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