A few weeks ago, some friends and I went out for drinks and then dinner and then more drinks. We all have boys in 3rd grade (age eight and nine), all in varying degrees of social maturity. Buddy, for example, thinks the word “nipple” is just about the funniest word ever invented. So do I. Just utter the word and he (and I) will roll on the floor in hysterics.
On the other end of the spectrum lies my friend’s son, Harvey (a fake name). Of all my friends’ sons, Harvey is the most mature in terms of his awareness of the opposite sex. He is soulful and shaggy-haired with big brown eyes and nice cheekbones. He’s an amazing athlete, too, and while he’s “all boy,” he’s also great with adults. A little while back he asked me, “How’s it going having two kids in two different schools? Is that hard?”
My first thought: You’re only EIGHT!
My second thought: You’re thoughtful enough to understand the hassle of having kids in different schools? MARRY ME!
What I said: “Thanks for asking, Harvey. You know, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. You’re so thoughtful to ask!”
This brief interaction must explain why third grade girls (and a few moms I know) dig Harvey: 1) he’s cute, 2) he asks questions about a woman’s feelings.
So at dinner, my friends and I were talking about how smitten Harvey has been for one of his classmates. Seriously smitten. It’s adorable. It’s been going on for months, this smittenness.
“Ahhh. Harvey’s going to be such a heartbreaker,” I said.
“Really?” his mom/my friend said. She looked worried. She’s just about the nicest woman ever, as is her husband. The last thing they’d want is to know their son is leaving lines of cleat-stomped hearts in his wake.
I nodded. “But it’s OK, because unfortunately, he’ll likely get his heart broken, too. He will break hearts, and his heart will get broken. It’s inevitable. He’s just got a lot of love in him. Chicks dig that.”
I paused then, to stick my left hand under my right armpit and pump my bent right arm up and down like a chicken wing, doing that armpit-farting thing that kids (and I) like to do when appropriate. Or inappropriate.
“And then there’s Buddy,” I said, still armpit-farting. “Buddy who’s got a lot of armpit farting ability in him. Chicks don’t dig that. We’ll be lucky if Buddy starts dating by the time he hits thirty.”
Which is fine by me. It gives me plenty of time to help him land a mate who will adore and appreciate me. Who will refer to me as The Best Mother-in-Law Ever.
This conversation about Harvey Heartbreaker made me think about heartbreak, my own. Also that which Buddy and Sweetie may some day experience.
It breaks my heart to think that some guy/gal could break the hearts of Buddy and Sweetie. Especially Sweetie. And jeez, Buddy too! Especially Buddy because he will not see it coming, being that he’s not the most socially aware kid I’ve ever met (a blessing and a curse). It’ll devastate him. And poor Sweetie, she’ll find it difficult to ever trust again. Ack!
As someone who has had her heart broken by many a sailor (three), I wouldn’t wish it on even my two worst enemies (Darth Vader and Michelle Bachman).
Yet in spite of the pain, I suppose some part of me is grateful to have had the experience. To know what true heartbreak feels like. To know that I can survive it.
Perhaps it’s part of Life’s required reading. Like how in college, I, an English major, had to take Intro to Geology and Math for Idiots. It’s just part of what you have to go through if you want a PhD in Life.
But do I wish heartbreak on Buddy and Sweetie?
Of the three gentlemen who broke my heart, two of them might say that at some point in the relationship, I also broke their hearts. So that’s good; as a first-born, type A-minus kind of gal, I appreciate fairness and equity in all matters, including love.
But the third heartbreak smarted something terrible, likely because it was 100% one-sided. Almost two decades later, thinking of it makes me feel a bit punched in the gut.
I will say this: This fellow was, and probably still is, a lovely human being. Kind, smart, funny, handsome, successful, a fast runner.
The break up went a little somethin’ like this:
23-year-old Sarah: I’m worried you don’t feel the things for me that you think you’re supposed to feel. I also worry that you think I’m a little chubby.
Fast Runner Boyfriend: (pauses; looks uncomfortable; pauses some more.) Um. Gosh. I’m so sorry (gets a little teary). I don’t know . . . maybe . . . you may be right, Sarah.
Sarah: (doesn’t cry, which is unusual.) Oh. I’m right? Really? (Long pause while Sarah wonders if she might throw up.) Well. WELL! Maybe you should leave and figure out your stuff. And please do NOT call me until you have. Figured out your stuff. OK? Got it?
She hugs him then, because he’s crying and Sarah always feels bad when others feel bad, even after they’ve just said mean things to/about her.
Fast Runner Boyfriend leaves and doesn’t call and doesn’t call and doesn’t call. Sarah is confused. It shouldn’t take this long to figure out his stuff when the answer is so clear: He Loves Her. After all, Sarah wants to remind him, we had decided what we were going to name our children!
Meanwhile, Sarah, a high school English teacher, has a hard time concentrating on lesson plans and Shakespeare and five paragraph essays. To make matters worse, she has heartbreak-related digestive issues and, throughout the day, finds it very difficult to breathe. Because she’s a total train wreck, she decides it’s both prudent and necessary to show the Mel Gibson version of Hamlet during class, during which she writes seething letters to Fast Running Ex-Boyfriend. Letters that will never be sent. Letters filled with angry words not becoming of a lady. Plus, with the classroom lights off, she can cry a little.
But! On the last day of Sarah’s first year of teaching (three weeks after the break up), Sarah receives a flower delivery. More of a flowering plant delivery, to be accurate, one with a tag that says Gloxinia.
