Throughout history and literature, there have been various forms of art depicting, explaining and showcasing love, and along with it, heartbreak. They are not just words you read or hear about, but rather emotions felt reverberating in the deepest parts of us, for as long as we’ve existed. I’ve felt both. I have written about both.
I have been in love and I have felt heartbreak. There have been times when I gave my all and everything to a man, no half-hearted giving, trying to be the best I could be. I wanted to be it all, because I wanted to feel loved in return and worthy. But by doing this, by the time this man had left, I was empty, nothing left to keep me together, and felt heartbreak right to my very soul.
It was an all-encompassing feeling, shattering everything and tearing away at whatever happiness or hope I’d once had. I’d bleed red and turn it into poetry, to try and make it pretty. We’ve all seen the quote that goes something along the lines of “we turn our pain into poetry, all that blood was never once beautiful; it was just red.” That’s how it was for me. I’d try to make the pain into something other than pain, as a way to cope. Maybe that is how all art is born.
I always gave more of myself, always loved more, always poured everything I was and had into my relationships. And it was some time after my last relationship that, when I was left trying to heal from what seemed like never-ending, soul-crushing heartbreak for two years, I realised I couldn’t keep giving and giving and giving, when I got nothing in return, that I couldn’t put everything I have into a relationship that could end one day, with a person who could, at any moment, decide they didn’t want to stay.
With heartbreak come the bitter, hard truths and lessons, embedded in each thorn.
They hurt and they make you bleed but they are needed to realise that whilst love can exist without heartbreak, it doesn’t necessarily fit the other way round. Heartbreak does not exist without love.
So here I ask: is love worth the heartbreak?
If I’d been asked this years ago, or even last year, I would’ve said no.
Because who wants to love and be loved, for it to one day end, and then just feel their heart break into pieces they can’t ever fit back together? It changes you. Believe me when I say this: heartbreak changes you. I’d spend nights, for months on end, crying myself to sleep and willing it, and everything, to end because I couldn’t cope, I couldn’t deal with the way the hurt cut away at me. It tore me apart, ruined me—during that time I lost so much weight, the ability to function without wanting to succumb to tears and sleep, but I couldn’t sleep.
I was struggling to see the point in continuing, because really, all that love I buried into another person was pointless and, in the end, meant nothing, since I was now alone and, I thought, worthless. I defined myself by this loss, by this heartbreak. It was all I could think about, all I could feel, and nothing worked to help ease this pain splintering me apart. A few months after the breakup, I began throwing myself into studying, revising, writing essays and presentations, because I wanted to keep busy, and I thought maybe if I bettered myself, he’d come back.
That wasn’t a healthy way to live. By holding onto an empty hope, I was destroying myself.
It took me far too long to wake up from this heavy slumber, to see that I was so much better off without him, without giving away parts of myself to someone who never really valued me or appreciated me. I was worth so much more than that.
But even when I’d moved on, I still stood by my answer: love was not worth the heartbreak.
Why would it be, when it ruins you to the point where your perspective of life shifts into something so much darker? Could it ever be worth it, when you end up seeing love as something that destroys and steals, takes the best parts of you and crumples it into dust, when it just makes you suspicious of everyone who gives you their attention? When it makes you never want to fall in love again?
It wasn’t worth it.
That’s what the Sumaiya from this time last year would have said. Because even then, when I’d moved on, I didn’t want to love again, I didn’t want to take that risk.
But despite how my ex left, and how he broke my heart, it’s because of him I made the best decision to get back into education and, for that, I’ll always be grateful. And the Sumaiya now says that love is worth the heartbreak.
It was only almost half a year ago that I’d changed my mind, because I found my person. I found someone I am happy to take that dive off a cliff into the unknown with. In saying that, I mean, I love him and if that means it ends one day and I have to try to mend myself and fix whatever parts of me get broken should he leave, then it’ll be worth it because I love him and I am loved in return. Because he brings so much light into my life, into every dark crevice and corner, splintering away the moments when I crumble, making sure to hold up the weight with me.
Love can consume you, love can break you, but love can make you heal and love can make you whole.
By that I’m saying: by loving someone, I broke, but by loving someone again and being willing to take that chance again, love healed the remaining parts of me that I couldn’t.
It’s a beautiful feeling when it’s wholesome and healthy, when you can trust that person and know they’ve got your back no matter what; when you can look at them and just know that this person is it and this love is, and will be, worth it. You just know.
The most popular love story we all know is, of course, Romeo and Juliet. When we first meet Romeo, he’s in love and all heartbroken over Rosaline who does not reciprocate his love:
“Why, such is love’s transgression.
