Healing a Broken Heart: How Men Can Deal With Separation
Sadly, I consider myself somewhat of an expert in this field, a title no one in their right mind would ever hope for. From the beginning of my dating history up until the present, I've had girlfriends cheat on me with strangers, best friends, acquaintances, and other women. I've foolishly pursued relationships destined to end more than I'd like to admit, have seen the anticipation of something wonderful expire into sheer apathy, and have witnessed women I thought I knew well transform into people I've never met. Coffee mugs have been thrown, fists have found their target (not mine, mind you), and admissions of infidelity have been revealed solely for the purpose of inflicting emotional damage.
It's not been a bed of roses. In a way, however, I'm thankful for this tumultuous history of dating. I'd like to believe that it has helped fashion me into a more mature, understanding person, and without it, I wouldn't be quite as prepared to write on the subject of heartache; it's stifling, darkening state, but now I've learned how one can alleviate the pain associated with it, and ultimately escape it altogether.
Being cheated on is like having a dagger thrust into your stomach, except that sticking a dagger in one's stomach is a much more humane thing to do. It heals quicker, garners more sympathy, and it taken much more seriously. I'll never forget the first time I experienced this emotion. It was like the evil twin brother to blissful infatuation.
One year prior I was absurdly happy, hopelessly in love. Suddenly, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Feelings of shock, confusion, betrayal, and worst of all, worthlessness, were my constant companions. Frightening thoughts of mercilessly beating the other man to a pulp were ever present, and try as I did, I could not free my mind from her. A reoccurring pattern was then begun, one of being cheated on, basing all my happiness on winning her back, attaining her, and being cheated on again. Thankfully I wised up, and realized that my self-worth could not nor should not be based on how I am treated by another human-being. Of course, having knowledge and acting upon it are so often at odds with each other, and I am no exception to this rule. As I said, over the years heartbreak has become a close companion, and almost one whom I no longer fear. Granted, I would never invite it, but I'm fairly confident that I've gotten good at enduring it, and most importantly, expediting its departure.
Let's say you've just been cheated on or dumped, or perhaps the perfect woman with whom things were going so great, suddenly, out of nowhere, has adopted an attitude of complete indifference. What now? Well, first things first, get over the absurd concept that as a man you don't need others to rely upon emotionally. This is not some exclusively feminine need that men are exempt from: it is a human need, and part of true manhood is admitting to this need. Some of the most poignant, bonding, and validating moments of my life have been over a beer talking about how much it hurts to lose the girl you love. Accept this, and things will go much more smoothly. I guarantee it.
1. Limit, or better yet, eliminate contact with the woman for a time.
Keep in mind that every relationship is different, you're different than I, and it just may not be as damaging to have the occasional conversation with her. In some cases, it's not even feasible, such as if kids are in the picture, but in my experience, every act of communication, no matter how minute, was essentially "reopening the wound," meaning that all a conversation will do is give your mind even more garbage to deal with, and process, and re-process, and so on and so forth. My advice is to make a clean break.
One of the best lessons I ever learned regarding a break-up was from my father. As I sat in my bedroom one day, tearfully staring into some memento my ex had given me and wallowing in memories of better days, Dad, with simple yet brilliant advice, advised I get a garbage bag, put every single object that held some memory of her in it, and stuff it in some dark recess of the house. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes. And look at it this way, what harm can come from feigning apathy? Trust me, if there is a chance that the two of you will someday work it out and return to Eden, ignoring her won't hurt. It merely speaks a message: I'm over you, and you hold no power over me. (Not exactly the true nature of things, but for now, that's just fine). If she could care less if you call or not, then she has spoken a message as well, and it best be heeded. Why force your love upon an unwilling party? Avoid her hangouts, and by all means, DON'T call her!
2. Get a support system.
Sure, this may not appeal to you as a guy, but it works wonders, and in fact is your most powerful tool in relieving heartache. The first thing I do when this crap rears it's ugly head? I call my mother, my sister, my father, and any friend who will listen, and often. And all I do is just re-hash the same garbage over and over again, until I'm certain they are sick of it. But there is something so therapeutic about just verbalizing your emotions, so do it, everyday if you can. Find that person, or ten people, who will give you a sympathetic ear, and let them have it. Bitch about how unfair it is, wax poetically about the good times, bemoan just how damn much it hurts, talk as long as it takes, or as long as they let you. Not one time did I walk away from one of these conversation without some alleviation. And that's really what it's all about: alleviating the pain to deal with your life. To sleep for eight hours straight, or to eat a meal that doesn't taste like cardboard, or to get through work without tearing someone's head off.
