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Vincent Van Gogh famously said, “The more you love, the more you suffer.”
This is a particularly grim sentiment—the idea that if you open up your heart, it’s bound to get broken.
Of course, Van Gogh was a bit of a kook, confirmed in 1888 when he sliced off part of his ear, wrapped it up all nice, and kindly offered it to a hooker down the street.
The thing is, though, Van Gogh wasn’t wrong. Dare to love and you’re going to suffer. It’s true in every relationship. Because, every relationship—of every type—eventually comes to an end.
Maybe your beguiling new beau pulls a Jack Berger and breaks up with you on a Post-it. Maybe you come home from work and discover divorce papers next to the dinner plates. Maybe you and your partner go for a Gwyneth-like conscious uncoupling. Or, maybe, like my mother, you learn that your husband of almost 40 years died suddenly and unexpectedly while exercising at the gym.
Yes, it’s a cold, hard fact of life. At some point, no matter what, you’ll need to get over someone you love. And, when you consider Van Gogh’s proposition, it brings to mind the sage words of yet another beloved cultural icon—Rachel from “Friends”:
“Yeah, love. It’s a tricky business isn’t it?”
So, how do you get over someone you love?
Well, I believe you never truly do. Anyone you love will be forever etched into the pathways of your hippocampus. The question is: how do you heal your aching heart and open yourself up to new love?
In a 1964 song (covered masterfully by Van Morrison), seminal Blues artist, Bobby Bland, sang:
When you got a headache,
A headache powder soothe the pain
When you try to rest
Lord, you feel alright again
When you got a backache
A little rubbin’ will see you through
But when you got a heartache
There ain’t nothin’ you can do
Unfortunately, ol’ Bobby had it right. When you got a heartache, there ain’t nothin’ you can do. Only the passage of time can fully heal an aching heart. But, if you wish to heal faster, there are some things you can do:
See the relationship for what it really was.
Oddly enough, the relationships that are the hardest to get over are often the most toxic. The emotional ups and downs of a toxic relationship can keep you hooked, even when you know you should run like hell. Psychologists call this “trauma bonding,” which occurs when a victim becomes biologically attached to their abusive partner.
If you’re trying to get over someone, see your relationship for what it really was. Was it a mature and loving union that ended amicably? Or, was it a toxic, chaotic mess that made you miserable? Get brutally honest with yourself. When your mind tries to trick you into remembering just the good times—and it most definitely will—don’t let it.
See the world for what it really is.
The end of a relationship can lead to deprivation thinking—also known as a scarcity mindset. Maybe you think that you’ll never meet anyone as beautiful as she was. Or that you’ll never find a man who makes you laugh like he did. Or that true love and happiness just aren’t in the cards for you.
Believe me, I know what you’re going through. But, for God’s sake, get a grip.
Try to see the world for what it really is—an unfathomably big place full of endless opportunities. There are millions of sexy motherf*ckers out there who are better for you than your ex. And, they’re just waiting for you to saunter up and say hi.
See the break-up for what it can be.
To let go of someone you love, you must let go of part of your identity. To move on from someone you love, you must reclaim that part of your identity. And, this is a good thing.
See your break-up for what it can be—a catalyst for positive change and profound growth. Reconnect with old friends. Immerse yourself in the things that bring you joy and excitement. Figure out what you want. And, while you’re at it, take some time to identify your needs and define your boundaries. Your next relationship will be a hell of a lot better for it.
Shut the f*ck up about it.
For who knows how long, we’ve been advised that talking about our heartache will help us heal, and that revisiting our relationships will allow us to place them firmly in the past so we can move on. But, this may not be the case. And, don’t just take it from me (although, I speak from experience). Take it from Walter Mischel, one of the most widely cited psychologists of the 20th century.
Mischel first rose to prominence in the 1960s for The Marshmallow Test, a series of landmark studies on delayed gratification at Stanford University. More recently, though, Mischel has been studying trauma, finding that “ruminating on bad experiences could send people into a downward spiral.”
Are you repeatedly bringing up your failed relationship in conversation, even though it ended weeks ago? It’s probably time to shut the f*ck up about it. According to author and therapist, Phillippa Perry, endlessly talking about your heartache is “the psychological equivalent of scratching a mosquito bite. If you don’t stop scratching it, it is going to continue to itch and may become infected.”
P.S. I love you.
For what it’s worth, studies have shown that before settling down with “the one,” the average man will have six relationships. The average woman will have five. Both men and women will have one long-distance relationship, live with someone once, be cheated on once, cheat on someone once, fall deeply in love twice, and experience major heartbreak twice. And, let’s not forget about all of the dates, dalliances, trysts, hookups, flings, and one-night stands in between.
No, Van Gogh wasn’t wrong when he said, “the more you love, the more you suffer.” But, he also said, “Love always brings difficulties, that is true. But, the good side of it is that it gives you energy.”
And, C.S. Lewis said, “If you love deeply, you’re going to get hurt badly. But it’s still worth it.”
So, dare to love. It may be a tricky business, but as long as you love yourself, you’ll never suffer for too long.