I recently had my heart broken. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that, back in November, I had my heart ripped out, used as a hacky sack for a few months- until the end of June, before it was finally kicked to the gutter and peed on. (It’s more accurate described this way, but what’s the point in splitting hairs? I’m not here to argue semantics.)
I could spend the next couple hundred words describing in detail what this feels like, but I don’t know how to do that without sounding mawkish and grossly sentimental.
The thing that sucks the hardest about someone giving your bruised and battered heart an unwanted golden shower, is the steady, aching hurt that lingers long after the initial pain and humiliation. It’s not like a broken arm, or a torn ACL where, when the doctors patch you up, they give you candy and an estimated time of recovery.
In general, the recovery time for this sort of thing is different for everyone. On a whole, the time it takes to “get over” someone seems to be tied to things like, “intensity of feeling,” “quality of time spent,” and “general fucked up way in which you were dismissed.” Unfortunately these are qualitative variables and can’t easily be applied to any useful formulas or equations; and, as previously discussed by xkcd, even the identity matrix doesn’t work normally.
I have no practical solutions for how to make this all better anytime soon; I have no advice on how to mend a broken heart. But for those of you out there who, like me, have spent a good chunk of the last month crying on the couch in your pajamas as you attempt to re-watch all of Dr. Who through the tears and snot, I have found three things that make this whole ordeal a little more interesting.
#3 Cliche ridden pop songs about getting over someone don’t suck quite as hard
I hate cliches and there are few things more insufferable than the maxims offered to a person in the middle of a heartache. “Words of wisdom” and quotes about getting over a broken heart are tossed around so freely, it’s hardly worth mentioning it. These well meaning phrases, worn thin by generations of over use, are the verbal equivalent of handing someone a used tissue to dab the tears from their eyes. That said, add a pop beat, a catchy hook, and the harmonies of a fresh faced teenager or two, and suddenly lines like “Why would you want to break a perfectly good heart?” or “I’d give everything to be your anything” sound like they were written just for you.
My taste in music is fairly straight forward. On my iPod you’ll find everything from the Wu Tang Clan to the Rolling Stones, Tribe Called Quest to Captain Beefheart, with a little Joan Jett, Dead Milkmen, and Tom Waits in between. Nevertheless, currently eating up about 3GB of iPod space are artists like Adele, Carrie Underwood, Duffy, Selena Gomez, Kelly Clarkson and any other broad who “totally gets it” right now. It is entirely conceivable that someone randomly scrolling through my iPod might mistakenly think it belongs to a 12 year old girl. I’m fine with this.
Why am I subjecting myself to the musical equivalent of a preschooler’s glitter and macaroni art project? Is it because of the lyrical complexity of this music, or the intricacies of it’s composition? Hell, no. Actually, quite the opposite.
Anyone who’s ever listened to a top 40 radio station knows pop music isn’t about thinking. It’s an entire genre built on repetition, redundancy and the raging hormones of adolescent girls.
It turns out that pop music has the same effect on our brains as narcotics do. Specifically, listening to this junk causes your brain to release a feel good chemical called dopamine. Actually, most music elicits this response from our brains, but it is the simplistic predictability of pop music that gives listeners the biggest high. Researchers studying the effects of music on the brain discovered that when musical patterns are predictable, our brains anticipate musical moments, releasing dopamine both before and after the moment occurs.
Cool, right? But since I don’t hold a degree in anything even remotely close to neuroscience, where did I come across this information?
#2 Weird things your body does in response to heartbreak
In an effort to ease this pain, I did what any rational person in my position would do: I googled the shit out of things like, “broken heart,” “heart break pain fix,” “eternal sunshine spotless mind, not lobotomy,” and “eternal sunshine spotless mind, lobotomy okay.”
Apparently, we can invent powdered orange drinks for astronauts, the Sham-wow, and singing Justin Bieber toothbrushes, but no one has managed to come up with an instant cure to soothe the pain of someone telling you they don’t want to know you anymore.
