Dealing with Grief After a Relationship
So who among us has had their heart broken? Raise your hand. I think it is a rare thing to have never experienced heart ache over the loss of a romantic relationship. I still remember the first time I had my heart broken. While Charlie Brown had his little red haired girl that made him swoon, when I was ten I had a little red haired boy. I have forgotten his name after all these decades but I still remember his hair was the color of fire. And that I wanted to touch it. He lived in my neighborhood just down the street. At that early of an age, I had to fall in love with a "bad" boy. "Red" as I shall name him lived in a home for wayward children. The boys living there were deemed as young delinquents or some such thing.
I would ride my bike past where Red lived every day after school. One day he was sitting on the curb and I slowly pedaled by on my banana seat bike with glow in the dark reflectors on the wheels and streamers coming out of the handle bars. Didn't everyone have a bike like this? Maybe it was my Marsha Brady hair or the fact that my reflectors shone the sun into his eyes but he squinted at me in such a way that showed interest. And then he asked me to come and sit with him on the curb. We sat and talked for the longest time about the things which fascinate ten year olds. Red shared some gum with me and I pulled out the gum wrapper bracelet I was making from my coat pocket. I added his wrapper to the chain. Won over by my talents of origami magic, he leaned over and gave me my first kiss. It was over before I knew it but oh what a kiss!
When I left Red to go home for dinner (the rule in those days was to come home before the street lights came on) I was giddy and light as a feather. I floated home. As I rushed into the house, my older sister was there visiting from college. She knew instantly that there was something up with me. She asked me what I was so happy about. And so I told in excruciating detail about "THE KISS." My sister giggled with me but she also warned, "Be careful. Boys are not always nice." I ignored her warning and planned when I would see Red the next day. And sure enough I did see him all right. He was sitting...with another girl!
I rode by to try to catch his eye. But Red wasn't seeing me. He was looking at this other girl the way he had looked at me just the other day. And when I saw him hold her hand I sped away. I felt like someone punched me in the stomach. I couldn't even cry, it hurt so bad. I had never experienced this horrible feeling and I just wanted it gone. When I went home and told my sister the sordid tale she consoled me but also gave me more advice, "This won't be the last time you feel this."
Of course my sister was right. That experience merely paved the way for much deeper pain to come. I was fifteen. We met in high school. We were what most people would deem as high school sweethearts. I met him while standing outside waiting with my friends for school to start. It was cold. He gave me his jacket to wear. This was the beginning to our off and on relationship that lasted into our young adult years. We had one of those turbulent stormy relationships where we would be together, fight, and break it off only to get back together again. Lots of drama. Instead of admitting to myself that he wasn't right for me, I didn't want to be a quitter. I kept trying. I suppose what I learned in that relationship was that there are some things which are unaffected by hard work. Hard work cannot make something fit which does not.
When he asked me to marry him by taking me to the high school stairs where we first met, I felt physically sick. My gut knew this was wrong. I accepted the ring but did not say yes. I didn't say no either. I was just silent. I thought of all the people I would be letting down. I loved his family and they loved me. But there were too many years of not being treated well by him. I looked into the future and felt both trapped and depressed. If things were bad now they surely would not get any better. As much as he said he loved me and wanted to show that love, he wasn't capable. A ring wasn't going to change this.
Some time elapsed before I worked up the courage to break off the engagement. It was then I felt the terror of pulling away from everything I knew. I was in my early twenties and right out of graduate school. We broke up the week before I would begin my first job out of school. I felt groundless as though the whole world were sinking. I was the agent of this change so why was I in so much pain?
I remember going to our apartment after he had taken his stuff. The place was a mess. He had left in a hurry. I sat amongst empty boxes and pulled out drawers and cried. It was more like I howled. I was grieving. I grieved over what was and what might have been. I grieved over the memories, both the good and the bad. It was like some endless movie was playing in my head which wouldn't stop. Twenty some years later I am shedding tears now to relive that memory, it hurt that bad.
Just as my sister had consoled me about Red when I was a little girl, she helped me with this loss too. She had experienced the loss of love many times over and could share her experience with me. I asked her, "When will I stop crying?" She then told me that when her last relationship ended that she cried every night for months. My sister confided, "I should have been glad to get rid of him. He was so horrible to me. But even that didn't change the fact that I did love him and that it was so painful to let go." I understood exactly what she was saying.
As hard as that was to do, I sometimes imagine how difficult it would have been had we gotten married or had children. I am sure what I felt was only a fraction of the pain that people must go through when they get a divorce. "Goodbye" has to be the cruelest word in the English language.
I can tell you that as with most types of grief, that time does help so much. You learn to adapt and move on with your life. But I don't think you ever forget, especially if it was your first love. If you love, pain sometimes follows. This is true. But I still maintain that it is worth the risk. You live, you learn, you love, and sometimes you lose. But you never lose your ability to love. It is always there waiting, like a tightly bound bud just waiting for that exact right moment to release.