This is a Gloxinia.
Sarah thinks it’s an odd flower to send one’s girlfriend, as the plant sounds more like a venereal disease than a romantic symbol of one’s love.
But she doesn’t care! Because the card says: Congratulations on finishing your first year of teaching! –Fast Runner Boyfriend
Sarah is jubilant. She understands then that he DOES feel the right things for her! He doesn’t think she’s chubby! He was just confused and temporarily stupid! Everything will be OK! Gloxinia is her new favorite flower!
When she hurries to call Fast Runner Contrite Boyfriend, you know, to thank him, the conversation goes a little like this:
Sarah: Hey. I got the flowers. Thank you. They’re so pretty.
Fast Runner Guy: Yeah. Well, it’s a big deal to finish your first year of teaching. I’m really proud of you.
Sarah: (smiling humongously) Thanks. That’s so nice . . . I didn’t expect it. Gosh, it’s nice to hear your voice. How are you?
Fast Runner Guy: Good . . . busy. But Sarah? I just don’t think . . . I don’t think we should see each other anymore.
Fast Runner Heartcrusher: I’m sorry. I just don’t think I feel the right things–
Sarah: Hold on. You send me a Gloxinia and then when I call you to thank you, you BREAK UP WITH ME?
Fast Runner Annihilater of Self Esteem: I’m sorry. I just don’t feel the right things for you . . .
After that, everything went black.
I do know that I marched into the entry where the Gloxinia was perkily sitting on a little entry table. I picked up that plant by the blossoms and threw that plant as hard as I could down the very long hallway of the apartment I shared with three dear college friends. I think I made one of those sounds that sounds more animal than human as I threw that Gloxinia. Dirt went everywhere, and the plant narrowly missed hitting my BFF, Ann, who sat reading on the couch.
So back to my original question: is having one’s heart broken, in the end, beneficial? Is it something good to experience, simply part of Life that most of us must endure? If I wouldn’t wish it on Darth Vader, why would I wish it on Buddy and Sweetie?
An article in Men’s Health stated this research on the science of heartbreak:
Over the past decade, evolutionary psychologists, neuroscientists, and pharmaceutical researchers alike have begun to shed fascinating new light on heartbreak. The forces that bind two people in union are powerful, but love’s dissolution is more potent still — a trauma to the brain and body that in some cases can be all but indistinguishable from mental illness.
In the book A General Theory of Love, three research psychiatrists say romantic rejection triggers a two-phased response in humans as well as many other mammals. During the initial protest stage, our brains are flooded with extra dopamine, norepinephrine, and similar excitatory compounds — leaving us more obsessed, energized, and desperately in love than ever. Such “frustration attraction” provides extreme motivation to regain our beloved.
“When something is enormously important to us, it makes sense that we don’t give up too easily,” says Arthur Aron, Ph.D., a professor of social psychology at Stony Brook University.
With the help of fMRI scanning, Aron, Fisher, and Brown have begun to reveal the relentless neural pathways that goad such efforts. Early scans of volunteers who were “truly, madly, deeply” in love showed activation patterns reminiscent of getting a cocaine hit. A follow-up study of heartbroken individuals who had been recently dumped by mates they still adored showed activity in some of the same basic regions lit by an addiction. But it had shifted slightly — to regions seen in compulsive gamblers craving a big win.
In other words, we seem to become as desperate as junkies deprived of a fix. For a while, at least, says Fisher, neurons that have become accustomed to love’s chemical rewards become even more active when such rewards are delayed. The system curbs itself only when the hit never comes, and then the hopelessness of heartbreak’s second phase, resignation, sets in.
With the abandonment of hope often comes deep pessimism and self-recrimination over the many ways we’ve screwed up. Though it’s highly unpleasant at the time, evolutionary biologists suspect such forced introspection is necessary for us to learn from our loss. “When you’ve suffered a major setback in life,” says Keller, “it’s actually unhealthy to feel optimistic. The pain and obsessive thoughts of heartbreak force us to gear back and really think things through, examine our strategies and mistakes before we rush out and try again.”
Interesting. It’s true that the “pain and obsessive thoughts” of break-up made me feel and act like a mentally ill nutball. Yet the experience also made me a little more cautious. That’s a good thing, I suppose, for someone who never really employed much Love Caution.
There’s also this bit of very good news: had Fast Runner Guy not broken up with me, I might still be with him, probably not as happy as I am, living in a place that’s not as awesome as Seattle. Worst of all, I’d be living without Husbandio. That makes me feel worse than the worst heartache ever could.
Life can fast-pitch some pretty tough stuff in our direction. Maybe that’s OK.
I suppose some day, if Buddy takes a few lessons from Harvey, or, if he eventually finds someone who appreciates armpit farting, and if Sweetie finds someone who admires her very weird outfits, and those people break their hearts, I will want to punch the heartbreakers in the face and then in the stomach.
But after much punching, I will know to hug my children and wipe their tears and help them breathe, eventually reminding them that there’s a better mate out there somewhere. . . probably just over that second hill, just three or four or a hundred blocks away, just a few miles down the highway.
Plus, twenty years from now, Buddy and Sweetie will have a good breakup story to share with thousands of people.
Now, do I dare ask . . . what’s your best break-up story? After the fact, are you glad it happened? Is heartbreak part of Life’s required reading? Please share (just use appropriate pseudonyms).