By Esther Mann, LCSW
I’m writing to you to ask how someone can get through a broken heart and survive. I dated Neal for ten months. I thought he was the greatest—everything I ever dreamed of. We grew very close during that time and always had a great time together. We talked about our futures and even discussed what month would be best to get married. Though he hadn’t proposed, it just seemed like it was inevitable. Everything was great. I had never been so happy in my life, which is saying something, since I am by nature a happy-go-lucky person. The only catch was that my parents were not crazy about Neal. When they would start to go negative on him, I didn’t even want to hear what they had to say, because I didn’t want them to burst my bubble.
Last week, Neal picked me up to go for coffee and told me that he felt we needed to break up. I was in such a state of shock that I don’t even think I asked him why. I think I figured it was a joke, or that maybe he was suffering from some temporary insanity—I didn’t know what to think.
I’ve tried calling him numerous times. Most of the time he doesn’t answer my calls. The few times I got through to him, he was very curt and just told me that he felt we both got carried away with our plans and that he realized he wasn’t ready to be so serious with someone.
I am in a state of shock. I can’t believe this happened to me. I can’t believe that it was all a sham. All of our conversations about how deeply we cared about one another feel like a dream rather than reality. I have to admit that this is the first time in my life that I’ve had to deal with disappointment. Generally, I’ve had a happy childhood and most things have come easily to me. I feel like I’m in way over my head in grief.
Since this happened, I haven’t been able to eat or sleep. I do believe that Neal is the love of my life. I’m not a child. I’m 21 years old and have dated many young men before Neal. As soon as I met Neal, I felt he was my bashert, and I still believe that. My mother tells me to move on, that I can’t spend my life waiting around for someone who doesn’t want me. But how does someone just move on? How does someone live with so much uncertainty, not knowing what went wrong? It seems I’ll never know whether it was something I said or something I did to cause this rift. How do I live this way? How do you mend a broken heart?
Dear Broken Heart,
Sooner or later, life has a way of catching up with everyone. The devastation of this past week has taught everyone that life is unpredictable, often scary, and definitely out of our control. Some young children, sadly, learn at an early age that life can be harsh. Whether due to illness, unstable homes, divorce, financial disasters and so much more, there are young children who sadly learn early on that happiness is not a given.
Sounds as though you made it into you early twenties intact. Based on a few clues you left me with, it appears as though life smiled on you, more or less, until Neal dropped his bomb on you. The first thing you need to know is that with time, wounds do heal. They don’t necessarily disappear, but they do mend. And eventually, they dwindle down to a manageable size. Most of us walk around with hearts that have numerous cracks in them, but we still manage to go on to love and laugh and feel enormous joy.
I don’t want to sound as though I wish to minimize how traumatic your experience must feel. It’s bad enough being dropped like a hot potato, in spite of wonderful times spent together. And if that were not awful enough, to be left in the dark, without any kind of meaningful explanation, is just unacceptable. The rug was pulled out from under you! If you weren’t feeling totally unbalanced right now, I would be surprised. You have every right to feel as wounded as you presently feel.
But, as I mentioned earlier, you will get through this. Particularly since you are by nature a happy-go-lucky individual, you will find your happy set point in due time. For now it’s OK to lick your wounds and process your experience. And though it may be early for this observation right now, I do have to wonder whether this experience can offer any learning opportunities for the future.
For instance, is it possible that your parents saw something in Neal that you might have benefited from had you listened to them? Perhaps in the midst of your infatuation and excitement, you didn’t leave any space open in your mind and heart to take in some possibly relevant observations and advice. Maybe next time around you’ll be more receptive to hearing what they have to say. Your parents are older, certainly been around the block much more than you, and are very likely wiser. Consider not dismissing them so quickly in the future.
Also, take this time to review what you had with Neal. Was it all fluff? Just good times? Or was there something really meaningful going on between the two of you? Were you as observant as you should have been regarding his true character? Lots to look at and analyze, which will hopefully enable you to be a better judge of character the next time around.
But to get back to your basic question, there is nothing in particular that you need to do to mend your broken heart. Feel the pain while knowing that it will get duller and duller with time. And believe it or not, I predict that the day will come that you will look back on this painful experience and realize that Neal gifted you with this breakup. After all, how terrific a guy can he really be if he was capable of such an abrupt cut-off, without much of an explanation? He led you on and did not treat you properly. You deserve better. But, for now, you have been officially inducted into the world of the walking wounded. And, like the rest of us, you will carry on. Smarter, more sensitive, and better equipped to deal with real life.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.