The Heartbreak of Breaking Someone Else's Heart
We all know how the tale of heartbreak goes. We know what it looks like, sounds like and feels like. It is in the books we read, the music we listen to and it saturates the films we watch. The science behind it has been explored tirelessly, we have analysed its different stages and have scoured the earth for a cure. What we haven't paid attention to, however, is the other side of the story.
Do a quick search on the internet for “how to deal with heartbreak” and an infinite amount of results will appear. There will be pages of articles giving both practical and emotional advice, helping people through that gut-wrenching period of their life. If you search instead for “how to cope with breaking someone else's heart”, the results will look a lot more sparse. The advice available is mostly practical, detailing how and where to do the deed and how to phrase it to minimise the impact. What is absent, is the emotional support for the heartbreaker.
Because heartbreak is widely known as such an excruciating experience, it is only natural that the heartbreaker is depicted as a villain. The heartbroken is the victim and the heartbreaker is cold and emotionless, right? It certainly is portrayed that way. As a culture, we spend endless amounts of time illustrating the journey of the heartbroken, yet we fail to explore the emotional turmoil of a person who realises that they have to end a relationship.
We talk about the pain of hearing romantic songs after being dumped and feeling sad, but what about the difficulty of hearing romantic songs after dumping someone and feeling guilt? Hearing Someone Like You by Adele for someone who has been heartbroken can evoke relatability, but hearing it when you’ve just ended a relationship can leave you feeling like a monster.
At the time of writing this, I have just ended an almost four-year relationship with someone who I once believed I would spend eternity with. The decision was one I deliberated on for a few months but not one I truly believed I would take action on. He had done nothing wrong but at the back of my mind, I knew that our lives were moving in different directions. I pushed this thought to the back of my mind and chastised myself for even thinking it. We had spent the past few years together and he was the closest person in my life. His family was my second family and our lives revolved around each other.
I couldn't help feeling, however, that these small niggling doubts in my mind were starting to grow into something larger. He wanted to live close to our small hometown near his family and friends, whereas I wanted more. I want to live in big cities and travel the world and surround myself with eccentric and amazing people. I once thought that I didn't need all of this and I could compromise for love, yet this compromise started to look less and less feasible.
Once I started having these doubts of the future with him, the seed had been planted and it became impossible to stunt its growth. I had moved away to do my master’s degree after spending the summer in lockdown with him and his family. We had done the long-distance thing before throughout both of our undergrad degrees, however this time it felt different. The small doubts meant I wasn't missing him as much as before and I started to feel more and more independent.
That small seed began to grow chaotically in my mind and completely consumed me. I kept it inside and didn't dare approach the subject with anyone around me as it terrified me. I felt heartless to even be having doubts about someone who was my whole world. However much I tried to suppress it, I felt myself being dragged under towards the prospect of living a life without him. My new friends at university asked me why I barely spoke about my partner and I told them that there wasn't much to speak about. In reality, I was trying to avoid any topic that reminded me of thoughts that I deemed widely inappropriate and cruel.
I finally divulged my feelings to a girl I am living with and she gave me some great advice but said I didn't have to rush into anything. I agreed and said that whilst I was having these doubts that I didn't need to act on it and could just wait and see.
I was just prolonging the inevitable, procrastinating my independence and denying myself the truth that I was no longer invested in this relationship. I could not picture myself breaking someone else's heart. I have experienced heartbreak and whilst I got over it, I didn't have it in me to provide someone with even temporary pain.
I eventually told my best friend, after being so terrified to do so. Speaking those words to her really cemented my thoughts and gave them life- they became scarily real. She told me that if I made the decision it would be completely valid and would be good for me, however, she too said I didn't have to rush into anything.
I spent the next week or so feeling sick to my stomach. I couldn't sleep because of the consuming feeling of guilt. One treacherous night at 4 a.m. I realised I couldn't go on living like this, battling with my empathy and my selfish desire to do something beneficial for my life. I resolved to break up with him and I felt both relieved and sick. I woke up the next morning delirious from the lack of sleep, whilst feeling like the evilest person in the world. In the kitchen of my university accommodation, I told my friends and broke down in tears.
I was due to return home for the Christmas break about ten days later and I knew I had to wait until then to tell him in person. At this point, the decision was solid in my mind, there was nothing he or I could do to change this fate that I had realised. I now had to wait for ten excruciating days.
Each time I received a text from him my stomach sank. I felt so awful and guilty, that whilst he was asking about my day or making jokes, I was preparing to end our relationship. I had to, however, tell him this in person, I owed it to him after so many years together.
Once again, I was barely eating or sleeping, my mind was constantly racing as I woke up in fits of terror during the night at what I was soon to do.
As quickly as it took for me to fall in love and become attached to someone, falling out of love hit me like a train. There was something about that realisation that we had no future together that completely flipped my emotions for him. It was nothing to do with his personality or how he treated me, he was a great partner. I just no longer felt the same way and I hated myself for it.
By the time it came to tell him, I was sat on the edge of my seat, so eager to get the words out that had been festering in my mouth. It was the most heartbreaking thing I had to do and took so much emotional strength for me to carry out.
Post-breakup, my feelings are even more confusing. I feel so very relieved which is frighteningly concerning. How can I go from being madly in love with someone half a year ago to now feeling relieved to be on my own? I keep questioning my morals, am I really as much as an empath as I once believed if I can walk away from a good relationship without feeling heartbroken?
I still feel that sickening guilt and have to keep reminding myself that whilst it was the best decision for me, it was also the best one for him. I could no longer prolong something that was false.
Whilst the emotional torment I faced before ending our relationship is probably not even a margin of what he is currently dealing with, I believe it is entirely valid and justified for me to understand that I suffered too. Whilst I may have submitted to the idea of being a villain, I realise that I am not. I am human, and no matter how selfless you are, self-interest is part of what it means to be human. I had to break his heart in order to make the future I wanted accessible. I had to cause someone else pain in order to feel happy, which sounds like the most terrible thing, yet is a task which is often necessary.
At the moment, I feel incredibly tired. All of the emotions: the fear, the guilt and the sadness have come rushing out in a tidal wave and I am left feeling exhausted. My appetite is somewhat shaky and my motivation is limited, but at the same time, I feel content to be alone. A new emotion is flickering lightly in my mind: excitement. Not excitement to be single and wild, or to meet new people, but excitement at the prospect of putting myself first. I am excited to have a whole life of infinite possibilities ahead without the guilt of making someone else compromise on their life path, or indeed feeling the need to compromise myself. Even writing that feels incredibly selfish and awful, but I believe I need this time to be selfish in order to better myself and climb up the ladder of life.
This is for all of those who have broken hearts and broken their own in the process due to the guilt. You are not a villain for falling out of love. Even breaking up with someone in the most compassionate way will still feel terrible, but what needs to be remembered is it was right if you felt the need to do it. The line between villain and victim is incredibly blurred, and whilst my mind is precariously tap-dancing on that line, occasionally screaming “O most pernicious woman!” at itself, I know deep down I am a good person.
You are a victim too, a victim of the arbitrary nature of life and the way things and feelings can change. We have to let life lead us downstream, even if the path looks different than you once thought. We may lose people along the way and those people may lose others too, but everyone will keep travelling on in the current of life, moving forward from the past.