Lori entered the apartment.
Now, here's the kicker. She didn't break up with me. She insisted on staying with me and trying to work it out. i was too overwhelmed with guilt not to go along with it. However, my indiscretion had caused her to be so controlling and suspicious that I had to account for my whereabouts whenever I wasn't in class, at work or with her. We nearly broke up several times after that, but always stopped short. Eventually, she left me for another woman.
The next three months were spent having many a painful conversation about why it ended, why we can't get back together and why it was all my fault. My roommate and I went through five phones that summer because four of them were destroyed by my heartbroken rage. This was back in the 20th Century when phones still plugged into the walls and, let me tell you, those phones sure were fun to destroy!
Learning from all of this was a painful process. For a while I was completely poisonous to just about any woman I met and it showed. Some days were better than others, but I pretty much tortured myself over this, constantly. Eventually, I realized how unhealthy this was for me and tried to forgive . . . her and myself. Later on, Lori actually contacted me and apologized for being so smothering and controlling. Apparently, her female lover was just as smothering and controlling withher and, after giving this some serious thought, I felt liberated from all this guilt and rage. Once this level of clarity came upon me, I learned that we didn't break up when I initially cheated on her because we both needed to learn from each other's unique perspective. Also, we both had to learn to forgive.
I met May (as we will call her) when I was about a year out of college. She was much younger . . . about a month away from graduating high school. She was a decorated honor student who had many boyfriends before me and simply didn't fancy boys her age. As I found out later when we were dating, she had quite a thing for me. In fact, she stalked me. This she freely admitted. I mean, she literally said, "because I'm stalking you!" when I asked her why she always seemed to show up at the coffee shop in which I was working just before my shift ended. I thought she was just having a little fun with me when she said that. She wasn't. To this day, I'm still pretty oblivious to the feelings and intentions of the opposite sex.
I refused to give in to her at first since she was so young, but she eventually got into my heart. Then, she went off to college. When she was in Boston and I was still in southwest CT our relationship was a careful balancing act. We were together for about two and a half years but being committed was, shall we say, on and off. Neither of us could really deal with the trust issues that naturally go with a long-distance relationship. For a while, I lived in Providence just to be closer to her, but we still had trouble making time to see each other.
After I moved back to CT I had a night out with my best friend from high school and a bunch of his college friends. We were in Queens that night and, to sum up, we ended up in what you would call a whorehouse, that night. I'm not proud of it, but that's what happened. In a way, I was glad I was drunk and stupid enough to go there, because the horror that is a situation like that was right in my face and I'll never forget it. i stopped short of doing what I originally intended to do, but the guilt got to me. Six months later, I confessed.
"If I'm not completely honest with her, our whole relationship is a lie," is what I said to myself to motivate me to tell her this painful truth. She was so hurt that she broke up with me. Well, duh! But the cause of her pain was not what one would normally expect. I can still remember her words.
"I wish you had just f***ed some random girl if you felt that trapped. The kind of man you are makes it so especially horrifying that you would even consider, drunk or not, the idea of further exploiting a woman who is so desperate that she has to do such things with disgusting men!" Yep, she really let me have it. And I totally deserved it.
After all of this, she still wanted to stay friends, She was very protective of me. When I was an adolescent and then into early adulthood, I had a serious problem with self-inflicted aggression. I would literally (when I would get intensely angry) ram my head into walls until I saw stars. May stayed friends with me because she had made so much effort to help me to overcome this and she wasn't going to give up just because she could no longer be my girlfriend. Also, as much as she was dead set on staying broken up, she still loved me. And I still loved her. I first tried to deny her the friendship because I wanted to punish her for dumping me, but I gave in to her. Besides, I only would've been punishing myself.
What I eventually learned from this was that I needed to overcome my low self-esteem and insecurities. They were what caused most of our problems. When I cooled off and soberly reflected upon this, I realized that despite my insecurities and perceived inadequacies, she still loved me. She even was hell-bent on curing me of all these problems of mine. What a saint she was.
Now, here was a special case. This was love at first sight. One smile from her and I was hooked. I was once again briefly employed at the coffee shop where I met May, and it took several encounters with her before I finally convinced her to give me her number.
Like I said, she was a special case. She quickly opened up about her trials with heroin addiction, abusive partners of both genders and her relationship with her parents, which was far from jovial. The more I got to know her the more I realized how tormented she was. I suppose it was karma, but just like May was with me, Shelly was the woman I wanted to save. And believe me, I was certain I could rescue her from these demons. I still believe I would have, but I scared her away. i have a way of getting people to open up but, as she put it, "I can't trust a relationship that gets this intense, this fast!" I think she realized almost immediately that I was willing to be completely devoted to her and I loved her despite all of the baggage.
Of course, you can't really help someone who is scared to be helped by you, and that's how this one ended. One night she had an absolute meltdown in front of me and that was it. This one hurt because she never really gave me a chance, but I only wish it had stopped there.
A few years later I saw her in our local video store. She had a guy with her and I was with my girlfriend at the time. I didn't really want to get into with her and at the time I was still hurt by the way we parted ways so I deliberately ignored her. I didn't even look at her. I could see out of the corner of my eye that she was waiting for me to acknowledge her or at least notice her, but I put my walls up and she left without us exchanging a word.
