Sarah R. Callender

Heartbreak

In General on January 19, 2012 at 8:36 am

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.

Sarah: What?

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).

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  1. I laughed out loud at the armpit farting! Great post. Interesting about the addictive aspect of breakup/heartbreak. I’ve felt that. (clears throat) More than once, let’s just say….

  2. A friend of mine heard a song on the radio other day and texted me something about the tune causing her to miss an old flame and wondering what might have been. I responded with: I usually think what might have been would likely be so much worse.

    I went through a divorce (the first in a big family of Baptists who just stuck it out) at a young age, having married at a very too-young age, and years later met my husband and the amazing father of my three children. While I can lament the heartbreak that happened in my early 20s, I wouldn’t change a thing. Not only did that marriage take me across the country to a place where I would meet my love, it also made me appreciate just how very, very good a life can be.

  3. So interesting reading this, immediately figuring out who Harvey is and how I’ve felt how oddly early it is for my almost 9 year old boy to have such a huge crush on a girl and how I’ve already started to worry about my sensitive guy’s heartbreaks (and based on 3rd grade gossip, I think I think it is the same girl Harvey likes). My 5th grade daughter is going through emotional roller coasters over a bestfriend who does not treat her like a best friend should. Parenting does not get easier and watching our kids get hurt is tough. I actually think of Buddy to be very similar to Harvey and my guy 🙂

    • Yes, it does seem early though I remember a few Harveys at Sleepy Hollow Elementary. Some boys are just super-mature in the Love department. Thanks for your comment!

  4. I’m curious about how those researchers got people in the depths of their despair to submit to an MRI of their brains. How did they find them? An ad in the paper? “Did your boyfriend just leave you for the skinny model down the street? We have an opportunity just for you! Claustrophobics need not apply.”

    • Oh, I totally would have replied to an ad like that. If someone would willingly have listened to my love woes? Perhaps have told me whether I was actually, in fact, DYING? Reminded me that MAYBE he’d come around and realize his mistake?

      My poor friends . . . I’m sure they would have gladly driven me to a study, dumped me into the arms of a lab coated gentleman, and said, “Take her. She’s driving us crazy.”

  5. I think my heart might break thinking about future heartbreak for my kids. Thanks for your post! 🙂

  6. Oh my! I LOVED my heartbreak. I like to visit it, even now, and kind of relive it – the intensity of 19 year-old love and loss – oh, I’m smiling just remembering it all. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was terrible and I ugly-cried everywhere. But now, 20 years later? it was so awesome. I kept a lot of our love letters (poor kids today with no love notes… now *that* makes me sad) and re-read them a couple of years ago. They were ludicrous and I just hoped that my daughter would one day be as totally loved and love as totally as I did. Every love since has paled in its intensity, but on the other hand, each has happily only grown in its depth and goodness. Thanks to facebook, I know that my First Love is doing just about what he was doing when we were kids and I am not so much into that – probably never was really. But it’s nice to know he’s out there, seemingly fine despite losing the Best Thing To Ever Happen To Him. smirk. And me? I turned out okay too – Great Love was so fun, but Forever, No Matter What Love is where Life lives for me.

    Heartbreak is just the flip side of Great Love and I hope, hope, hope my people each get at least one Great Love. I think I’ll hope that more than I hope they don’t have any Heart Break.

    I think.

    • I love that you loved your heartbreak. And, I have NEVER thought about the fact that kids these days won’t have love notes. It’s a tragedy. One that they will never understand or appreciate. Love this. Thanks, A.

  7. Sarah! I’ve so missed your voice! I can’t possibly wait to interact with you in these interims. What I’d really like is to meet you for lunch!

    My youngest, a heartbreaker primed to have his heart broken, is this Harvey you speak of. The Heartbreaker/Heartbreakee of the Midwest. Living with an 18, almost 16, she insists, and 13 year old, I have already begun the process of drying my tears over my children’s Life Lessons 2.0.

    In the hopes of easing their sadness when it comes, I speak openly with them about how “life is designed to occasionally kick you in the gut, or the heart, as the case may be. I know it seems spiteful. Sometimes. But, it WILL help you grow. I promise.”