Griefs of mine own lie heavy in my breast,
Which thou wilt propagate, to have it prest
With more of thine: this love that thou hast shown
Doth add more grief to too much of mine own.
Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs;
Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes;
Being vex’d a sea nourish’d with lovers’ tears:
What is it else? a madness most discreet,
A choking gall and a preserving sweet.” (Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare, W.)
From this, I guess it’s safe to say heartbreak is pretty much in most literature. “Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs” is a gorgeous line, and one that’s actually one of my favourites. It illustrates the way our bodies, almost unknowingly, react and hold onto to the emotions unfurling inside of us. Romeo says love is a form of madness, choking on something sweet. This makes it seem as if love can be deadly, despite the sweetness of its appearance at first. Quite a number of Shakespeare’s works convey love, and heartbreak, and the actions people make as a result of love.
We can see this in Macbeth, when he kills the king, spurred on by his wife. Love turned into something toxic and dangerous, a sentiment that echoes in the film Gone Girl (2014), where Amy so carefully and subtly framed her husband for her disappearance and murder. This film, based on the book by Gillian Flynn, exposes the fears surrounding some couples, the not being the ‘Cool Girl’, a persona put up to get the guy and keep the guy, the one that most guys want really, anymore and doing whatever it took to secure that place back in their partner’s life. Here, love became a darker emotion, wherein it would’ve been better to have been heartbroken and alone than to stay in a toxic and potentially dangerous marriage. The reason I include Gone Girl is to highlight the importance of knowing when to get out.
Sometimes it is better to walk away from a relationship, when you no longer make each other happy, if you’ve exhausted every other method to keep it alive and healthy (e.g. counselling, time apart or time together, recreating the moments that first made you fall in love [going on dates etc], and just talking.)
Baumeister (1993) says ‘Perhaps neither loving nor being loved is enough; only when they are combined in a mutual relationship is there a significant chance for happiness’. Personally, I agree and disagree. Whilst of course, a mutual relationship wherein you love and are loved increases chances of happiness, it also leads to the heartbreak which takes away that happiness completely, thereby making loving without, and before, a relationship easier to cope with. This relates to what I said earlier, about how love can exist without heartbreak—this is when you can love someone, even without being in a relationship with them (from afar), but it does not necessarily mean getting your heart broken. Love comes in all forms, and does not necessarily lead to heartbreak. However heartbreak does not, or cannot, exist without love, as it is typically from love that one can feel heartbreak. It’s from caring so deeply, and loving someone, that you allow yourself to open up to getting hurt.
The heartbreak from the dissolution of romantic relationships is one that can stay with a person, long after it ends. The pain from it is one that affects a person’s view and outlook on life and love, hindering any positive thought process in relation to romance and, possibly, trust; the behaviour from heartbreak and a breakup often turns into phone calls, letters or emails, constant texting, drinking and a ton of crying. It would be interesting to see exactly what happens to the body during a breakup and the early stages of healing, and trying to recover. Countless studies have attributed love to being a drug, similar to that of heroin or cocaine, and heartbreak to withdrawal symptoms from nicotine and cocaine.
Psychologists such as Berscheid and Walster (1978) have tried to understand how relationships form, whilst Tyler and Sears (1977) wanted to learn how relationships last, and Hill, Rubin and Peplau (1976) and Simpson (1987) attempted to examine how relationships ended. Simpson found that the interdependency of a partner influences the relationship’s stability, and according to Kelley et al. (1983), “close relationships are those in which partners have frequent and strong impact on one another in diverse kinds of activities across time.” People, often in relationships, tend to share their plans and goals, as well as events and share ideas with their partners, however when said relationship ends, this sharing and high level of investment also comes to an end. Not being able to communicate these things causes strong emotional distress, and the ending of close relationships leads to significant emotional reactions. Relationships with more sexual interaction also cause more vulnerability and distress when it ends, due to being more emotionally invested and dependent. Field (2011) suggests that breakups are similar to bereavement symptoms, of which include intrusive thoughts and attempts to suppress them, as well as insomnia, and immune dysfunction. A broken heart can also mimic heart attacks, with angiograms showing results as normal and no clogged arteries or permanent heart damage.
(Honestly I can vouch for the intrusive thoughts and insomnia.)
The echo of heartbreak, long after you have moved on, still lingers in your body; a memory of those moments when you felt the crushing grief stabbing your heart over and over, the gasping sobs while you tried to get a hold of some kind of composure and tried to focus, tried to stop it from hurting so much. Even when you no longer care and have let go, the memory of it always stays, always lasts through the months and the years that go by.
