Broken Hearts and Bright Sides

Learning the Art of Self-Love
It's a rite of passage to go through your first heartbreak. Ella isn’t the first—nor will she be the last. Now, a year wiser, she's putting her break-up story on the internet for everyone to read. So grab a seat, laugh at her misfortunes, and who knows, maybe the worst thing to happen in her pretty ordinary life might just turn out to be the best thing ever.
A woman holding a bouquet of roses looking at her reflection in a mirror
ILLUSTRATION BY THE NAV / CELIA BRAND | ART DIRECTOR
When I was a kid, love was the most exciting thing in the world. 

Ever since I first learned about romantic love, I was hooked. My mom worried that reading love stories and watching romance movies would create silly delusions in my head—little did she know, it was already too late. I was lost to the world of passion and love. 

Picture the quintessential teenage dreamer, overdosing on romance and idealism to a truly insufferable degree. You know the type—the one who reads poetry while waves crash in the background and declares undying love for the rain. Yep, that’s me.

I sought romantic love in the real world as soon as I could: I got my first boyfriend at 14 and thus began a long string of taking the bus to each other’s houses, hanging out at the mall, putting the name of my latest boyfriend in my Instagram bio, and—most importantly—saying “I love you” after only dating for a week.

I had my first kiss in a McDonald’s parking lot, told a person I loved them for the first time after class outside my locker, and broke up with someone at a bus stop. 

If you think I liked dating in high school, let me tell you: dating after 19 was a whole new ballgame. I felt my world was open to more than my high school bubble. 

Love was a real-life rom-com, and I felt like the luckiest girl in a world full of relationship plot twists. It was all sunshine and butterflies until I inevitably hit the script rewrite after learning that love has a knack for outliving its necessity.

But I had one fatal flaw: I was such a serial monogamist that I had never taken the time to understand myself or my values.

So—can you guess what happened next? 

I got my first major heartbreak. 

Turns out you can only go so long without getting cheated on or having a toxic relationship, and I truly drew the short straw. 

So, when I had been dating this guy for a little while and realized this was not the healthy relationship that I was used to, I wasn’t prepared. I had never known love to be like this. In fact, I didn’t know what love was at all. 

You know you’ve got it bad when you’re lying to your friends about what your partner is doing, or attempting to justify their behaviour to the unyielding faces of your peers as you say You just don’t know him like I do or When he’s not like this, he is so amazing.

At this point, even I knew I sounded ridiculous, but a first heartbreak is a canon experience, and my friends and family knew there was no effective way to interfere. 

We all want to be the girl who leaves—the strong woman who picks up and puts herself first. I promised myself I would be this woman, that I would never beg for someone to treat me the way I deserved.  

But when it came down to it, that resolve slipped right through my fingers. 

At this point, you may be asking, Why did you stay in a relationship where you were miserable? To that I say, Obviously because I was dumb. Kidding—mistakes are how we grow.

The disaster of our relationship came to an eloquent climax over the Christmas holidays when my partner went MIA. Literally—I don’t know what happened except that once I left his house, I never heard from him again.

Yes—I was ghosted by my boyfriend over Christmas. Safe to say that my holiday season was less than joyful. 

Not to mention I had lent him a bunch of money (he was unemployed for the duration of our relationship), and if I knew one thing, I wasn’t getting it back. 

My life only got worse when my friend showed me a picture of him with his ex, who turned out to be with him all along. Plot twist, I know. 

The worst part, though? I had no idea what I had done to deserve this. 

On paper, I thought I had been a perfect girlfriend: I drove him everywhere (he didn’t have a car), bought him groceries (on top of the loan) and cooked for him, showered him with care and love letters.

Yet, what I didn’t realize at first is that love isn’t transactional. I couldn’t possibly ever give enough love for it to be owed back to me. 
Some people just aren’t going to love you the way you want, and while this is a great tragedy of life, it is also a fundamental, unchangeable truth. 

But I’m not in the business of crafting a scathing exposé on this character. If you’ve been on the rollercoaster that is an unhealthy relationship, you know the wild ride all too well. 

Let’s return to the main character of the story: me. 

Me—the girl who wished he would stay even though everyone around her said she was better off without him.

Me—the girl who sobbed in her mother’s arms after a week without hearing from him, repeating I don’t want to be alone again as many times as it would take until she felt like the universe heard her and would spare her from this seemingly terrible fate. 

