A dear friend of mine has recently gone through a break-up. We’ve talked about it extensively and analysed the situation from every angle. This helps her work through the feelings and gives her a little perspective. I could offer her the clichéd platitudes that are often associated with heartbreak:
‘It’s always darkest before the dawn’, ‘There are plenty more fish in the sea’ or ‘Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can come together.’
These phrases make me dry-heave because they’re not only meaningless and saccharine, but unhelpful. Telling someone to cheer up in the midst of emotional turmoil just makes the brokenhearted feel even more demoralised.
We live in a goal driven society, where our worth is measured by a publicly validated check-list. Career, romantic relationships and a pleasing physical appearance are all deemed necessary to earn love and appreciation. It’s always been this way to a certain extent, but the explosion of social media has intensified external pressure. Success is now quantified by the ‘likes’ our lives generate on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. We’re told to keep striving and trying our best, because good people who work hard will, eventually, get what they deserve. This is a lie; sometimes things go wrong, our best isn’t good enough and we lose those we love. These emotional slings and arrows aren’t always our fault, often times we’re just a bit unlucky. The reality that life is rather bleak is an unpopular point of view as it contradicts the messages that keep us busy. We don’t have a lot of time for sorrow; after some emotional or professional blow, we’re encouraged to get back on the horse and think positively. If we fail to do so, we become failure itself.
I spent my twenties giving myself a bollocking for not being as successful as I thought I should have been. It was a waste of time and energy which made me morose and despondent. I then became even more upset with myself for being sad. Should is a dangerous word, things are rarely as they should be.
With age I’ve become a little jaded, but also a little wiser. I now know it’s more constructive to acknowledge how rubbish a situation is, rather than trying to gloss it over with an ‘onwards and upwards’ attitude. By doing this we can ring-fence the heartbreak and separate it from our identity. Of course, there is always someone worse off than ourselves, and I consider myself lucky to live in a Western society. It’s useful to remember these things, but there is no hierarchy of pain.
I think it’s better to face the music and accept the inherent poignancy of life. This doesn’t mean wallowing in negative inertia; once your battered heart has healed, it’s important to pick yourself up and carry on. The human race is programmed to hope, it’s a predisposition that is necessary for survival. As my Dad used to say, never give up. You’re only defeated if you give up, so don’t give up.