At the ripe and all-knowing age of 19, I knew everything about love.
I took notes from popular love ballads by anguished singers. I watched romantic movies like I was studying for an exam. I consoled countless heartbroken friends crying over a broken heart. It didn’t long before I came to the obvious realisation that love always resulted in heartbreak.
Even though I knew this, a big part of me still wanted to fall in love. I wanted to feel that elation and passion I’d seen in the movies. I figured if I was smart about it, I could get the falling in love part without the misery that comes along with heartbreak. All I had to do was learn as much as I could from other people’s mistakes and if I played my cards right, I’d come out the other side clean and unscathed.
I entered the first year of college ready to take on dating like a soldier ready for war. In one of my classes, I became friends with a playful extravert who was goofy and sweet. Over time, our friendship began to grow into a relationship. The moment I realised where it was going, I took a deep breath and examined the situation and possible risks. I cautiously entered, pausing often to re-assess. As I slowly inched forward, treating our new relationship like I was walking over a field with hidden mines, he jumped right in without a thought.
We ended up dating for a year or so. He was spontaneous and fun and knew how to make me laugh so hard I’d fall to the floor in tears. He was friends with everybody and loved being the center of attention. But over time, I felt plagued in fear that I was settling too early. I started becoming curious about what else was out there. I saw my love life as a voyage across the seas, setting sail to explore different places and ideas. I could not possibly set up a permanent base on the first place I discovered. I wanted my heart to be set free and experience what else was out there.
On a cold winter night in Ottawa, I drove to his place. While we sat on his couch, I told him I couldn’t do it anymore, I wanted to break up. He snapped angrily at me and demanded answers. Why? What have I done?! Can’t we work this out?! With tears streaming down his face he told me to leave. I remember driving home that night feeling terrible but free; free to untether my heart from this and set sail on another expedition.
But it didn’t happen that fast. I was surprised by the experience of a break-up. I wasn’t prepared for how many threads connected you to another person. I realised that a break up is a process, not a single event in time. It involves untangling yourself from a place that feels warm and comfortable and protected. It’s through this process that you realise you are cutting out parts of your own identity; a part of who you are gets removed.
This was my first experience in heartbreak. It was the tiniest fraction, the slightest chip on my porcelain heart. I was not destroyed by it but it did startle me that despite my armor and shield, I still managed to get hurt.
Soon enough my heart stumbled upon a new harbour. It felt like addiction swarmed me the moment we met. He wasn’t ready for a relationship, he’d only just left from one. He needed time on his own. But I could not resist myself, it was like trying to stop a herd of galloping horses. I had lost control of myself and it terrified me. Soon enough, he caught up with me. We were two broken people who cared deeply for each other, but neither of us were really ready to be in a relationship. But no matter how many times we tried to go our separate ways, we were magnets for each other and always found our way back. Ultimately it came to an end when I decided to move to China, and he decided to remain in Canada.
By the time I arrived in China, I’d been through enough heartbreak that I believed I knew what it all meant. I felt matured and wiser from my two previous relationships. I figured this was practice, and while I’d made a few slip-ups, next time I’d get it right. But just around the corner awaited a heartbreak that would go beyond anything I could have ever planned for. It would be so severe it would change the very core of who I was.
On a cold autumn morning on October 13, 2013. My Dad was on a call that seemed to last forever. By the time he came out of his room the color in his face was gone. He told me gently that he needed me to sit down, he had something important to say. Just like the tides of a beach before a tsunami hits, I knew whatever he was about to say would destroy me. His voice cracked as he pushed out the words, “Elizabeth died.” The words hit me like a gunshot. It felt like the floor had fallen from underneath me. Everything went quiet in my head and for a second it felt like time froze. In that very moment, I could feel the past wedged so closely between us. I felt like if I held my breath and moved ever so quietly, I could reach into the past and pull it into this moment. I felt like I could fix this mess, like I could go back in time and save my sister.
The pain of this was beyond anything I’d ever known or could’ve prepared for. It felt like my fragile heart had been dropped on a marble floor; shattering into a million little pieces. The pain of my sister’s death crashed through the steel walls I’d proudly built around my heart with malicious ease. It forced me to think about my own mortality, about what it meant to be alive. If my life were to end right now, would I be happy? Would I be okay to leave this all behind? The answer was always no. It made me want to experience every single thing this life had to offer before it ended. I wanted my heart to absorb as much love and pain and beauty and sadness and joy that was humanly possible.
I finally decided to allow myself the freedom to fall in love without protecting myself and without overthinking it. It was clear to me that there was no point in playing it safe anymore. If life was already going to destroy me, I wanted to experience the highest level of human emotion. I wanted to pull the lever all the way.
That summer I met someone. If my inner world was a tsunami, he represented a tiny, laid-back Caribbean island in the sun with party music and pina coladas. I thought we were both on the same level so I jumped into love like a cannonball, I gave every single part of me to him. I held nothing back. I thought, ‘take it, it’s yours, there’s nothing else to lose.’
The moment after I jumped, falling in midair, he nonchalantly told me he wasn’t ready. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have a Plan B, I had no safety nets. Instead, I had to brace for impact.
The explosion of sadness that was released when my heart shattered felt like it could kill me. It felt in like my soul was burning at the highest frequency. But that severe emotional pain cleared the way for the most intense positive growth. I was finally able to find an outlet to let that flood of pain burst through and harness it into courage and strength. It gave me the power I needed to move to a country I’ve always wanted to live in. Like the wind under my sail, it pulled me away from the ruins of my life and brought me to the shores of Sydney, Australia.
It took me a year to mend my broken heart, it still has deep scars and burns that have shaped it into something different than I imagined. It has also found its way in the hands of the most amazing man. With him, my heart feels safe, protected and supported. It’s the healthiest and most encouraging relationship I’ve ever known and one I would have never found had it not been for my journey of learning to let go.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my heart finally experienced the depth and sadness I wanted for it. I finally see now that you cannot have love without pain, there is no such thing. It was naive and rather selfish to think otherwise. Love is about the expansion of our souls. It’s so much more beautiful to choose love when your heart has seen such darkness but decides anyway that it’s worth it.
It’s worth it all, the highest highs and the unbearable lows, it’s always worth it to embark on another journey that is love.
I’m so sorry for the losses you have suffered. Grief can be so all consuming but I think you are right, out of the pain can come positives, it can just take a while to get there. I’m so happy that you are now in a place you want to be. Thank you for sharing such a thoughtful and beautifully written piece.
Aw thank you so much for your kind message.
your writing is so deep, so personal and I can relate to the things you describe. It gives me hope that one day… I too may find that.
Thank you so much, I’m so glad you can relate. I believe you will find it one day, for a long time I wondered if I was destined to be alone and then suddenly, out of nowhere, he came into my life.
Wow.. You blow me away everytime.. I’ve felt your pain at too well. I’ve accepted my fate.. I don’t think i can ever give my heart to anyone else again. Your sister was an amazing person..and she would be soo happy for you and proud of all you have accomplished.. God Bless..
Thank you Bill, that means so much to hear. I think you should always give love another chance. It reminds me of the quote, “the things we love may kill us, but weren’t we dying anyway?” Life is fragile and love is the most magical thing we can experience. I think it’s always worth another chance.
I’m so moved by your writing and this story in particular has come at the right time. We’re all reeling from the shock and sadness of a marriage break up in our family and feel the pain of others heartbreak. In time growth and change will come from the hard decision they’ve made but right now they are deep in pain and feeling their grief and change of identity.
Thank you for sharing x