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In November of 2015, Nathan and I took our engagement photos. The weather was cold and grey, but we had such a fun time as our photographer captured our silly and romantic moments. Dressed in vintage outfits, carrying suitcases, laughing and dancing on an old train track, rain pouring down around us. I looked at him and smiled, and thought, for the billionth time in my life, how damn lucky I am to have him.
But several years ago, I didn’t know I’d be this happy, or even that Nathan existed.
I had my heart broken in 2009. I don’t think of that time often, but it seemed fitting to return to the story now. I’m at one of the highest points in my life; one of the happiest times. December of 2009— that was one of the lowest. And yet, it has all turned around and become better than I ever imagined it would be. I’ve known heartache and I’ve known loss. Indeed, can you appreciate what you have as deeply if you’ve never experienced that kind of pain? I believe you can, but having your heart broken does serve to remind you how precious it all is.
I wanted to share my tale to offer encouragement for getting over a breakup. Even in some of the darkest times, the light is usually just around the corner.
I was in college & living with my boyfriend of nearly 4 1/2 years. I was happy as a clam. I loved my school, had an amazing theatre department full of friends. I thought our future was set. We’d leave college, move to NYC, and struggle as young actors trying to become famous, poor but happy.
There were barely any warning signs. But one December day, while using the laptop he and I shared, I stumbled across a horrible secret. Several weeks’ worth of messages hidden in plain sight on the hard drive, messages between my boyfriend and another girl, a girl who I knew quite well.
I can’t describe the pain of finding the words that should be reserved only for you, splattered across a screen, meant for someone else. It wasn’t just a simple affair or an instance of cheating. My partner was claiming to love this girl, telling her how unhappy he was, and describing holding me at night and “wishing it was her.” I wish I could tell you I’m mincing words here…I’m not.
In a mere moment, my world was turned upside down. It was complete…shock. Were it not for a friend of mine who happened to be there at the time, I don’t know that I could have even processed what I was reading.
Once I was able to confront my then-boyfriend, it was clear that he was horrified at being found out, but that he was not regretful. He wanted out of the relationship, and this was his immature, gutless way of making it happen. For anyone out there contemplating how to break up with a partner, I can’t stress enough that this is not the way to do it.
Thus began some of the most challenging months of my life. I realize a breakup doesn’t compare to a devastating illness or the death of a loved one, but when it’s a serious relationship (and when it happens with such little warning) the resulting pain can be equally as traumatic.
It was…the worst time, and yet, I made it through. This was my first major heartbreak, and I emerged (though not unscathed) stronger than I’ve ever been. If you’re dealing with a broken heart right now, I wish I could reach out and hug you and let you know it will be alright…eventually. As you begin the healing process, here are a few things I did during my own breakup that ended up being rejuvenating and incredibly helpful. Give them a gentle try.
Surround Yourself With Loved Ones
I could not have made it through that painful time without my friends & family. The night I discovered the messages, I had a flock of a dozen friends comforting me in my apartment, some hugging me while I cried, others bringing me my favorite snacks, and still others cheering me up and making me laugh. My sister jumped in her car almost immediately and drove 3 hours to spend a few nights with me. The withering glance she gave my ex (and his resulting look of fright) when he came round to gather some of his belongings was one of the highlights of the month.
I realized at that time how important these close relationships are and how much you need people who care about you to keep you afloat. This was a huge lesson in my life, and made me vow to repay my friends with the same comfort and attentive care in any time of need they might have in the future. Spend time with those you love. They will take your mind off the breakup, listen to you analyze it for the 100th time, and simply keep you company. I am so grateful for good people.
Allow Yourself That Grief
Healing from a broken heart is not about pushing it aside and ignoring the pain. In fact, I’d venture to say the only way out of it is through. You have to let yourself grieve. Cry, scream, hit your pillow, whatever it takes. Find ways to healthily express your anger and your sadness. Ohhhh, I was in my best shape ever after that breakup. I took my feelings to the gym and pounded the treadmill for miles at a time, listening to angry, vengeful music in my headphones. Yes, it worked for me and boy was I fit!
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Ride the Wave
Looking back, I was very lucky my breakup happened when it did. I was surrounded by my college friends and had plenty to distract me and lots to look forward to. It was my senior year, and that spring was filled with events, parties, and friendship. I made the most of that senior year, I really did.
A wonderful way to start mending your broken heart is to let the wave of emotions ride through you…for as long as it takes. It took months for me to say I felt fully okay. Fortunately, I had a lot of outlets for experiencing my emotions during that time. I was in a musical called Godspell which has a very sad scene where the main character says goodbye and leaves, evidently preparing for his death. We were meant to be emotional, crying onstage, hugging him and one another. Wow, was this ever cathartic! Every night during the show’s run I would go onstage and just let the tears fall. I let myself fully feel the pain each evening and it made me feel cleansed and free.
