Ten Things You Can Only Learn By Having Your Heart Broken
Today is one of my most significant ex’s birthday (whose name I won’t mention because I’m frankly tired of seeing it in print) and I find myself not thinking fondly back on our time together, but instead thinking gratefully of all the many lessons I have learned in our time apart. Or, to be more clear: In the time and space and distance I’ve had since he broke my heart for the final time almost exactly one year ago. And even though I still have the brief daydream here and there of going all Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats” on him in some distant day in the future, I know that my present – and future – is infinitely brighter and calmer and more healthy without him in it (and so am I).
So, from the clarity I’ve gained over the past year after banning him from my social media, my phone, and my life…I thought I would share the top ten lessons you can only learn by getting your heart broken…for those of you still struggling to ban that pesky ghost of relationships past from your social media and phone and life. Perhaps this will give you the courage and the gumption to do so, one and for all.
1) First impressions are everything. Those little red flags (or giant red flags) you see waving ever so subtly in the breeze on day one will be massive stop signs by day 100. I promise you. My ex stood me up for our very first date. Of course he had a perfectly brilliant explanation for WHY he stood me up…but had I took the red flag of being stood up physically at face value on day one, I would have saved myself eight long years of being stood up emotionally.
2) How they are in life = How they are in love. My ex was irresponsible, immature, completely emotionally stunted, and unable to stick with ANYTHING. He changed jobs and zip codes at least as frequently as he changed his underwear (maybe even more so. Okay, KIDDING. I hope.) If he couldn’t even commit to a city or a career path…why on earth did I ever think he could commit to ME?
3) Chemistry does not and should not outweigh character. What do I mean by this? My ex and I were never lacking in the chemistry department. So much so that the lightning bolts and rainbows and shooting stars I saw when we kissed often acted as smoke and mirrors to the reality of who I was dating. Chemistry can only take you so far…but it’s much like someone handing you a beautifully wrapped box that’s empty. It doesn’t matter how good and attractive and appealing the exterior looks if there’s absolutely nothing going on beneath the surface.
4) Sometimes, ladies…we simply need to experience crappy guys. (And for the guys, sometimes you need to experience crappy girls.) Why? Because it’s often only after being treated really poorly that we learn how to stop allowing ourselves to be treated poorly. That we learn how to set standards. That we learn how to love ourselves too much to stay with someone who doesn’t love us enough. Sometimes we need that swift kick in the proverbial pants to boot us into the next and greater and better chapter of our lives…a chapter in which we will never again settle for someone who makes us feel, well…crappy.
5) When you ask God to remove anyone from your life who doesn’t belong there with complete and total sincerity, be prepared for Him to do it. But I discovered over the course of eight years that you can’t say this prayer halfheartedly or while still clinging stubbornly to the person or even the IDEA of the person. You have to really, really mean it. It is only when we are REALLY ready to surrender the thing that God steps in and takes it from us. Why? Because sometimes we have to truly feel the weight of the burden (like a dead relationship) to gain a full understanding of what the freedom of surrendering to Jesus feels like when we finally let the burden go.
6) You can do everything right and still end up in the wrong place, with the wrong person. That’s just life. During the final saga of me and my ex last summer, I have never been so proud of how I handled a relationship. I wasn’t clingy. I wasn’t needy. I didn’t make demands or whine or pout or manipulate or fall into any of those negative patterns that are so easy to fall into when in a relationship with a toxic person. I was open and vulnerable and invited God into the relationship with us and prayed for my ex constantly and consulted God at every turn. Not because I’m perfect, by any means. But because I truly wanted with all my heart for the relationship to work. But just one person fighting for the relationship will never be enough. Eventually you will buckle under the emotional weight of fighting all alone. And it was never going to work, no matter how hard I fought for the relationship, because he was the wrong person. You can be the right person all day long but if you’re with the wrong person…nothing you can do will save the relationship. I’m grateful for the experience, though, regardless of how it turned out. It taught me about the kind of person I want to be in relationships…and it taught me that I am capable of being that person.
7) Love isn’t blind. Love sees your flaws and inadequacies and imperfections and loves you anyway. And love never, ever uses those things against you or cites them as reasons not to be with you. Love is too busy loving the stuffing out of you to even pause to dwell on the flaws. Love recognizes that we are all a little banged up and broken and bruised by the rolls and punches of life and that does not make us unlovable. In fact, I daresay the fact that we are all those things yet still believe in love makes us all the more lovable.
8) A person who really, truly loves you will always show up for you. They will meet you halfway. Sometimes even more than halfway. Love, as the Bible says, covers a multitude of sins. It doesn’t hesitate or doubt or pause on the shore…it jumps in to meet you right where you’re at. And then it hangs on through the wind and waves and turbulence and refuses to let go just because things get a little uncertain or stormy or shaky. You will never have to exhaust yourself to chase love, manipulate love, force love, beg for love, or even ask for love. Love will be the first one in the door and the last one out. LOVE SHOWS UP.
9) When it’s over, it’s over. Let it be over. Stop trying to resurrect it. Stop arguing with God about why you should still have it. Stop worrying about what went wrong or torturing yourself about what you could have done differently or better. There is nothing you could have done differently or better. You can’t turn the wrong one into the right one, no matter how hard you try. Take a deep breath, and let go. Cry. Grieve. Give yourself time and space to feel the loss. Acceptance and grace are key here. Allowing yourself to mourn the end is key here. The relationship mattered. Your feelings for the other person were real, and they mattered. Your heartbreak is real, and it matters. But it’s still over. Let it go. And when you’re ready…really ready…try again, with someone new. Don’t allow the loss of one relationship or one broken heart stop you from trying again. Always be willing to try again. Love is worth the risk.
10) You are stronger than you think you are. You can, and will, survive the end of this relationship. And you won’t just survive…you’ll be better and stronger and more fabulous for it. (Even if you can’t see it now.)
And that’s it. Ten things you can only learn by getting your heart broken. I’m sure I’ll think of more, and perhaps I’ll share more another day. Feel free to add your own lessons learned to the comments below.
(If you want to read more of the story of me and the ex I reference in this post, check out my book (& New York Times Bestseller) I’ve Never Been to Vegas But My Luggage Has.)