The Science of Heartbreak

They say that there is no formula when it comes to falling in and out of love. It just happens, sometimes even before your brain realizes what your heart has already been going through for months. When new love begins, it’s always uniquely beautiful and full of butterflies and awkward first dates that lead to less-awkward second dates and first kisses. That may be true, but I have to slightly disagree on the falling out of love part.

Because every heartbreak story almost always has the same fucked-up twist.

I’ve seen it too many times before: The inevitable doom that almost every relationship is headed towards. One person slipping further away while the other one holds on ever tighter. The misunderstanding that ensues and the consequent blames thrown toward each other, ironically disregarding the i-love-you-no-matter-what promises both made only months before.

The thing is that promises lead to expectations; expectations eventually lead to disappointments; disappointments lead to misery; misery leads to exaggerated blames, until finally, these blames lead up to heartbreak and never speaking to each other again.

These are the constants, with the possible participation of a few variables a.k.a third parties, drunken confessions, and morning-after regrets. Mix them all together and you get your old-fashioned, swollen-eyed, wine-soaked, chocolate-munching brokenhearted soul. There’s your formula. There’s the science of heartbreak.

But, I will tell you this. With everything considered, despite the detailed and gut-wrenching truths that entail long-term relationships, regardless of the number of wine bottles that will potentially be consumed, of pounds that might be gained, and of likely drunk-dialing embarrassments that must be endured—you are the wonderful silver lining.

You and your adorable little quirks that set you apart from an entire population of people wanting to be like you. You may be the impending cause for butterflies, and the welcome initiator of the First Date, however awkward it may be (and it will be). As much as it scares me to admit it, you are the only possibility of canceling out every constant and variable in the formula for heartbreak.

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Pragmatics > syntax

Many second-degree friends think that I’m some kind of a misfit who has a lot of vices and do crazy things just for the hell of it. Somehow, people think I drink a lot and I wouldn’t be surprised if they think I started drinking the moment I came out of my mother’s womb. Others also expected me to smoke, since a lot of my friends do, and that I have tried to smoke pot at least once in my life. As much fun and wild that version of me sounds, I’m a little sad to say that it’s not true.

I had my first sip of alcohol in 4th year high school and I thought gin mixed with juice tasted horrible. I didn’t drink again until I was eighteen, and even then, my friends and I only ever had two bottles of beer at the most, a few shots of brandy or a few cocktail drinks. And those rare drinking occasions happened only twice a year—during sembreak and Christmas break. Needless to say, I also didn’t go out much. Back in college, days off and weekends were spent at the school library hunting books as references for our papers, or at home reading a book due the following Monday.

But anyway, I didn’t want this to be a detailed account of every alcoholic drink I’ve had, the consequent stupid and/or fun decisions I’ve made after, or the countless exciting Saturday nights I’ve spent with Shakespeare, Chaucer, Yeats, Dickinson, Plath, Woolf and our other friends. This is about the unexpected reputation I’ve apparently built over the years.

Okay, to say “reputation” would be an overstatement. Perception may be a more appropriate term. It’s crazy that people I barely know think that I’m some kind of a drunken, foul-mouthed, socially inept twenty-something with whom it is okay to joke around. Yes, I drink. No, I don’t smoke. Yes, sometimes I stay out so late that I come home at 6 AM just as my parents are waking up. No, I don’t always tell my mother where I go, but no, I don’t do things she will disown me for. Yes, I curse a lot, but most of the time I try my best not to be rude to other people. So, no, I don’t appreciate when someone I barely know makes a joke at my expense and expects me to be cool with it. Because I sincerely could very well do without someone acting like a complete jerk.

I have to say it straight. I don’t blend well with people I don’t like. It’s not about being a bitch or treating other people like shit. It’s about knowing my crowd and knowing how to communicate only to certain types of people. Take me out of my comfort zone and I will either say something incredibly stupid or unknowingly intimidate someone. Either way, I will stick out like a sore thumb. In the past, I’ve always been uncomfortable when I’m in a room and I realize that I don’t belong there. But eventually, I’ve made peace with the face that I’m me and other people are other people—and all of us are uncomfortable one way or another.

Despite this, there are times when I would come across someone who is unbelievably—what’s a lighter term for uncouth?—let’s say rude, and whom I wouldn’t know how to talk with, other than with complete honesty, and by honesty I mean telling him off that he’s socially stupid and should, therefore, remain quiet for the rest of his life.

Instead, I shut up. Most of the time, I just shut up and let these people get on with their lives, never knowing what tact is, partly because I don’t care enough, and partly because the devil inside me wants to wait for them to hit a wall (metaphorically or literally, I don’t care) and be punched in the face for being rude. Meanwhile, I continue to talk to people who could carry conversations beyond how wasted someone got that one night back in college, who got whom pregnant, or how many beer bottles one could down in under ten minutes.

