I was browsing through some books on Amazon yesterday, looking at a few new releases I wanted to read but which still haven’t made their way to the book stores in Melbourne. Out of curiosity, I found myself looking through all the purchases I’ve made through my Amazon account over the years and the receipt of a gift I ordered for an old flame six years ago sprang into view. It stirred up a memory—not about him or about us—but rather a reminder of the girl I used to be.
Love. Just about every person I know loves love. Books have been written about love, movies are made about love and the radio stations are clogged up with queues of songs about love, and also about lost love and unrequited love. We all want to experience romance and love, the kind of love that changes us in ways we cannot imagine, a love that will last an entire lifetime—except when it doesn’t and then we’re left with one question—what happens now?
One of the benefits of being young is the fearlessness that is untarnished and unmarred when it comes to life. When I was younger, I was extremely fearless when it comes to love. I stepped into every potential relationship believing that the man I was dating would be The One. Many such relationships later, having been lied to, cheated on, wounded and hurt in ways I never thought possible, I am now more wary and—for lack of a better word—sceptical.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned a lot from those relationships. They have taught me a lot about people—about people’s intentions and motivations, about their needs and their wants, and their values and their priorities. By far the most important lesson I’ve learned has to do with recovering from the hurt when a relationship dissolves, and mending a heart that is broken into a million little pieces so that I can move past the pain and move on with my life.
You see, I used to think that the hurt that I felt came from the loss of love. It took me a long time to realise that the hurt didn’t really have that much to do with the loss. It wasn’t really about not having him in my life or missing his voice, missing his company and the times we had together. It had a lot more to do with why it didn’t work out. It was the endless wondering of ‘was-I-not-good-enough-for-him’ that was what hurt me the most. It didn’t help that nine times out of ten, I was the one who was left behind. And nine times out of ten, they all left because they met someone else. It didn’t just hurt, it stung in ways I could never have imagined.
When I first arrived at the Land of Broken Hearts many years ago, I didn’t think I would ever leave. In the midst of the throes of pain, I was convinced I could never love again. It was the kind of place that could go one of two ways—it could either destroy you or it could resurrect you. It was the kind of place where the walls are made of mirrors. The only question is whether you are willing to face them or not.
When I was languishing in the Land of Broken Hearts, I had a lot of time to look at myself in the mirrors. During my sojourn there, I realised that I had an unhealthy relationship with my relationships. I was dependent on my relationships for my sense of self worth. I was deriving my identity from the men I was with. I was dependent on them for my feeling of significance. I needed them in order to feel that my life had meaning and importance. That I was worthy. So when they exited my life, they took everything that was important to me with them and the idea that I had nothing and I was nothing without them was what really hurt.
When I looked harder, I traced the origins of my dependence back to my own upbringing. One of the messages that my mother persistently drilled into my head from the time I was eight to the time I was twenty-eight was that my life would be meaningless and incomplete if I didn’t have a husband and a family. She used to gossip about women in their forties who were still unmarried and say things like, “There must be something wrong with her otherwise she should be married by now.” Imagine having to listen to that day in and day out. If that didn’t mess with your head, nothing would.
When I finally uncovered that my idea of significance and a meaningful life were tied to an arbitrary old-fashion perspective of one person, my entire view about relationships changed. For the first time in my life, I finally saw something I never saw before—that the stigma associated with being single is entirely man-made. It is a stigma that is perpetuated by those who believe that their lives are better only if they have a significant other. In other words, the people who bought into the idea that they need a man in their life to complete them are incapable of feeling good about themselves without a significant other. Suddenly, that view seems… pretty lame… to me. Suddenly, I realised that there was something I really had to work on—my relationship with myself. It has been something I have been working on for the past five years and it continues to be my number one priority.
You see, when you have a solid relationship with yourself, when you are confident in your self-image and self worth, nothing other people say or do to you can make you feel less than. The reason why many people get upset when they hear criticisms or when someone rejects them is because they take it too personally—they think it’s all about them. Reality is perception, that is what it is. Nobody can make you feel anything without your permission. While it is understandable that you may feel hurt when your heart is broken, what’s important is using that hurt as an opportunity to examine yourself. External events and people are merely mirrors that reflect back what you project about your internal world. Ask yourself what you can learn from it and examine your own motivation with the following questions:
- What is it that I’m upset about?
- Why does that upset me?
- Is what I believe about the situation fact or fiction?
- Where did it come from?
- How can I change it to better serve me?
I’m not saying that this is the only way to mend a broken heart, all I’m saying is that it’s what works for me. If you have a coping mechanism that is healthy and that works for you, by all means, stick to it. One day, weeks, months, maybe even years from now, you may look back upon this pain and realise that it was the best thing that has ever happened to you. Because it was the best thing that has ever happened to me.
The message I want to get across with this post is this—examine everything you believe about the concept of love and relationships, look inward to understand what is it that you really want out of your romantic relationships. Don’t buy into the hallucinations that are perpetuated by societal norms. Don’t give your power away to other people because of their views and opinions. And that includes mine too.