There are a few lucky souls who get through life without enduring the agony of heartbreak.
Heartbreak is so bruising that it has been shown scientifically to resemble some of the worst physical pain we’ll ever face.
When you lose someone you love, your mind has to come to terms with leaving behind an entire life. The places you were going to visit. The children you may have raised. The cozy holidays you’d spend together, the romantic nights, the laughter at breakfast on a Sunday morning.
But even when going through this pain, there is always a decision: Will I choose to put this old life behind me and enter a new world, or stay in this pain forever?
There are many who will lament that they lost “the love of their life”. The idea of having been torn from the one person you feel destined to be with leads us to label them with another well-worn cliche: “the one that got away”.
I don’t believe in this cliche.
At least, I don’t believe in it as something dropped on us by fate. It is a label we choose.
Here are some reasons why this cliche is a myth:
Your ability to love is limitless
When you go through a breakup, you tell your friends, “I can’t imagine being with anyone else”.
And it’s true.
But the key word here is “imagine”. Your brain isn’t in the mood for imagining even getting up and going for a walk when you’re in heartache. Let alone imagining the whole process of falling in love all over again.
The heart remains an incredibly resilient muscle though. You do not have some finite amount of love allotted to you at birth that runs out once you’ve given it away.
It’s actually quite the opposite: your capacity to love can expand the more you choose to give love to others.
The decision to love again isn’t up to the gods. It’s up to how much you’re willing to be brave. To decide you have more to express and share and give and cherish. But it requires you to start by being curious again: “Who is out there that might be fun to meet?”
New love does not need to resemble the old love
I’ve coached so many people who have said: “I’ll never have what I had with them again.”
And you know what? That’s true.
But here’s the good news: what you’ll have next is a NEW love. Something that is unique, beautiful, full of it’s own messiness, joy, fun, surprises, and deepness – but we’re only able to see it when we make a choice (yes, I’ll say it again. Moving on is a DECISION) – a choice to embrace whatever our next chapter will look like and decide that we’re not content to be mired in the detritus of an old love, however beautiful it’s sun may have shone.
Do we have a “Great Love” in our lives?
Well, it’s nice if someone can claim that title. But there are also people who feel they have found their Great Love and that person is struck with illness and dies without warning, or who cheats on us with a work colleague, or who flees the country due to legal problems, changes their name, and fakes their death for the insurance money.
To put it bluntly, shit happens.
But in the exquisite pain of the flux and chaos that these moments throw us into, there eventually becomes a space. A voice. Something or someone that cries out to us that the seeds of a new love can still grow on the patches of our heart that we thought had been burnt forever.
And that’s a miracle that those seeds can even exist. But it’s up to us to water them.
Suffering is a choice (eventually)
I’ve never been the type to tell someone in a crisis to “just pull it together”.
That tough love stuff doesn’t sell when you’re in the shock and abyss of loneliness that comes with heartbreak.
You look down the lens of a world that seems cold, dark, and where no-one can ever understand the exquisite thousand aches you’re subjected to every time your mind wanders to memories of the person you lost.
But as I have argued many times, there is also a time for recovery.
And when that day comes, you can choose either the athlete model of recovery, or the hangover model of recovery.
In the hangover model, you get lost in junk food, alcohol, self-pity – all things that numb your pain and dull your senses as you just seek escape.
In the athlete model, you accept: “Ok, I’m broken right now. But I can start on the path to healing”. You can take a 10 minute walk in the sunshine. You can call a friend or someone who can listen. You can write down the frustrations of this relationship and remind yourself of everything you need from your next one. You can commit to a bigger purpose that moves you, a contribution, a way to put yourself in the mindset of loving something beyond this person you miss so much.
And in any recovery, pain will be a part of it.
But suffering is a choice. Suffering is the person who decides to stay embittered about a betrayal from 10 years ago. Suffering is the person who says, “men/women can never be trusted. Suffering is the person who says they’ll never risk loving again and decide to keep their world small.
So here’s the thing: I’m not here to tell you that moving on from the past is easy.
But I am here to remind you that clinging to an old story, digging our heels in, and choosing to romanticise and allow a past pain to close off hope for future love, is always a choice.
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