As a girl who truly believed that if we give love, we get love back, my last relationship was—to put it lightly—a tough pill to swallow. But the wake-up call was necessary. 

This is not because I was some helpless victim who had been ravaged by a heartless monster hell-bent on destroying my self-esteem—it’s because I had been complicit in my emotional breakdown.

The first step to my healing required me to take responsibility for some part of how I acted during and post-breakup. Don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t responsible for the way I was treated, but I was responsible for staying when I could have left

But the good thing about being at your lowest is that you’re at your lowest. Armed with the knowledge that the only way from here is up, I embarked on the painful yet transformative journey ahead, ready to revolutionize my life one stumble at a time.

In fact, when I emerged from the pit of darkness—aka my room, where I rotted in bed for two weeks straight—the weight on my chest eased. When I saw the sun, I felt better. Turns out sunlight does correlate with happiness. Who knew? 

I remember talking to my friend after this ordeal, telling her that I knew I needed to do some serious work on myself.

She responded, ever the wise lecturer, that not only did I need to work on myself, but I needed to get rid of the part of me that felt I needed love so desperately that I would put up with anything in its pursuit. 

That did not sound like a fun thing to do. In fact, I was annoyed that she would suggest that there was some part of me that needed to be eliminated. 

But she was right, because as long as I was that desperate to be loved, I would never truly experience it. 

So, what did I do after finally exiting my room?

Well, I cut my bangs, dyed my hair black, got my nose pierced, and booked my next tattoo. You know, the usual things you do when going through a crisis. 

Facebook marketplace listing with photo of kitchen. This 1 bed 1 bath apartment is listed for $1,789 per month.
My post-break-up tattoo: the cover of my favourite break-up album, Twin Fantasy, by Car Seat Headrest.
INK BY: Red Cat Studios
But I also went to therapy and began developing a better relationship with myself to address what held me back from truly knowing love.

It took me 20 years, numerous failed relationships, and countless first dates to realize a very simple yet omnipresent truth:

My job is not to get people to love me. My job is to love myself.
For so long, I’d believed I needed to make people fall in love with me so I could prove that I was lovable. Which, obviously, is not the purpose of love. 

There’s no single point in this story where I experienced a shocking revelation or a world-shattering epiphany. Instead, I slowly began to understand that being alone was essential for my development.

In contemporary culture, there’s this major aversion to being alone. Society emphasizes maintaining a ‘roster’ with countless options, and not just for business relationships

Of course, dating apps have streamlined the process as we whip out our phones and dive headfirst into yet another one of those oddly prevalent and somewhat dreaded situationships. (To everyone navigating a situationship, my apologies—you’re dealing with enough without my commentary.)

But being alone is truly necessary—bell hooks has eloquently said that “knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving.” 

And as much as I hated to hear this a year ago, she’s right. 

Once you get over the uncomfortable feeling of going on adventures alone, you discover the sheer joy of treating yourself to solo dates. Plus, watching movies is way better when you don’t have to fight for control of the remote.

Facebook marketplace listing with photo of kitchen. This 1 bed 1 bath apartment is listed for $1,789 per month.
A poignant page out of bell hooks’s All About Love: New Visions.

I can now say I am a reformed serial monogamist and am happier than ever. 

If I could go back to the brokenhearted girl I was a year ago, I would tell her that not only do I come out on the other side, but that the experience had such a profound impact on my life I’m sitting here waxing poetic about it.

As for everyone who has undergone a journey to self-discovery in their twenties, it’s painful, but important.

So, maybe the real journey of this story was the friends—or perspectives—we gained along the way (*wink*). And although I never could have imagined saying this a year ago, I’m truly grateful for my ex (cue “thank u, next” by Ariana Grande).  

Some final words of wisdom: don’t give your unemployed boyfriend of two weeks nearly $400. Just don’t do it. Maybe this seems obvious to you, and maybe you don’t need someone to tell you this. But I sure as hell did. 

And if you didn’t know, and you made this mistake—it happens to the best of us—know that if it costs $400 to learn one of the most important lessons of your life, it’s money well spent. 

Editor

Ella—short for Ellisif—is a passionate English and Liberal Studies student in her second year. She enjoys fashion and Lana Del Rey, and she spends her free time reading, writing, and thrifting.

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