It’s silly to think that sometimes, people still judge us based on such shallow criteria and think they know us after a few weeks. I’ve spent 25 years inside my head, and even I surprise myself sometimes. How could anybody else think that we are but mysteries waiting to be deciphered and understood?

Books and Breakups

Finishing a book for me has always been like ending a relationship. It may sound incredibly cynical (or liberating, depending on your viewpoint), but the process of leaving a book after you’re finished with it, and moving on to a more exciting novel is kind of similar. Also, the pitfalls are quite the same. Case in point:

You can’t believe it’s over. Whether you’re the dumper or the dumpee, there is always the tiniest hint of shock when a relationship ends. Maybe it’s from the thought that you will continue your life without the other person and it would be overwhelming. Or maybe because even if you knew it would end sometime, you realize that you still haven’t prepared for it. Similarly, when you’ve read the last page of a book, you spend some time just staring into the wall and thinking, “Huh. It’s over.”

You think back to how they are. For me, a mark of a good book is when, weeks after you’ve finished it, you begin wondering how the characters are doing. If the book is open ended, you think about all the little possible scenarios in which the story went. Just like when you break up with someone. Sometimes, regardless of how revolted you are with even the thought of getting back together, you kind of wonder how life would be if you didn’t break up. It sounds a little like a masochist would think, but it happens.

You compare the past with the present. I do this with books all the time, but I try not to do this with the guys I come to like. When you’ve started reading a new book just a day after you’ve finished the other one—and similarly if you’ve started dating someone only a few weeks after your breakup—there is bound to be some comparison. I’m learning to not jump into another novel too soon and instead take my time absorbing the story until I’m a hundred percent ready to meet new characters. Sometimes the thought of a new story, new characters and a new author is very exciting, but if you do it too soon, it won’t be as fun as if you waited enough time.

The reason all these came to mind was that I immediately started reading David Nicholls’ One Day right after I finished Bridget Jones’ Diary—and I found it difficult to read. The thing is, when you start reading a new author, there is a getting-used-to process. You have to adjust to the author’s writing style and have to take note of the little discrepancies in the book.

On the one hand, Bridget Jones’ Diary was written in first person, set in the late 90s, totally informal and most of the time the sentences start with the main verb without the “I was/am/did”. There were also drunk entries, where the words are completely unreadable and Bridget almost always used “v.” instead of spelling out the word “very”.

On the other hand, One Day is written in third person, proper format, set at the beginning in the late 80s then moved forward to the present time, with alternating points of view from Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew—different genders, different personalities, different voices.

It was very interesting that I couldn’t take Bridget Jones out of my mind while I was reading One Day. And it occurred to me that maybe I started too early. Maybe I start a lot of things too early and I shouldn’t do that anymore.

Five things I learned from Bridget Jones

Bridget Jones' Diary Penguin Ink Edition

I am about a decade late in watching the Bridget Jones films, and even later in reading the first book. But last night, after reading for three straight hours, I finally finished it. I have to say I like the movie more than the book because the movie version is more polished and has a better flow. But the book goes deeper into Bridget Jones’ life and thoughts. I appreciate the way it is written, and there are very important lessons in life and love that Bridget made me realize, even (or especially?) in her drunken, depressed and emotionally fucked-up states.

Losing weight is not much of a concern as losing your self-respect. I’ve really just started gaining weight the last three years, but all my life, I’ve always had the appetite of a hungry bear before hibernation. I love food. I love cooking and I love sampling different types of cuisine. Dieting is as surreal to me as shaving my legs, which I’ve also never done. I’m realizing now that I do have to control what I eat and have to spend more time working out, but to go on a diet to the point of losing self-respect just to please other people? Other people can fuck off, thank you very much. 🙂

Married people are sometimes as fucked up as single people. I really don’t understand the notion that married people are better off in life than—as Bridget says—singletons. Why? The two are totally incomparable ways of life that have pros and cons. Why must some married people look down on singletons? And why must singletons feel sorry for themselves because they are not bound by marriage to someone who cheats anyway? While finding a mate for life and reproducing children sound appealing to many, it doesn’t mean that it’s the only acceptable way to live. Finding the love of your life is great, being married to that person—even better. But for some, the love of their lives means living the way they want to, traveling the world, interacting with new people on a regular basis and just establishing friendships all around the world. One’s happiness doesn’t depend solely on finding a husband and having children. Personally, I think that those are just bonuses for living an honest and sincere life not hurting others.

