Written by Alice Sanders


“What sucks worse than heartbreak? Feeling nothing.”

So what if Adele is still writing songs about an old love, says Alice Sanders, we should all treasure our heartbreak. No really.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

The fact that many songs on Adele’s new album 25 are about an ex has been pointed out a lot in the media. They split up several years ago and – apparently – it shouldn’t still affect Adele so much.

Let’s just ignore the patent stupidity of this argument, as if everything in art has to come from the present moment and as if artists from Dante to Picasso didn’t use heartbreak to inspire some of their most profound work.

While some have chosen to chide and criticise Adele for still going on about it, I’d like to congratulate her. Well done, Adele: being heartbroken means you cared and that is most definitely a Good Thing.

About four years ago, I experienced the worst heartbreak of my life. It was a difficult time in general and getting dumped made it horrific. It was as if I was clinging to the rock face of ‘normality’, my nails clawing at tufts of moss, my feet scrambling for a foothold and the break-up came and kicked me in the face.

I plummeted into the dark chasm of sadness. I felt so duped. The person promised me the moon on a stick, then casually broke all the promises and seemingly sauntered back into their own life without a second thought.

We had a big group of mutual friends I felt judged by. I closed up. I didn’t trust anyone else, but I also felt I couldn’t trust myself. I’d made such a bad error of judgement, I’d lost myself somewhere along the way.

I became angry at the injustice of the whole situation. How could the other person break my heart and be fine, while I couldn’t imagine ever being happy again? I somehow persuaded myself the chasm was more real than being on top of the cliff. That now I’d seen how things really were I couldn’t go back to a normal life.

I made a pile of all the gifts the person had given me in my back yard and I smashed them with a hammer or cut them with scissors while drinking red wine out of the bottle. I still miss those hi-tops I destroyed.

Then, one day, while watching Parkinson with my mum (this is a no-judgement zone, guys), I saw him interview Peter Andre. “Hating someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die,” said Peter.

For a long time I thought this was one of his originals, but – who knew? – it’s Buddha. Anyway, it resonated deeply with me. I’d been wearing rage armour all this time. I was scared about what was underneath, because it was pain and vulnerability and more pain. But I realised if I ever wanted to be happy again, I was going to have to stop being angry.

“It was as if I was clinging to the rock face of ‘normality’, my nails clawing at tufts of moss, my feet scrambling for a foothold and the break-up came and kicked me in the face.”

My solution was to make myself really vulnerable. I took risks I’d feared taking for a long time. I took an improvisation class, because I’d wanted to get back into performing for years, but I was afraid. I took a novel-writing class. Eventually, I read my work in front of people.

It wasn’t easy, I won’t lie. Before, I would cry and feel like I wasn’t good enough. I would tremble the whole way through. Before my first improv show I vomited, chunks of self-doubt dribbling down the white, open-faced toilet bowl. But I did it anyway. And I still do it, all the time now, and I love it.

It took me a full two years to be vulnerable enough to kiss another human being. By that point my heartbreak had made me a better, happier person. By allowing myself to be affected by someone and something, I found a way to make my heart stronger than it had ever been. Nothing in life is guaranteed, not your job, not your health, not the safety of your heart. Nobody can truly promise not to break it.

I could give you advice on how to deal with heartbreak; I could tell you to be kind to yourself, to try to do things that make you feel good – walking, swimming, eating a nourishing meal, getting your nails done, or getting lost in a good book. I could tell you to surround yourself with the people that make you feel valued and loved. I could tell you that if you need another muffin or glass of wine to get through the day, now is not the time to beat yourself up about it.

I could tell you that you are going to need a lot of track-pants to get through this difficult time (also useful for the gym, the weekend, and Monday through Friday). I could tell you if you find yourself hanging over the toilet bowl because you’ve drunk tequila mid-week while weeping and demanding Tina from your book club ring your ex, that it’s OK. Hopefully, Tina will hold your hair back and refuse to make the call.

The reason you feel so gut-wrenchingly awful right now is because you invested in the relationship that ended. It’s because you put in effort, time and care. It’s because you made yourself vulnerable by being honest about how you felt and by letting yourself be affected by another human being in a profound way. The reason you feel so shit right now is because you fucking loved somebody, the greatest thing you can do with your pathetic human heart.

“It took me a full two years to be vulnerable enough to kiss another human being. By that point my heartbreak had made me a better, happier person.”

You’ll have to grieve for the person who is gone and the future you thought you had with them.

I’m sorry you’re going through all of that. It sucks. But you know what sucks worse? Feeling nothing. When we switch off any emotion, we switch them all off. The person who doesn’t feel sadness doesn’t feel joy. Who wants to live like that?

Dr Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, has spent 13 years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame. She did a TED talk called The Power of Vulnerability, which you can watch here.

In it, she explains that she found one of the key differences people who could feel a strong sense of love and belonging – those she calls ‘wholehearted’ – had over those who can’t was a willingness to be vulnerable. She says: “They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they talk about it being excruciating… they just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say “I love you” first… They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.”

For something to be really valuable, there must be some risk involved. There is nothing we value highly that can’t be broken. To love, you must be prepared to risk your heart. And if you get your heart broken, treasure your heartbreak; it means your heart works.


Read Sarah Millican’s tips for getting over a broken heart here.

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Written by Alice Sanders

Alice Sanders is a freelance writer. She writes articles, audio description for the visually impaired, and fiction. She also performs with comedy improv troupe The Pioneers. @wernerspenguin