Why It’s Good To Get Your Heart Broken

When my kids were smaller, I would know how good a time they’d had at pre-school by how dirty their clothes were when I picked them up. Now in Little League, if the white baseball pants aren’t black by the end of the game, they probably didn’t try. Of course, you never want your kid to be traipsing off the field with a broken limb…

Life is messy. Love is messy. Sex is messy. And those can be separate things, but often blended in one giant confusing smoothie that makes you gag if you drink it too fast. Relationships do not follow a predictable path, even when everybody has the best intentions, and nice things are said, and orgasms are had, there are still no guarantees. All you can really do is play. Play hard, without thoughts of winning or losing, just don’t leave the game before the last inning.

On the subject of winning, the one essential thing is to ask for what you need. There is a difference between having your needs met, and your wants indulged, and it is a significant one. Also my experience is that your needs are different with different people. With one person you might just need a text the next day after a very satisfying hook-up. With someone else, if the commonalities are there and the energy is right, nothing but a full commitment with do. The important thing is not to argue with yourself.

Someone I was once close to, used to try and fulfill all my wants and whims, because he felt guilty about not fulfilling my needs. Not even all my needs, just some of them. And I talked myself into believing after a while that my needs didn’t exist. Who was I to want more quality time with someone when I was being offered a nice Chloe bag? Why wouldn’t I be grateful for yet another fancy dinner, when all I wanted to do was stay home and eat pizza and fuck? I lost my voice in asking for what I needed, and so I lost my voice in life. I became ineffectual, insecure and depressed about it. What nobody tells you is that you can actually gaslight yourself.

Your soul will tell you what you need with someone, but not how to ask for it. Be clear, be kind, be direct and be open to negotiation. In a dating situation, there’s a lot of compromise. Okay, the person can’t see you three times a week, and walk your dog with you on a Sunday. But can they stay overnight once a week, and walk the dog with you some other time? Can they Skype with you from across town? Do you have a need to be taken out to dinner, or do you just want to stay home and eat pizza and fuck?

There is a difference between your desires and fantasies and what is unequivocally true for you, and you would be best to be honest with yourself about it. For example, if you want to get married, and you have a timeline, and that particular person is still on the staying-over-once-a-week stage, and maybe walked your dog one time in two years, it’s up to you to intuit whether things are moving in the right direction, or whether the writing is on the wall and they will never want more. I personally have not ever been a fan of such timelines, and got married and had kids without the use of them, but I know people for whom this is important. You can argue with yourself for only so long, before you have to admit that you need what you need to feel safe/loved/sexy. You cannot fight your own tides.

Keep the channels of communication open and be flexible. Have a sense of humor about it all, because we are all just carbon chunks on a nickel planet, so you might as well laugh. Of course no one person can fulfill all of someone else’s needs, it’s up to you to fill those needs yourself, or eschew monogamy altogether and have different people with whom you have different relationships. I am personally a fan of this, but have been accused recently of having “non-monogamy dogma” so I won’t elaborate. What matters most is not what I think, but what works for you.

Whether monogamous, polyamorous, or in any other formulation of people relating to each other in groups of varying sizes and genders, the rules are the same. Forthrightness is a must. Paying attention not only to how you feel around that person, but how your body reacts. What happens to your body when they leave? How about the day after that? You are your own greatest mystery, unravel yourself with the flair of a trench-coated Benedict Cumberbatch.

If you have done a lot of work and have cleared a lot of past stuff, you can absolutely trust your body to tell you the truth. You have an intuition, whether developed or not, that will tell you what you can tolerate. If you constantly have to rationalize to yourself about a relationship, either take the bold step of trying to get your needs met elsewhere (maybe in addition to that relationship, maybe not) or get ready for a life of rationalizing. Probably not what you envisioned when you were imagining what you would be when you grew up- an astronaut! And also, gutless.

Love is painful, anyone over twelve knows that. Sometimes yet another broken heart may seem like more than you can endure. But I promise you, the people I know who have not sullied their uniforms in years, who cannot bring themselves to be vulnerable, or open up enough to risk getting hurt, or even who have lost all sexual desire because it connects them to that hurt, are suffering much worse. I see people in marriages all the time where one or both people took their marbles home decades ago. Maybe they’re secretly playing Pick Up Stix with someone else. The playground of life is full of grown-ups who stand at the edges of the sandbox, afraid to so much as build an upside-down pail castle. And we know by watching kids that we were not born that way.

So congratulations, you took a risk, you got messy, and you got your heart smashed into smithereens. Yay you! You are a raw nerve of suffering, unsure whether you will make it through today. You drag yourself around like a carcass of pain, hopefully with friends to help you through. Stay hydrated, try to do some form of moving the carcass, and eat ice cream. This last one very important. A little ice cream cures all things. You played hard, you stuck to your guns, and I am proud of you. You were honest about your needs and didn’t abandon yourself. There are over 7 billion people on this planet, even though it seems like you just got your heart broken with the last one of them. The fact is, the last person you see on your last day will be you, and that is a relationship you cannot break up, for anyone.

Illustration by genius Bill Plympton


  1. Perfect timing for my life right now. Of course, the issues are far more complicated in my “situation” right now, but at least it’s a reminder here that we are not alone at all. Ever.

  2. Lots of good insight in this one– even for those of us who’s scars are healed over and who are looking to head out into the shark infested waters again. Love the evolution of your writing…

    • Ah the pangs the pangs… The pangs are like fangs, they suck on you in waves and then inexplicably we’re okay again. I guess that’s the point- that we are always okay again.

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