Not that my results were entirely fruitless- I came across the stuff about my sudden love of all things top 40. I also managed to learn that when it comes to the pain of heart break, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, unless you’re one of those people who have actually died from a broken heart. It’s a real thing. The internet says so here, here, and here.
The technical term is Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. The name “tako tsubo” comes from the Japanese, meaning “octopus pot” because of the way the left ventricular apex bulges out, making the heart look like the traps Japanese fishermen use to catch octopi. And also because it wouldn’t be Japanese enough if an octopus wasn’t involved.
Sometimes called “stress-induced cardiomyopothy,” (or “broken heart syndrome” when a Disney princess is involved,) the effects of intense grief and stress hormones can occasionally be strong enough to stop an otherwise healthy beating heart. Most of the time patients appear to be having a normal heart attack, which is why the New England Journal of Medicine and others didn’t start publishing research on this until 2005.
The good news is this syndrome seems to be an immediate reaction to shock and stress. So, if you don’t drop dead soon after hearing (or reading in an email) a phrase like, “we shouldn’t be in each others lives anymore, or communicate regularly,” you’re probably in the clear. This syndrome is rare enough that you still have a higher odds of dying from cancer.
Speaking of cancer…
#1 My hatred of Nicholas Sparks has found new life
As a general rule, I avoid chick flicks, especially when my heart is on the mend. All romantic dramas and comedies send more or less the same message: if you love someone enough, then the odds don’t matter. No matter how bad things are, love trumps all; clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose (I will go to the mats with anyone who says Friday Night Lights isn’t a love story.)
I’m not talking about movies like Bridesmaids, When Harry Met Sally, The Princess Bride, or Fried Green Tomatoes either. These are all excellent examples of how good the genre can be when well written and smartly delivered. Let’s face it, it’s nice to think of some old woman screaming “BOO! RUBBISH! FILTH! SLIME! MUCK!” at the one who scorned us.
Even gross ol’ Nicholas Cage gets points in Moonstruck with the lines, “I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice – it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die. The storybooks are bullshit. Now I want you to come upstairs with me and get in my bed!”
No, I’m talking about the kind of sugary sweet, vomit inducing film built entirely upon idealized, unrealistic expectations of love and weirdly punitive Judeo-Christian morality. With so many movies out there to choose from, no one exemplifies this sort of maudlin melodrama better than Nicholas Sparks.
Nicholas Sparks is to literature (and film) what Thomas Kinkade is to art: cheap, formulaic, morally simplistic, mass-produced drivel. Despite this, Hollywood keeps turning his books into movies.
So what? The guy writes romance novels and everyone likes a good romance now and then, right? Wrong. Nicholas Sparks has written one romance novel, everything after that has been a variation of the first. Oh, and don’t call them “romance novels” either, he prefers the term “love story.” This sack of unoriginal crap will actually argue the difference between the two terms as he did with a reporter in a 2010 interview for USA Today:
“…it’s the difference between Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet,” he says. “(Romances) are all essentially the same story: You’ve got a woman, she’s down on her luck, she meets the handsome stranger who falls desperately in love with her, but he’s got these quirks, she must change him, and they have their conflicts, and then they end up happily ever after…No, the themes in love stories are different. In mine, you never know if it’s going to be a happy ending, sad ending, bittersweet or tragic. You read a romance because you know what to expect. You read a love story because you don’t know what to expect.”
God damn, I hate this guy.
Here is what you can expect from every book (and film) this man has ever written:
You have two ridiculously good looking young (white) people. They meet and fall in love, but because of her parents/her parents and social status/9-11/the war in Iraq, they can’t be together. Oh, but they get together anyway. Then someone gets cancer/Alzheimer’s/caught in a South American mudslide and dies. The end.
Unpredictable love story? Sorry, Nicholas Sparks. It’s my heart that’s broken, not my brain.