Shortly after that, she moved to Texas. A few years later, I went into a diner where a friend of mine was working. In fact, this was the guy that introduced me to Shelly. He asked me if I had heard anything about her and I said that I hadn't. He told me that her mother had come in that morning just before me and was in hysterics. Shelly had committed suicide. i was so shocked, the only thing I could think to do was to ask to borrow his phone. i called in sick to work and spent the rest of the day walking aimlessly all over town. I realized then that I could hardly call my previous letdowns heartbreaks, this one was major. She was such a beautiful, spirited person . . . and the world really needed her.
The guilt that hit me when I remembered our last encounter was overwhelming. Obviously, I wasn't the one who inspired her suicide, but when you love someone for who they are it takes a lot of egotistical pain to close yourself off to them. Had I known that would've been the last I would see of her, I would've treated her so much differently. And let's just say, she did teach me a thing or two about self-inflicted aggression. I never rammed my head into a wall ever again!
Imagine Christina Ricci with dreadlocks; that was Kate. She was the very last college girl I ever dated. She was 22, I was 30. Yeah, I know, I'm such a Reddenbocker! She was from my hometown, but did not go to college locally. So, we spent most of our intense three month relationship on opposite ends of the sate of Connecticut. She was very apprehensive about commitment because of her commitment to school. I fell for her, anyway.
When I told her I loved her, I realized immediately that I had scared the hell out of her. She stuck it out for a while but when her schoolwork got heavy i could tell it was the beginning of the end. She started by uninviting me to her mother's birthday party at the last minute. Nice. Yeah, don't be honest with me. Just create a phony crisis and go from there.
Turns out, just to be fair to Kate, that her mother really did hate my guts. I found this out years later because she told me in a fair amount of detail just how much she hated me. Kate's mother, that is. Kate, herself, was too busy celebrating her engagement to someone else. We were still friends at the time and she decided to have this party at the bar where I was working since she knew I would otherwise not be able to attend.
When she broke up with me, I was pretty hurt by it for a couple of months, but the experience with Shelly (who had died late the previous year) had taught me to accept and forgive. Just before she got married, Kate came to me at the bar to let me know that she really did love me at the time, but couldn't handle what being committed to me was going to entail. "I don't think you realize, Jon," she said, "that you have a lot of love to give to the right woman . . . more than an average woman can handle." But I've never pursued average women and Kate was no exception.
Well, after that exchange I was truly at peace. Well, maybe for about five minutes, because that was the night I met . . . let's just call her Sheba.
I believe there's a song lyric that goes, 'only a fool breaks his own heart'. That was me in this case. To be honest, I've never been more physically attracted to anyone in my life and that may have been exactly the problem. I was so convinced that that was all there was in her for me that I blocked myself from her right from the start.
She wasn't the nicest person I've ever met. She more than a tad bit aloof and distant at times and had a tendency to be extremely rude at times. I guess you could say that I responded in kind. She showed interest in me when we first met, but since she was already in a comitted relationship at the time I shied away from the opportunity. If, in fact, she was genuinely interested in me at the time, I'm sure I made her feel extremely rejected. My hubs, 'A Lesson In Punishment' and 'A Personal Reflection On Love' go into greater detail about her.
They say when it's only lust, it wears off. Well, her effect on me did not wear off. I still got cold sweats when I saw her and four years after our initial meeting I still couldn't stop thinking of her. I was no longer working at the bar, so I was sure I would never see her again. Lo and behold I ran into her on my way somewhere and we got to talking. We talked for a while and we seemed to get along just fine. Of course, after we're talking for a while I realize this might be my last chance so I made a move. Nothing extraordinary, of course, just told her it was great seeing her and that maybe we should get together sometime. Let's just say that I was harshly rejected . . . and rather immaturely I might add. Upon reflection, however, I had to recognize my own immaturity in our very distant interactions. Also, I had to appreciate the fact that the mixed signals we were giving each other are now over and that's good, for sure. Another lesson learned was the fact that she did serve a massive blow to my ego, which certainly needs to be cut down to size from time to time.
Soon after that, a close female friend of mine and also an ex-girlfriend (but not one of the five case studies) said to me: "Jon, this is a blessing in disguise. you have no idea how many women have been literally chomping at the bit for you to get over her. I don't know what you ever saw in her, anyway. Besides, she's far too stupid for you." At that point, I realized that I had no ill feelings towards her because I wasn't pleased with my friend insulting her.
All of those previous experiences where I poured my heart out only to have it ripped out caused me to want to censor myself. These last four years have taught me that I should never censor myself . . . not to that extent, at least. That was Sheba's lesson for me.
All in all, the lesson in heartbreak is to accept, forgive and move on to what's next. No self-doubt. No self-censorship. No self-pity. Often the pain is a reflection of the ego. If you can get over that, the pain can be easily overcome. I've spent so much time in a shell that it's hard to get out of it. But I will break out of it because I must!
Also, upon writing this, I realize how much these experiences have so deeply affected me. I have to consider that this all prepares me for what's next.
Always go to what's next.