In my freshman year, I read Sappho’s “Ode to Aphrodite” for my seminar and almost cried in class discussion. I was taken by her vengeful plea for the love of her life to love her back. In August of that year, I had been broken up with by my self-proclaimed soulmate and was violently searching for an outlet. I never got to the point of actually calling upon Aphrodite, but I did watch the end of “He’s Just Not That Into You” multiple times, which seemed close enough. (Misleading title, by the way. It turns out he is actually that into her.)
We relish in mutual pain, especially after breakups. It’s similar to the wash of satisfaction when you find out your friend also failed that last test. It is a twinge that comforts us when we feel most unworthy. The only consolation is that it makes crying to Taylor Swift more satisfying.
In short, I was desperate for some recognition of my broken heart and some sign that just maybe he would take me back. Almost two years later, I think about this rejection and it fuels the occasional angry workout or weekly laundry-fold. Admittedly, there exists some veiled fantasy that he’ll come back John Cusak-style and tell me how sorry he is for being such a douchebag.
Just two years before this brutal relationship, when I was a junior in high school, I spent a month laboring over how to break up with my first boyfriend. For an entire month, I was miserable and aching over how to tell this boy that I just wasn’t into it. As soon as it was done and I sped home, my hands were shaking around the steering wheel with relief. I didn’t think much about it again. I couldn’t tell you exactly what I said to this boy when I did it or what month it was. Ask me and I’ll tell you every detail of how I was broken up with, down to the day (Aug. 22) and what I was wearing (a white tank top).
In the 1995 film “Before Sunrise,” while the lovestruck Celine and Jesse play a game of skeeball, Jesse says, “You know what’s the worst thing about somebody breaking up with you? It’s when you remember how little you thought about the people you broke up with and you realize that is how little they are thinking about you.” My dad said a similar thing while we talked on our daily walk around the lake as I detailed my relief about my aforementioned newfound freedom. Getting broken up with sucks either way, but it’s even worse knowing the other person doesn’t care. The worst part, maybe, is that their flippancy is not even meant to be cruel. You just didn’t have as big of an impact on them as they did you. Realizing this shatters that good old illusion that held you when you cried. It turns out he’s probably not going to confess how much he regrets leaving you on open for a week, because you’re not too sorry about doing the same thing to someone else.
A Heartbeat spent telling you that your ex-lover doesn’t care about you might not be the most encouraging thing to read, but this recognition of unequal care doesn’t have to be disheartening. When we start to view our exes not as the enemies of our stories, but simply as other people exercising their autonomy, we can begin to let go. Perhaps it can take away, if only a little, the spite that comes out of being the jilted ex. At the very least, no more crying in first-year seminar.