I'm quite aware that the last thing you may want to do after a painful breakup is go for a 10K run, but believe me, it helps. The science is there, after all. Endorphins are released and happiness ensues, and unlike artificial uppers, there won't be an accompanying downer. Beyond endorphins though, there is something very empowering about running a sprint with Dropkick Murphy's blaring through your phone, or hitting the weights right before hitting the punching bag. It's good for you body, it's good for your mind, and it offers a much-needed distraction.
4. Get a hobby.
In all actuality, get into anything that will distract you from the break-up. If you're a musician, play like crazy. If you're a writer, write like crazy, if an artist...you get the idea. Do whatever it takes to be focused on anything but her. Immerse yourself in your school, your work, whatever you may have a passion for. In many instances, passions are forgotten in the throes of a relationship, so look at being newly single as a benefit: you now have plenty of time to focus on what you love, so do it.
5. Speaking of music, this needs a category all in itself.
One of my sure-fire pain relieving activities was to go to my local park, do a 5-mile run, lie down in the sun with a good book, and listen to Handel's Messiah. If this isn't your kind of music, pick whatever you like, but do your best to avoid music that will inevitably bring you down. While I love Miles Davis' Kind of Blue album, I certainly wouldn't recommend it when dealing with heartache. Listen to what works for you. Personally I prefer music with a certain empowering quality to it, such as bombastic classical pieces (think Dies Irae by Mozart or Beethoven's 5th), or hardcore bands that reflect your pain and anger, like Avail. Irish rock works wonders in this situation, it's nearly impossible to not feel some sort of inner-strength surging up when listening to the Pogues or Dropkick Murphy's. Lose yourself momentarily in the wonderful world of music.
6. Books, books, books.
The wonderful thing about reading about the heartache you're experiencing is that not only does it alleviate the pain, but it educates you on the often ignored emotional side of who you are. Learning about why you're in so much pain will inevitably result in learning more about yourself, and that's always a good thing. As carved on the temple of Apollo in Delphi, "Know Thyself." What to read though? Well, as a Christian, I can't resist recommending Psalms. First off, the book has incredibly uplifting poetry in it. Secondly, a good portion of these were written by King David, a guy who was probably wounded, hungry, and hiding in a cave for his very life when he wrote a lot of these. Sort of puts things in perspective, doesn't it? I can't recommend "Wild at Heart" by John Eldridge enough, and "Healing the Masculine Soul" and "Shattered Dreams" are winners as well. Know that these are titles written from a Christian perspective. If that's not your bag, go to your local bookstore, sneak into the self-help section, and peruse. You won't regret it.
7. Lastly, become good friends with your mirror, and yourself.
The mental aspect to this battle is so crucial, so pivotal, that it can't be stressed enough. When the pain sets in and when she absolutely will not leave your head, get up, go to the mirror, and give yourself a pep talk. Hell, yell at yourself if you have to. List all the reasons why you're better off without her; Remind yourself just how great you are and why; Say and believe that it was her loss; and if you have to, lie through your teeth. Assuredly, you may not wholly believe and feel that you're God's gift to women or that it was her loss, but say it anyway. Spoil your mind with self-flattering praise and words of empowerment, and amazingly, you will find that you start to believe it. Repeat a phrase that helps, such as "Let her go," or "I'm better than this," and amazingly, the storm clouds will being to part.
To clarify, bear in mind that this is not exactly meant to just enable you to move past the pain as quickly as possible and get on with life. Sure, I hope to speed up the process for you, but remember that it is a process. There are valuable things to be learned from pain, and while you shouldn't dwell in it, you shouldn't ignore it either. Accept it and embrace it, but don't get too comfortable, and don't pass it by. And remember, it will get better. Out of nowhere, one day, you'll wake up and suddenly realize you just don't care anymore. Fight for that day...it's coming. And what a sweet day it will be.