    My break up story is, ironically, with my current/only ever husband! We started dating in my senior year of high school, his freshman year in college. It was truly love at first sight ~ For Me. The moment I met him, I knew he was what I always knew I wanted in a man-boy. I can say that now, at the ripe age of 43. I don’t think he would take offense. *smile* At that age, I had no idea what I wanted or needed in a life partner. And neither did he.

    Here’s what he did know. He loved me. But… he needed his space. He loved me. But… he didn’t want to commit to any girl. He loved me. But…

    Here’s what I did know. I loved him. Period.
    I wasn’t looking for commitment. I was only seventeen for cripes sake! What I was looking for was love. It just came in the form of *Boy meets girl. Both fall in love. Girl wants boy to commit. Wait. What? Well, yeah, I guess it was commitment Girl was looking for after all.

    The long and short of it is, Boy knew what was best for both Boy and Girl! No sense in rushing love, marriage and the baby carriage! We dated, on and off again (mostly on) for eight years. Married. Had babies. Fell in love for real. Still there.

    My daughter, the almost sixteen year old, just came in to read over my shoulder. She said, “Hey, you put ~Fell in love for real~ after the Married and Had babies.”

    My reply: “That’s because it’s a whole other kind of love that you experience after marriage and babies.” A whole other kind of heartbreak. Isn’t it Wonderful!

    Love!

    • Beautiful. Love this. SO true about the different kinds of Love. And, your daughter got a great learning moment, too. Thanks, as always, for your beautiful comment.

  8. Sarah – you have some seriously poetic friends/blog-followers. My goodness! That’s why I keep my replies nice and short! 🙂 But I’m loving reading all the comments from others . . .

  9. While working my first summer in Skagway, AK, there was this girl who I’ll call “Alice” (which is weird because that actually was her name) who drove the tour buses to the airport and then I would fly the passengers around the glaciers. All summer long I pined for this girl, turning into a stuttering idiot each time I saw her. I would go watch her sing “Proud Mary” each Thursday night at the local bar’s open mic night, and by “sing” I mean “belt,” as in she could make Simon Cowell say “WOW.” Anywho, with the summer drawing to an end, she actually came up to me one night and asked me to dance and for the next two weeks I was “truly, madly, deeply in love,” and fuzzy-brained and daft with lust. On my vacation the next month, I went to stay with her, and a week later she said it was over.

    That was bad. Industrial-strength heartbreak.

    And then it got worse…a year later, when I almost finally stopped twitching in pain every time I thought about her, I found out she’d been cheating on her boyfriend. With me. A boyfriend I never knew she had. And this crushed me more because I felt that, even though it was short, it felt real.

    But for “Alice,” not so much.

    • Oh, jeez. t’s so searingly painful, yet darn beautiful too, probably for the realness. Thanks, Seano. Made me ache, just reading about it. So glad to know I’m not alone in the Previously Heartbroken category.

  10. Such a gorgeous post (as always). Jeezaloo, but I remember my worst break-up to the last “how can I ever get up out of bed walk around in such a painful world breathe another breath without hurting” detail. It’s pretty crazy, how the heart holds stuff even closer than the head. Someday I think I’d like to write a little something about it, but I’m not quite ready yet. It’s only been 30 years, so, far too soon to consider facing it again in the form of words on a page.

    Still, love is grand, but I do honestly only ever want it to be pretty & tidy & perfectly lovely as it lands in the lives of my four children 🙂 Because, really, isn’t the very worst heartbreak, the variety that falls out of range of a mother’s “fix-it-all” reach?

    • This is so comforting! Sometimes I wonder why on earth I was so decimated. Now I see that maybe decimation just comes with the territory. And it’s so true that the worst kind of pain is realizing when we can’t fix/help/soothe our kids. It’s really terrible.

