I Can't Believe How Much I Loved You
How the most gut-wrenching breakup of my life introduced me to my forever love.
This week is my ex-boyfriend’s birthday, so I want to talk about heart break.
Sister, I tried so fucking hard to avoid heart break. I side-stepped it for 26 years when I was with my ex-husband. In fact, I chose my husband specifically because my heart felt very safe. After a super intense college relationship, I was done with vulnerability.
Since my family of birth wasn’t particularly skillful when it came to emotional regulation, I didn’t build the musculature to deal with conflict or my own feelings of vulnerability, which are inevitable in an intimate relationship. So anytime my first real boyfriend and I would fight, I couldn’t even live with myself until it was resolved. Once or twice I literally got on the subway to head to work at Cosmopolitan where I was a Fashion Assistant, but took a detour to my friend Jenny’s apartment and called in sick because I just couldn’t face the day at work. That’s how badly our fights would affect me. I was ill-prepared to be in a relationship…and that’s putting it mildly.
Running alongside this drama on a parallel track, was my intense ambition and desire to be successful: That was really important to me. Maybe the most important thing at that point in my life (early 20s), because it felt like a solid way to distance myself from my dysfunctional family dynamic. But it quickly became obvious to me that I couldn’t focus on my career if my heart was permanently lodged in my throat.
So, my way of coping was just to avoid deep intimacy altogether. I married a great guy who was ultimately more of a best friend and loyal partner in crime. We slayed dragons at work, and then once I stopped, we raised wonderful children – all the important stuff that I couldn’t have done as well, if my heart had been fully exposed.
But as any parent knows, you can’t really avoid vulnerability once you have a child. It’s like your heart is walking outside of your body, totally unprotected. I had to get skillful quickly, otherwise I would have stomped on every kid who pushed one of my kids on the playground. (Oh, and don’t get me wrong, I still want to destroy anyone who fucks with my kids – but good news! I don’t! 😅😇) Over the past 12 years, my three children have gently taught me what my family of birth couldn’t: How to sit with my discomfort and vulnerability. What a gift they have given me. (One of the many!)
Now I won’t lie - getting divorced is hard. It’s not what anyone wants. But for me, it has come with a silver lining. I’ve taken my sweet little heart out of hiding.
After my separation, I fell in love for the first time in 26 years!
Vulnerability in relationship kind of feels like dancing with an animal that can just gut and kill you if it wants…and yet you hand over your heart. You dance with that Bear. And ultimately the Bear is vulnerable, too…because you have a rifle. You could each kill the other. The trust comes from not doing so. The trust comes from placing that tender beautiful heart in the other’s gentle keeping.
So after a lifetime of hiding my heart, my sister, I finally danced with a Bear! Oh my gosh, it was so beautiful. What is that energetic choir that just sings when you so deeply fall in love with someone? I mean…is there any high better than that? Right when I gave birth both times is the only thing that matches it for me.
But this letter is not about that gorgeous, glowy falling in love deliciousness that I hope-to-God you have experienced personally. No. This is about when the Bear who is tenderly holding your heart suddenly takes it and rips it to shreds and then tosses it on the side like a piece of worthless garbage. Yep. This is Olivia Rodrigo territory. This is the flip side of the beautiful choir singing. It’s the feeling of impending death that is not grounded in any reality but yet there you are – experiencing it: Unable to function or think properly. Knowing it doesn’t make sense – and yet… Nothing anyone says makes it better. All you want is that person. All you don’t want is to be in your body. Yeah. This was just what I wanted to avoid. It was fucking awful.
But thanks to the skillfulness I gained with my daughters and the unconditional love and patience of my best friends who took turns metaphorically holding my hair back as I vomited my grief out every day, my heartbreak took me down an unexpected road.
Although I didn’t have the Bear anymore, I did have the “gift” he left me: My poor shredded heart. I made her a playlist (you can listen to it here – Atoosa’s Heart 🖤) because she felt less alone when she heard from other poor shredded hearts.
I also wrote on behalf of my heart every day. It wasn’t a high-minded “self-care” exercise. It was emergency fucking surgery. There was so much grief locked up inside and it simply had to get out. Not just about the Bear. About the divorce. About the incest. About my fractured relationship with each of my parents. Old, old feelings of abandonment and worthlessness. Everything that was frozen in my heart my whole lifetime – everything I had been bracing myself against: It all came pouring out. For a few months after the breakup, I wrote every single morning when I got up, anytime during the day my heart welled up, and every night before I went to bed. In fact, I wrote 150 typed pages – an intimate conversation between my heart and I.
In time (tbh, a long time) me and my tattered heart were solid. It was like sending my heart to rehab. She had a 24-hour nurse: Me. No feeling was off limits. I had no shame with my yearning. I had no limits on my anger. I never judged myself for my bargaining. And I never EVER said “enough” to my heart. No. No judgements. No time limits. Just open space and love.
One more thing….
For months every time I saw a Toyota RAV4 (his car), my heart would just rush right into my throat – I mean…it was so charged. And sister, do you know how many fucking RAV4s there are driving around Manhattan? Well, I never even heard of a RAV4 before this guy. After? Every. Car. In. Manhattan. Is. A. RAV. 4. Even my stinkin’ Ubers! I won’t lie, as stupid as it sounds, the RAV4 thing was a little overwhelming. But as my beautiful, shredded heart and I bonded and she started to heal, something big shifted. Every time I saw a RAV4, instead of dying a little inside, I would connect with my heart. For the first time in my life, I started to get protective of myself. Knowing how my beautiful heart was affected by this external reminder of her pain – instead of hiding and watching her convulse when she saw the car – I would just hold her close. And like a person working their way through any kind of rehab or physical therapy, eventually little by little, I didn’t need to hold her up when we saw a RAV. Instead, with her renewed strength, she would just reach for me and we would connect. The RAV became a sign of our new tight bond, instead of the broken one.
And that’s where I am now. No matter what I’m doing, if I walk by a RAV4, I send a burst of explosive love energy up and down my body and to my tender heart. Thankfully, she is not so tattered anymore. But girl, she got fucked up and that shit leaves a scar. But the scar reminds me of an important lesson: You don’t just hand your heart to any old bear. I know that now. But I would have never learned that lesson had I not given it to this particular Bear. And had this Bear not nearly killed me, I would have never crawled my way to the truest love: The one between me and my own heart.
I thank this Bear for nearly killing me, because that dance was ecstasy while it lasted and on the other side of the terrible pain is a brand-new, better version of myself that would have not otherwise existed. And while you may not feel you will survive your broken heart, I hope my love story drops some breadcrumbs that will lead you to the one true love you can depend on forever: Yourself. It wasn’t easy getting here, but now I know I can be in a beautiful intimate relationship…or not. And either way I will be okay because I’m complete just as I am: The power of Unconditional Self-Love.
Oh, and just to be clear – one day I look forward to having zero charge when I see a RAV4. But for now, the RAVs are my walking heart meditation. I will keep you in the loop of that evolution. And you – please do the same. I’m so curious about your love journeys. Oh and thank you for letting me share this story with you. My four besties are so dang tired of hearing about this guy. And I think after this reflection, maybe I am, too. TBD, sister. TBD.
But RAVs or no RAVs, I’m here for you 24/7, as always, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The soundtrack to my beautiful 🤍🖤❤️:
PS - Are you on Clubhouse? Listen in on my conversation today with the super inspiring Ethan Lipsitz! Love Extremists on June 1st at 6pm ET. It’s my first Clubhouse!