Love has been written about for centuries: we see it in Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and in fairytales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. It is in art: The Lovers, The Kiss, Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. Love and heartbreak in Greek Mythology are reoccurring themes, seen amongst various gods and goddesses, as well as mortals. Two such examples are Aphrodite and Adonis, and Orpheus and Eurydice. Stories have told and retold love and heartbreak, often linking them together, and the effects of both psychologically and emotionally.
Ms Havisham, from Great Expectations, was once in love and left at the altar, leaving her with a heartbreak so severe, she spent decades wasting away in the wedding dress, the clock stuck at the same time, almost as if time itself had stopped for her in that very moment. Whilst she is seen as almost a villain in the book, readers can also sympathise with her and understand the distress and pain she felt, and why, after all those years had gone by, she was still left hurting and heartbroken, and why she wanted to inflict that same pain onto others. Though I would never wish heartbreak on anyone, as it is so cruel and an awful experience, I do understand her actions and, in some ways, relate.
In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff says “You loved me—then what right had you to leave me? What right—answer me—for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart—you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine.” It is a relatable, heartbreaking quote and one that highlights the heartbreak Heathcliff felt because of Cathy’s actions, and because of love, he handed Cathy the power to hurt him. By loving someone, you are giving them the power, and the trust, to not break your heart.
That is why I ask, is love worth the heartbreak?
I ran two polls, one on Instagram and one on Twitter, asking this question. The results from both social media platforms were very interesting. Of course, it may not be a reliable method or have population validity due to the sample sizes of responses. On Instagram, 14 people responded to the question: 79% said yes, love is worth the heartbreak and 21% said no, love is not worth the heartbreak. One participant on Instagram, who wishes to remain anonymous, expanded on their reasoning for choosing no.
She said, “My answer is no, because I don’t think love is what people make it out to be. People think that love stays the same over time, but the sad reality is that it doesn’t! It changes when you get married and then it changes again when you have children. It’s still love, but a different type of love. Now couples always have some sort of fights, no one is perfect and if your relationship is perfect, then good on you. You will always suffer with heartbreak in all kinds of relationships. If those heartbreaks are small ones, overtime they will build up and really affect you as a person. You will never be the same. If that heartbreak is a big one, it will still change you as a person. Humans tend to remember only the good memories and tend to push the toxic memories in the back of their mind. That’s why even after heartbreak, if that person comes back, you will still want to accept them, if that makes sense, but it’s not worth it.”
On the other hand, my responses from Twitter showed, of the 35 responses, 45.7% said yes to love being worth the heartbreak and 54.3% said no.
Twitter user, Alishbah, said “Without a shred of doubt, yes. It’s a bit emotional really. I’ve been lucky enough to experience love twice. The first taught me lessons I would’ve never learned alone, it hurt, but it taught me my worth. The second, I entered into something, knowing it would end in heartbreak, and it did, but loving him and being loved by him brought me so much happiness and gave me some of the best memories of my life. I cried throughout constantly at the thought of losing him, but the tears meant nothing in comparison to how he made me feel. The only way I know the answer is yes is because if I was given a choice of whether I would do it again, I wouldn’t even hesitate. And the latter is still very much a heartbreak I’m overcoming right now. But the pain is worth it. The rebuild is difficult, but the person that comes out the other side is a stronger one. I can take the pain.”
And in every way, I agree with Alishbah. Because despite the heartbreak I felt the first time round, and thinking I’d never find, or fall in, love again, I have and I am grateful. I am happy I have found love again, I am happy I have fallen in love with someone so wonderful, who is supportive in every way, who helps me through every challenge and obstacle we have faced, and will probably come to face. He makes me feel so loved, and so blessed, to not have just found something that is worth everything, but because I have him. I say love is worth the heartbreak because as much as it hurts and makes you feel like the world is falling apart, it brings with it so much peace and happiness and the memories are fresh with the kind of sweetness that never fades. It comes with lessons and a whole lot of emotions. Love and heartbreak are not synonymous with each other, and aren’t always hand in hand, but both turn you into someone stronger and better.
I see why a number of people voted for no, and why I thought the same a year ago. The effects of heartbreak can last for a while, maybe even a lifetime, and you never truly forget how badly it hurt, but I think it’s worth it. Loving someone and being loved in return is something so beautiful and worth the pain, worth every fear and the memories of unadulterated bliss.
I’m so grateful for having the chance to do it all, and to be in love with, and be loved by, my best friend.