      Thank you so much for reading and for sharing! Maybe in another 30 years you’ll be able to share the nitty-gritty. 🙂

  11. Amen, Barbara. Amen.

    I can think of nothing worse than watching as my child’s heart breaks. Tears, and other bodily fluids, just may come out of my face, if I ponder any further on this question. It’s kind of like a train wreck. I just can’t pull myself away! I want to *see* that others have felt the searing pain of rejection, as I did.

    Though, my husband, that guy on the OTHER end of the break up was hurting too. How difficult it must be to live with the knowledge that you are responsible for breaking another’s heart? If, in fact, you do have feelings.

    “He ain’t got no feelins! He’s made outta rubba!” ~ Mean Circus Clowns, ‘Dumbo’

    • Dang . . . so true that the Breaker feels (or should feel) awful too. Just a different kind of awful. It’s no fun to be on the other end either, especially for us sensitive types.

  12. Thanks for this post. I loved it. During high school I spent many a night in Heartbreak Hotel, memorizing lyrics to Modern English’s “I’d stop the world and melt with you,” and scribbling really bad poetry. It didn’t kill me. But it would have been really awesome if Mom punched that guy in the face. Or at least declared to the world that she was going to do it–because on the other hand, Mom going to jail during those fragile years would have been worse.

  13. Videos in class were always a win. I had no idea you were suffering so badly in those last weeks — you really kept it together for us! Though I do love the image of you throwing that plant across the room… 🙂

    My worst breakup was in my senior year of high school with a junior who I’ll refer to as “Bob”. Bob was head-over-heels for me in the final 4 months of my senior year. I was lonely and he was cute enough and kinda funny, so I threw myself into the relationship head first, hoping to revive the end of my senior year and make it really memorable (instant prom date!) Little did I know that I would fall HARD for him and he for me — I even started thinking about marrying him! He decided to go on a 6-week trip to Israel that summer — an arts-based trip where he would be 1 of only 2 males on a trip with about 16 females (you can probably see where this is going…) — and I spent the majority of that time writing him really long, sad letters and worrying about how we’d keep the relationship going when I was about to leave for college. He came home 2 days before I was to leave for school and I was so happy to see him — I even surprised him with a little collage I made of photos of the two of us! 5 minutes later he dumped me in my car, claiming he didn’t think it would work out with me going away to school. I was just crushed, but still convinced that we could try to make it work and that he just needed time (after all, most kids come back from those Israel trips kinda whackadoo for a while.) After about a month of being away at school I found out from a friend that Bob started fooling around with one of the girls on the trip and they decided to start dating (long distance, mind you!) What a dick! I was just devastated and after 2 months of grieving I decided to see him over Thanksgiving break to settle things. When I arrived at his parent’s house I realized he was still that kinda-cute-but-not-really and still kinda-funny-but-also-very-full-of-himself and I was a fool to have really taken all of this so seriously, and I totally dodged a bullet by him leaving me. I found out years later that he wound up dating yet another girl from that same trip! Only this time they got married, he became an Orthodox Jew, and they moved to Israel and had 4 kids in like 6 years. WOW! Thank you, Bob, for being a douche so I could go on to meet the man who would become my husband. 🙂

  14. Thanks for not mentioning who that “sick” mom is who might think Harvey is kind of cute. She would be so embarrassed. She should be ashamed of herself, deserving of a broken heart.

  15. I didn’t fall in love very easily and I was usually the one that did the heart breaking. I felt almost as bad breaking somebody else’s heart as I did having mine broken! I did have my heart broken twice. Once when I was 20, by the absolute biggest loser I have ever dated. He was smart, artistically talented, and a total f-up. I had some crazy attraction to him (as did a bunch of other women at that time). Technically I broke up with him, but it was total heartbreak for me. That relationship was so clearly doomed to fail, so I’m glad I didn’t waste too much of my time on him. My other heartbreak was in my late 20s. This time with a much nicer guy who I still keep in touch with. I broke up with him too, but only because he was too much of a wuss to break up with me. My heart was definitely broken. But thank GOODNESS, because I learned to be happily single after that and then I met Mike.

    And this is officially the longest reply I’ve very left. Thanks for the fun, funny, well-written blog post, Sarah. 🙂

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