The Bee Gees once asked in song: How can you mend a broken heart? They knew that it’s not easy; that’s why they answered their question with a slew of equally unanswerable questions.
You don’t really need to know how to stop the rain from falling down or the sun from shining to recover, though. Time and clarity are more practical solutions.
I’ve heard there’s a formula for the length of the recovery relative to the length of the relationship, but I think you need just as much time as you need. A six-month relationship took me three years to get over; an 11-year one took a few months. If there’s an algorithm in that, write it on the whiteboard—I’m not seeing it.
Clarity can come with time, therapy, or with slashing the corpse open and dissecting it with the enthusiasm of a CSI pathologist while your friends—if you have any left after you’ve been doing this for a year or so—try to hide their exasperation when you review the same evidence one more time. Or you may turn over what happened endlessly, like Captain Queeg with those steel balls. Eventually you get over it because you’ve run out of ways to think about it, or maybe you understand it, see your fault in it (we’re talking generalities—this has never happened to me), or realize why you’re now better off.
Waiting for time to pass and doing the work to achieve clarity can be painful and protracted. I recently figured out that, for me, time passes with a little less angst when there’s a man around.
No, no. You’ve got it all wrong. I would never use a new romance as a healing salve. That’s not fair to the guy who’s serving as Neosporin. And I’m no Tarzan, swinging from vine to vine like people I know who always have to be in a relationship. I wouldn’t want to pull anyone into my life when I was anything less than whole.
But when it comes to men, I’m like a deer at a salt lick. I love men. One of the difficult aspects of a breakup is knowing it’ll be a long time before I have my hands on one again. It’s not unlike the problem of finding replacement dishes for a discontinued Mikasa pattern. As I’m cleaning up the shattered pieces of porcelain, I’m thinking, “And now where am I going to find another one?”
Fortunately, about three weeks into the denial, er, grieving process for my recent breakup, I serendipitously got involved in an ongoing e-mail exchange with someone I knew through mutual friends but had never met. Though I wasn’t thinking of romance, I did start to look forward to his notes, which were light, funny, and a little flirty. They gave me a lift from the pit of despair and provided a much-needed distraction; I’m sure he helped speed my recovery.
After my earlier heartbreak—that of the three-year recovery—I was such a wreck for such a long time that I wasn’t fit company for anyone. But I did have a man in my life—albeit a fictional one.
I was writing a novel about a woman recovering from a devastating breakup who has an affair with her ex-lover’s brother. (Familiar as that may sound, I had no such adventure, though I did base the character’s roguish appearance on my ex-boyfriend’s brother.) Although I was creating the character’s soul and writing his dialogue, I never knew before I faced the page what he was going to do or say. I chiseled him until he became a flawed, slightly dangerous, but loveable man. So during lonely weekends when I might otherwise have been miserable, I kept company with Chris, my charming art dealer from Chicago. He was there whenever I needed him, and I knew I couldn’t hurt him. Perhaps more importantly, he couldn’t hurt me.
It might seem a little nuts, but it’s not as if I carried around a blowup doll. Crazy or not, Chris was a comforting presence during one of the roughest times of my life.
Though Chris will stay forever on the page, I am planning to meet the flesh-and-blood man who unwittingly helped me through my recent heartbreak with his electronic companionship. In a sense he’s as unreal to me as Chris was, so I hope our friendship survives the transition. If not, I suppose I can always rewrite the ending.