Heartbreak In Your Thirties

I so clearly remember the first time my heart broke. I was 17 and he was the perfect man slightly older than me; it was the first relationship he’d had since his childhood sweetheart and, after a date at a local pub, I was completely and utterly in love with him.

As much as you can be in love before you’re old enough to vote, anyway.

I thought he was the bees knees. Funny, intelligent, with lovely blue eyes and really kind parents (an important factor at that age), he seemed like everything I’d ever want in a boyfriend. I honestly and truly believed we’d be together forever, so when he told me after five months he was leaving the country for an impossibly long-sounding twelve weeks to do Camp America I literally felt my world fall out of my vagina.

It was excruciating. I didn’t know what to do with myself; I felt physical pain deep inside that I’d never experienced before, the pain of this man I loved incredibly not wanting me as much as I wanted him, the pain of not being able to be constantly by the side of who I thought was my one true love.

My divorce was terrible, of course it was, but I got through the heartbreak because there was no other option and I had two children I had to plough ahead for.

That summer, the highlight of those prolonged months was a surprise phone call from him on my birthday. This was 2002, long before the age of WhatsApp and wifi, and the 15 minute chat I was able to have with him on the house phone kept me going all the way through until I went off to University in September. That heartbreak stuck with me throughout but six months later I met my ex-husband and the rest, as they say, is history.

My divorce ten years later was terrible, of course it was, but I got through that particular heartbreak because there was no other option and I had two children I had to plough ahead for. And post-marriage split I gave no thoughts to future heartache: when firmly in my 30s and with a much more balanced view of the world and my own love life I believed I was too wise, too experienced, to ever feel my world falling through the floor again.

Spoiler: that’s so not true.

A few weeks ago I ended my relationship, not because I fell out of love or didn’t want to be in it any more, but because circumstances dictated that it just wasn’t working any more. And once more I am 17 again, face streaming with tears, fists pounding the floor with grief and sadness, tearing out three day-unwashed hair. The only difference is that this time around everyone has iPhones, so I’m not rolling around on the lounge floor cradling a landline.

I write this in a hoodie and tracksuit bottoms, clothes that are the closest thing to pyjamas yet still socially acceptable to wear on the school run. Yesterday I ate cake for breakfast, last Friday I spent my working day in bed watching the (incredibly detailed) official footage of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding. I’m not planning a May wedding anymore, so I’m going to watch everyone else’s instead.

I’m thirty-two years old and have my shit otherwise held pretty tightly together, so having my romantic life shake my core so thoroughly has been a huge shock

When we first split up I couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t look people in the eye, couldn’t speak about anything without crying. It’s slightly better now – it’s only things vaguely related to him that set me off – but my life is still punctuated by a dull ache that pulsates deep in my chest and down to my sugar-filled stomach. I’m motivated to do only a few things at the moment: go to the gym, eat salads to counteract the cake, apply fake tan (if I’m heartbroken I may as well look good doing it) and look after the kids, but everything else can get stuffed. Working for myself during this time has been a nightmare, with deadlines missed and emails ignored (sorry!), and my bank balance is looking particularly sad because I just can’t be arsed with invoicing.

I never ever expected a break-up to feel this way. I’m thirty-two years old and have my shit otherwise held pretty tightly together, so having my romantic life shake my core so thoroughly has been a huge shock. I write for a national newspaper, I run my own business, I’m a single parent to two school-aged kids: crying in the condiments aisle of the supermarket because I was last there with him is really not acceptable. A night sobbing on the sofa from loneliness is not OK. Opening my iPhone to pen hundreds of heart-pouring WhatsApp messages that never get sent is something another woman would do, not strong and capable old me.

But, against my better judgement, I have done all those things. Heartbreak doesn’t discriminate, and it’s hit me harder than I ever thought possible.

A few weeks in and slowly, slowly, it seems to be getting better. I no longer wake up and want to cry, I now only think of his name every thirty seconds rather than every ten. I’ve made plans with friends, started getting ready for a holiday with the kids and have booked a girl’s trip to New York. I have poured my heart out to my Life Coach (I never thought I’d be ‘one of those’ people but BY GOD has it helped) and have researched relationship grief to the nth degree. It’s not OK, but it’s getting less unbearable with every painful day.

And even if I find myself back in bed with dirty hair next week? At least I’ll have another Royal Wedding to watch.

Photo by brilliant Alice Dempsey

14 Comments
  1. I have experienced this grief many times both for the continued loss of my husband and for relationships that have not worked out. Sounds like you are on the up and there is absolutely no need to apologise to anyone or even yourself for having feelings. Love and hugs xx

  2. I’m truly sorry to read this Alice! As a fellow single mum/divorcee, I was very excited when I heard you’d met someone. I know you must be hurting so very much right now but it sounds like you listened to your intuition and did the right thing. Unlike me, who unfortunately went ahead with the wedding and started divorce proceedings 6 months later. I’m always slightly embarrassed to admit that I’m twice divorced by 40 and I still carry a huge amount of guilt for the upheaval I put my son through but….I’m learning to accept my mistake. I’ve also met the most wonderful man since then (divorced single dad of two lovely kids). We’re incredibly happy dating (when we get the chance) sometimes with kids in tow, sometimes without and we have absolutely no plans to marry whatsoever! Lots of love right now and the utmost admiration for making such a tough decision. Love will find you again when it’s the right one. I love your blog and your fabulous positive attitude to single parenting. Oh and so much love for the new t-shirts! Take care & enjoy your holiday with the kids, sounds like you deserve it. xxx

    1. Thank-you Toria for such a lovely comment. I love hearing other single mum’s stories and am so happy yours continues to be so joyful. xx

  3. Oh Alice. I’m sorry. I had thought yours was the happy ending romance. I hope you’re okay.

    Remember, it is better to be single than be with an idiot.

    Loads of love

    Pen x

  4. Thinking of you Alice ?? I wish I could say all the things that make these awful feelings god away in a swish… It will get better, of course it will, in the meantime though riding these emotions, not trying to suppress them is a good thing so cry when you feel like crying, eat cake when you fell like it too and do all of this with the deep knowledge that it won’t last and that the sun is waiting to rise again behind the clouds. It will never take away the fact that you are a strong pull together woman, a strong woman with a full working heart. Take care my lovely xx

  5. Oh babes I feel like such a mammoth pillock for putting my foot in it the other day. Sending huge love. Feel bad for laughing at the crying in the condiments aisle but I can’t imagine trying to process grief that huge with the added domestic load of two children scuttling about the place. Your post took me back to being 16 and face-deep in a pan of warm flapjack mix with skunk anansie playing on repeat. Not a time I’d want to revisit :(
    Have you read Eat Pray Love? It might be time?!
    Hope pouring it out through your writing helps. Big love pal. You’re amazing! Xx

    1. Oh really don’t worry at all, Penny! I so believe everything happens for a reason and all the nonsense I’ve been through recently has SO been for the best. I haven’t been facedown in flapjack mix for ages now (more like wine and cheese, tres chic innit).
      Thank you xx

  6. Ah Alice. I’m so so sorry to hear about your break up. I know it probably doesn’t help much when the pain is so raw, but as much as a curse it is that your feelings ran so deep, I also think it’s a testemant to the type of person you seem to be. Very big hearted. You love deeply and completely. Very real. Have you read any of Brene Browns books? I find her stuff comforting and helpful. Sending you lots of healing vibes. Be kind to yourself.x

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.