by Wendy Keller, survivor of heartbreak, mother, friend
My daughter, age 20, told me that today she found herself repeatedly thinking of her recently-ended ex-boyfriend. He’s been (in my opinion) unfathomably childish and dramatic since they broke up, but then again, the kid is only 21. He seemed like a nice boy until she really got to know him and found out…well…let’s just say he’s now in judge-ordered anger management classes for a situation unrelated to my daughter.
She said, “Mom, how long does it take until you forget about someone, until it doesn’t hurt anymore?” And I, the Great Sage also known as Mom, said “There’s no way to know.” I told her the blah-blah about how some people claim it’s half as long as the relationship lasted. I also told her that it probably depends on the extent of the affection you shared with the other person. She wondered aloud if maybe what she misses most are the plans they made for the rest of their lives, and how those won’t come true now.
This is grief, of course. The loss of the hoped-for future with a loved one. The stark realization that what never quite happened now never will be. It’s sad. It’s tragic. I wish I could save my baby girl from this pain. Heck, I wish I could have saved myself from it. I still carry a torch for a few men I’ve known in the many years since my divorce.
How long does it take? The real answer: As long as it does. But there are things we can do to help move the process along a little. The tips below aren’t a quick fix for healing a broken heart, because there isn’t one. Whether you are facing a divorce, the end of something long term and meaningful, a summer romance or the teenage drama of failed puppy love (like when I was sure I was going to spend the rest of my life with the deejay from the roller rink…) sometimes love ends.
Who chose to leave and who wishes for one more try doesn’t really affect how long the pain can linger. Who betrayed whom doesn’t either. Even if your ex-love is putting on an “I’m so happy we’re through” show in public, trotting around with other attractive people, their heart strings are still pulled by thoughts of you – even if they’ll never admit it. Even if you don’t want someone back, the ties of love don’t just evaporate into thin air. Humans don’t work that way.
Here are four things that will help you inch back toward a healthy, whole, vigorously functional heart:
1. Give yourself time to grieve, to feel, to heal.
As in, don’t try to use some new person to salve your wounds. It’s not fair to them and it could lead to a major disaster in your life when one day you wake up and realize your Second One True Love is also not the panacea you’d expected from the first. And don’t try to use other distractions like drinking, shopping, eating or substance use to skip the pain – it will just come back to bite you in the bum. You gotta go through it to heal.
2. Let your feelings flow.
You’re a writer? Journal how you feel. Or write poems. Or songs. You’re a talker? Call a trusted friend who will let you rant about “that jerk!” one day and sob over your loss the next. You’re a thinker? Take a whole day next weekend to reflect on what happened, how you contributed (because you did – we all do – even if it was just bad choosing!) and what kinds of traits you might want if you ever dared to love again one day. Grab a box of tissues and sit and wallow. You’re entitled! But let the feelings erupt – angry, sad, glad, thrilled, excited, terrified, lonely, all that stuff. It will go by pretty quickly if you just stay in the moment and face what’s true for you right this second. None of it is “Good” or “Bad” – it Just Is.
3. Don’t compare your relationship or your healing process to anyone else’s.
It’s not the same. You’re not the same person, the situation was different and what happened is similar only on the surface, if at all.
4. Get your act together.
Take time for you. Put your life back together on every level. Give yourself permission to be a little bit selfish. Take good care of your body, mind and spirit. Let your heart mend, like you would a nasty cut. Turn yourself into a closer version of your own ideal self. You’re worth the investment – and you’ll find as you focus on yourself, your heart becomes more buoyant by the day!
These tips aren’t rocket science, and they don’t mean you’ll feel all better and never think about your lost love again. A broken heart is a “real” disease, and it has to be allowed to heal. Give yourself time, space and extra nurturing. One day, someone will catch your eye and you’ll think…hmmm! What a terrific person! I’d like to get to know them better….and that person will be yourself!
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