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21 July 2021

It’s been a month since my break-up, and I thought my heart would have started to heal by now – but it hasn’t

I am coming to accept that not everything can be explained away – that closure might not exist for the person left behind.

By Pippa Bailey

I thought I would feel better by now. Not all the way better, but he’s-not-the-first-thing-I-think-of-every-morning better. I suppose that was naive. It has been a month, and I fear I am becoming boring. The florist’s worth of flowers friends sent in the early days are crisp and browning now, their stems furring with mould. I know how they feel.

They say heartbreak is like cocaine withdrawal, that it activates the same parts of your brain, and I fight not to call him for my fix. I screenshot all the “DO NOT TEXT HIM” messages I’ve received from friends, and Photoshop them into a sort of aggressive pep-talk wallpaper for my phone. This is perhaps a bit Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and as I do it I imagine an Agatha Christie villain fashioning a ransom note from letters clipped from newspapers, but it’s effective – or, at least, it has been for the past four days. Instead I write him letters, one every day – letters I will never send, letters he will never read.

I chase alternative highs. I say yes to every invite that comes my way. I go for two massages in a week, though all I can think is that the hands on my body belong to the wrong person. I return to my powerlifting class for the first time since the pandemic began, and with every brain cell and muscle fibre focused on the barbell before me, I feel sharp again. When I get home I dance around my flat to Lizzo: “If he don’t love you any more/Just walk your fine ass out the door.” I sign up to go bouldering and kayaking – partly because endorphins are magical things, and partly out of spite, because he always wanted me to be more outdoorsy, more adventurous.

[See also: In my new single life, music, TV, films and books have become a ghost train of lurking frights]

I meet with my ex to talk everything over, and afterwards everyone asks me if I found any kind of closure. I have always felt the need to know myself entirely, to understand the insecurity or trauma underlying my every impulse, every word, every knee-jerk reaction. A feeling is never simply a feeling, but something to be probed and scrutinised. I am self-reflective to the extent that I have never said anything to my therapist that I have not already thought, considered and weighed alone (perhaps this means I should get a new therapist). 

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Mostly I consider it a mark of emotional health – how can we hope to change if we do not know who we are and why we do what we do? – but it is also a kind of torture. I go over and over the same ground in my mind, churning up the grass and leaving behind nothing but mud. I have the same conversation again and again with friends, and wait for them to say something that makes sense of it all – but, of course, they cannot.

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I am coming to believe that closure doesn’t exist in the conventional sense – at least, not for the person left behind. I will likely never get the answers I long for, and even if I did, I suspect I would not find them satisfactory. Closure is not – at the risk of sounding like a trite self-help book – something that anyone else can give, but something I must choose for myself. It is accepting that not everything can be explained away; that I am only responsible for my 50 per cent of a relationship; that no matter the extent to which I analyse his decision, I am powerless to change it – though all of this goes against my every instinct.

[See also: What online discourse gets wrong about therapy]

There is a box in the lobby of my apartment building where people leave things they no longer want. It is mostly filled with books and stand-up DVDs, but this week someone has deposited a pair of “Mr” and “Mrs” mugs. It is entirely possible they were an unwanted off-gift list wedding present, but I prefer to think that somewhere, behind one of the identical, anonymous front doors of my block, is another broken heart.

It is easy to believe that we are isolated in our deepest pain, that no one has ever felt as we feel. And, of course, my experience – in all its intimate, granular detail, its memories, its lost liturgy of shared jokes and references – is mine alone. But if I have learned anything from the weeks of wine-soaked debriefs, from the many messages of consolation I have received from the complete strangers who read this column, it is that we see ourselves in each other’s pain. I am not alone, and neither are you.

This article appears in the 21 Jul 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The Chinese century