Why We Break Our Own Hearts

Lessons on who you could be

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I arrived in Bali brokenhearted. 

I spent that February in a mercurial trance, replaying every memory of my four-year relationship with the fervor of a laboratory rat pushing a dopamine lever, crazed and desperate for a droplet of relief. 

I’d scroll through our photos every night to watch us fall in love for the first time, again and again, just to get a rush of something – an unearthed memory, a missed detail, a whisper of closeness to him – before the screen would go dark and leave me with my reflection. 

(Pathetic! I know). 

What happened to us? What had we done to each other?

Creophagy by Angelica Alzona

The short answer: It was (partly) my doing. I moved to Indonesia despite him wanting to stay in NYC. But the long answer of why is more interesting as it lets us explore the question: 

Why do people step away from relationships – to do something such as move to a new place – despite being in love? 

If you get into a relationship (especially when you’re young) your essence becomes diluted by a third party’s desires, dreams, and goals. Which is not necessarily a bad thing! Many times, you share those aspirations and both partners flourish.

But what if your aspirations are different? 

For example: If my partner and I never dated, I would’ve left Brooklyn years ago to travel with a remote job before settling down somewhere near the ocean.

I asked if he’d do this with me. It was a no. Which was fine! This is just who he was – and I wouldn’t fight it for obvious reasons (“If you’ve ever set out to change someone, you know that it’s unlikely to work, and likely a huge waste of time,” writes Ava). 

So we stayed in NYC. Don’t get me wrong – I loved our life there. But this feeling of “Damn I wanted [insert dream] before we started dating will I regret it if I don’t go after it?” was a metaphorical pebble in my shoe that grew unignorable.

The question becomes: Is love enough to compensate for not becoming who you wanted to be before it? 

For many: Yes. The kind of love we’re talking about here is pure and rare and one that if you died tomorrow *knocks wood* you’d go thinking, “At least I got to experience my one great love. At least I accomplished that.”   

But deep down, something still feels…off. Not with them, but with you. This quote from Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People’ encapsulates this bizarre sensation: 

“Marianne had the sense that her life was happening very far away, happening without her, and she didn’t know if she would ever find out where it was or become part of it.” 

This stifled feeling comes, if I had to guess, when you’re imagining wanting someone else’s life, instead of doing the work of imagining your own. You try to convince myself: That [dream/lifestyle/goal] was what you wanted before you met them. Things change when you meet the love of your life.

And yet.

When it came time to leap forward by getting an apartment (I was living with my parents in Brooklyn at the time) I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t done. Done with what? I wasn’t exactly sure. 

This is how relationships unravel. The timing is off because you’re not done: Done being young, done getting to know yourself inside and out, done putting yourself first.

So I left. It felt selfish and was mind-meltingly painful. Four months had to pass before I felt somewhat stable in Indonesia.

But the biggest change I noticed after that time had passed was that life no longer felt as though it was happening somewhere far away. This dream was out of my head and into reality.

I had arrived.

To be clear, becoming an active witness to your life will not eliminate your heartache. That’s the curse and beauty of breakups. They’re stunningly painful, but imagine how much less beautiful art we’d have if people got over each other so easily. 

Detail of The Kiss (1897) by edvard munch

The point is: If you feel there is something stirring within you, it’s likely that undiluted version of you, trying to get you to notice them. Visualize them as a pom-pom carrying cheerleader: Grow into me! I’m right here waiting for you! COME ON!!!

Hopefully, your partner can help you get there. But some walks you have to take alone.

If you decide to go down that path, brace yourself: It’s going to put you through an unimaginable amount of pain. But I promise – pinky-swear – the clouds will part. 

And once they do, you’ll access a massive reservoir of self-love and confidence. That version of you on the other side will embrace you with open arms and be so glad you made it. 

And as for your relationship? If it’s meant to be, it will be. Because if it’s true love, you two will find your way back to one another, and you’ll return to them a more well-rounded person. That’s a gift to both them and you. 

Thanks for being here! 

I hope you have a beautiful week, wherever you are. 

Stay Creative, 

Alice 💌

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