Be Gentle with Yourself When Dealing with Heartbreak

“Relationships are like glass. Sometimes it’s better to leave them broken than try to hurt yourself putting it back together.” ~Unknown

I’m sitting in the nail salon near my apartment, perusing Vogue and making small talk with the woman who is cradling my hand and filing my nails. We’re catching up on our lives; I tell her I’ve been in Phoenix for the month. She nods and, in broken English, inquires about him.

I’d like to say my subsequent tears are a rarity, but lately, they seem to have a mind of their own.

I sit across from my best friend and shake my head, unable to squeak out a sound over the lump in my throat. I well up while crossing the street, while waiting in line, and now, in a mortifying turn of events, at the nail salon while this lovely woman across from me pats my hand in a show of support she does not have the words to express.

We had been together for four years (four and a half, if you count early, long-distance courtship). We’d both been married before; he wasn’t looking for anything serious. Truthfully, neither was I. I had a thriving business in the fashion industry, a son in high school, and a mother who lived with us back in Phoenix. A relationship with a man in NYC seemed inconvenient, if not impossible.

For anyone who has ever felt the free-fall of love, “inconvenient” and “impossible” suddenly become obstacles you are willing to leap over like an Olympic athlete.

You throw caution to the wind. You are like Wonder Woman, flying into the chasm of love in your invisible jet; armed with a lasso and bracelet cuffs. What could possibly go wrong?

I’ve never been a woman who needs a man. I’m blessed to be very good friends with my ex-husband; our friendship and co-parenting relationship fulfills many aspects of my life. I’ve dated casually and admittedly, I’ve always been the one to leave a relationship. It’s always been on my terms.

Spoiler alert: What you have yet to learn, life will always find a way to teach you.

He and I fell into our relationship. I say “fell” because it wasn’t a conscious decision. We just were.

Two weeks out of the month, I was in Phoenix. I’d come to New York and stay with him, and our weeks would be filled with long walks through the city. He was the most affectionate man I’ve ever been with: Always, he held my hand. Always, he held me at night.

Dinners together, brunch with friends—our weeks were stitched together with such normal occurrences that it felt like we were building a life together. No one made me laugh like that. No one made my heart feel like this.

I wanted our life together to include a commitment. “I know it sounds silly,” I’d concede to my friends. “But I’ve never felt like this. I want to marry him. I want a life with him.” And I’d ask, “Do you think he’ll ever marry me?”

They answered these questions with a nervous shrug. There were tears. There were agonizing, all-night conversations that resolved nothing, and always, we fell back into it. We fell back into us.

Certainly, we had issues. What couple doesn’t? While I’m a very independent person, his vacillating between affectionate and aloof left me feeling needy in a way I was unaccustomed to feeling. We are both entrepreneurs; we both had our own set of daily stresses.

Still, I hoped. I reasoned, “With a love like this, how could we not end up together?”

As it turns out, hoping and reasoning do not a commitment make—hence, my crying at the nail salon.

It’s been close to two months since he called me in Phoenix to tell me he could not give me the commitment I needed. The life I wanted. It’s been two months since the love of my life walked out of, well, us 

Heartbreak, it turns out, is not just for kids.

It happens to all of us at some point, I’m told, and when it happens to you for the first time in your life at forty-five, it feels as if you world is being blown to bits by the grenade of rejection.

I have made a study of surviving heartbreak. Always the type-A Capricorn, I have meditated, breathed, done every type of yoga under the sun (salutation). I’ve taken L-Theanine supplements to try and calm me. I’ve walked until I fell into bed, exhausted, only to stare at the ceiling until the sun came up. 

And where has all this yoga, breathing, introspective all-night thinking led me?

I’m still trying to figure that out. Here’s what I know so far: there are (finally!) nights when I’m able to get a few hours of sleep. I’ve started to laugh again. I haven’t cried in the line at Trader Joe’s in a little while.

But most of all, I’m starting to look at our relationship with some perspective.

His walking away may have been a lesson I needed to learn. Perhaps everyone needs to experience heartbreak to break their heart open to feel other things. Yes, there is crushing pain, but I’m hopeful that beyond that, there is something else that will nourish my soul in some way. 

The greatest lessons I’ve been able to take away from my heartbreak, though, are these:

I need to love myself enough to not try to put things back together.

When things break, we all have a tendency to want to fix them. There comes a point, though, when you have to put yourself first. You have to take those first steps toward making your own way, on your own terms. You have to know when to make your own heart the priority.

Trying to change myself to fit the relationship is never going to work.

We need to be gentle with ourselves, especially during a time of great heartache. Playing the “if only I were better or needed less” game serves no purpose except to make us feel worse.

The fact is, my ex loved me for who I was. Not better me, not less me. Had I been “better” or needed “less,” we probably would have never shared what we did in the first place.

Forgiveness is the hardest part. But it’s also the most rewarding.

Anger is one of the stages of grief, and we all have to move through it to move on. The hardest part of a breakup is forgiveness: forgiving myself for things I did or said along the way. Forgiving him for the same. Once we start to understand that our intentions came from a place of love or fear and not of mal intent, forgiveness begins.

Above all, I’m trying to believe that sometimes, as the Dalai Lama says, not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.

Photo by Javier Amos

About Kiran Rai

Sir Alistair Rai is the brainchild of designer Kiran Rai. She brings a global perspective to the brand, which celebrates diversity & cultural appreciation. Kiran relies on over 20 years of experience in the fashion & merchandising industries, which includes past positions with GAP, Disney & The Limited Corporation.

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