Welcome the Happy
As the pain begins to recede slightly, you’ll find you feel happy now and again. Welcome that feeling when it comes. Don’t question it or push it away. Take advantage of that and have a little fun reinventing yourself. It’s a fresh slate in your life, go for something new! This is a time when many people get a new haircut or a makeover. It feels good to look your best and it’s exciting to have a change. During this period, I got my first tattoo with my friends. It was a bold and thrilling move for me, and helped me feel braver and more independent as I moved forward. (It also became something of an addiction, as here I am, 9 tattoos later…..)
I had more and more happy moments, but the pain was not completely gone. I still had nights of sobbing and fleeting moments of anger or confusion during my days. However, I was getting better little by little and I didn’t need to rely as heavily on my friends. As my ex had moved out (and back to the sad little dorms, thank you karma), I was now living alone for the first time in my life. I found I LOVED IT. I began having little date nights with myself, listening to my favorite music at full blast, enjoying a glass of wine and a bubble bath. I was focused on ME, giving myself love and appreciation. I deserved it. And it helped so much.
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Journal, Journal, Journal
Probably the single most helpful thing for me was journaling. I wrote every single day. I shared my angry rants, I wrote sad poems and song lyrics, and best of all, penned mean, expletive-filled letters to my ex and his lady (you can’t imagine how freeing this is). I never sent them of course.
I also made lists of all the things I was grateful for, and when I was ready, I dissected our relationship. This was not to see where it “went wrong” or how I could have “fixed it”, but merely to objectively understand my own role in things and to better determine how I should proceed in the future. It was to help me figure out what I wanted for my life.
When You’re Ready, Reflect
After some of the anger has subsided, you’ll be able to assess things more clearly and rationally. It was at this point that I discovered that many things in our relationship were not right, or good for me. My ex avoided conflict at all costs (so much he opted to cheat rather than to let me know it was over), and this meant that he was hiding part of himself. He wasn’t sharing everything with me, the good and bad, and so I never had the opportunity to change any of my own behaviors that he wasn’t happy with. He kept it all inside and grew resentful. Never a recipe for long-lasting love. And definitely not a way to learn to handle conflict in an adult manner.
I also recognized that we had different goals and certain attributes that wouldn’t be good in the long term. He wasn’t ambitious enough for me and I probably too adventurous for him. Seeing these things after the fact helped me come to terms with the fact that the end of our relationship was truly a positive thing.
As Much as it Sucks, Know That Time Really Is the Greatest Healer
Mending a broken heart is so much about time. When I broke up with my ex, everyone kept repeating that time would make it better. It’s so hard to hear that in the moment. I couldn’t believe it would ever be better, or that I’d ever want to love someone else. But time, and taking care of yourself, and actively moving on…these are the things that stitch your broken pieces back together. And eventually, you truly move forward.
Pursue What You Love
Having your heart broken brings tremendous clarity. It shows you more than ever what you want from life and from a partner, and helps you experience real independence and insight. Hang onto this once you’re feeling better. Hold fast to those lessons you’ve learned and strive to implement them.
As time passed, I moved on. I dated other people and even had some heartbreak again. But I remained optimistic and kept living for me. After two years, it became evident that travel was something I desperately needed to pursue. I packed up my backpack and my best friend R (incidentally the same person who had been there when I discovered the incriminating messages) and off we went to Europe, land of dreams.
We had an incredible trip, one of the best experiences of my life. At this point I was fully over my ex and grabbing life by the horns. I was going after what made me happy. And wouldn’t you know…it was on this trip, when I was pursuing exactly what my heart wanted, that I stumbled across my future husband? Serendipity truly is something.
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Embrace How It All Works Out
At the time of my ’09 breakup, I thought I’d never love someone again as much as my ex. As I began to heal, I started to believe I would find real love again, but I never bargained how amazing it would be.
I love Nathan more than I could have possibly imagined, and this relationship is so much more. It’s authentic, it’s deeper, it encompasses both our light and dark sides, our good and bad. It’s a choice, not simply a feeling. It accepts all our flaws and lets us honestly know one another. This love helps us grow and to improve each and every day. This is an adult relationship, built upon trust, commitment, and love.
Without my heartbreak, I could never have found my way here. And for that, I am truly grateful.
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Amy Hartle is the author of Do You Love Me? How To Stop Seeking Reassurance in Relationships, a book on reassurance seeking and relationship anxiety. Both her book and this blog are born of personal experience; Amy shares expert relationship advice from the lessons learned during her own 10+ years with her husband, as well as couples travel tips and romantic getaway recommendations, all gleaned while traveling the world together.