The Edinburgh Festival. When I read about the Edinburgh Festival, I immediately knew I wanted to attend one in my lifetime. I feel naïve for not knowing anything about it before Bridget Jones, but now I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s got art festivals, operas, plays, street performances, slam poetry (!!!), music festival, book festival, and everything else I love most in this world! I get both sad and excited just reading about all the shows and performances. They all seem amazing. I know it costs a fortune, but I swear I will go to the Edinburgh Festival, even if it takes me decades (and it will) to save up for it.

The Daniel Cleaver Syndrome. We all know someone like Daniel Cleaver—the smug and successful yuppie who thinks he’s God’s gift to women. What’s annoying about Daniel Cleaver is not his blatant flirting, which is only advantageous to him. It’s not even his deliberate disregard to commit even to his most trivial promises. The thing I hate most about Daniel Cleaver is his knack for manipulating Bridget into saying and doing whatever he pleases, and he does it so cleverly that she doesn’t even realize at first that he’s manipulating her. He ignores her to the point of insanity, and then when she’s finally made up her mind that she doesn’t want to do anything with him anymore, he swoops in back again all sweet and amazing, just to prove—mainly to himself—that he could break down her wall and win her over again, making her throw away self-dignity. What makes it more pathetic is that she thinks he’s wooing her because she’s special. And he does it over and over and over again, it’s repulsive. All Daniel Cleavers must be eaten by bears.

The Darcy Appeal. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the man Bridget ended up with is named Darcy. Mark Darcy does remind me of Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy in that he has a weird way of showing affection. What I love best about him is that he isn’t a man of many words, but what he does for Bridget just melts your heart. There was a part in the book where Mark Darcy doesn’t call Bridget for over a month, which makes Bridget nuts naturally. But she finds out later that the reason for the no-calls was that Darcy was in Portugal dealing with legal matters in which Bridget’s mother is involved and he didn’t want to come back or tell her until everything was taken care of. I find things like that nice. Well, not exactly having the most powerful lawyer in Britain come to your aid, but just having someone not act on impulse all the time; someone who’s not in it for a hookup, but who sees the big picture; someone who takes his time and respects and trusts you enough to do the same.

Things I don’t miss in a relationship

1. The unwritten rule of celebrating every month you stayed together, even if you have been together for years. All I know is there are only 12 months in a year, and counting your 120th month together sounds silly. Anniversaries are great for couples. Years exist for a reason. You don’t count the months you have known other people—friends, colleagues, sworn enemies. You don’t even count the years. I’d rather remember—not count—the adventures I’ve had with people, the drunken singing, the laughing-until-we-cried moments, all the epic mornings after and such.

2. The mind-numbing chore of constantly talking to each other 24/7 for the rest of your lives. I think it’s fine to do 24/7 conversations at the beginning of a relationship. It’s understandable—you want to get to know each other more, the other person’s entirety intrigues and overwhelms you and you just can’t get enough of them. But it gets old. And eventually, you find yourself in a monotonous exchange of your lives’ details—

9:00 AM: I’m walking to the office.
9:10 AM: Still walking. God, I’m tired.
11:30 AM: I think I ate something bad today. I farted like seventeen times this morning.
12:15 PM: My head hurts like hell.
12:30 PM: What did you eat for lunch? I had tuna.
4:30 PM: I’m home.
7:00 PM: So what did you do all day?

You won’t realize how it starts, but you will begin to do it out of habit and a sense of obligation rather than the sheer pleasure of talking to your partner. I’m all for deep, meaningful conversations and stupid, useless, and funny exchanges. Those are fun! But not fun to have every waking hour. Seriously, I’m still the same person I was two hours ago during our last conversation. And I’m still doing okay from the last time you checked twenty minutes ago. And no, I don’t want to keep saying “I love you” just so you can feel secure about the relationship.

3. Asking for permission to do something—Every. Single. Time. This annoyance is based on the presumption that when you got into a relationship, you were both mature adults who don’t need a babysitter. Letting your partner know what you’re up to and asking for permission are two different things. Caring for someone and pointlessly forbidding them to do something are also different. I hate it when someone establishes dominance and veils it thinly with false caring. You can respect each other’s differences and show that you care without undermining your partner’s decisions. That’s for people who have their heads up their asses.

4. The notion that one or the other has to take control of the relationship. It’s either you’re the passive one or the more dominant. I personally think that’s a load of horse shit. Two adults with functioning brains should not take a long time figuring out who gets to run the relationship. Both should.

5. Others’ belief that they need to be in a relationship before they can feel complete or decide to transform their lives, (e.g. be a more responsible adult, drink less alcohol, be more career-driven, finally start to follow that dream). If that’s the case, you don’t need a partner. You need a career counselor. Or a babysitter.

6. Hackneyed terms of endearment. Good Lord. If someone calls me Sweetie one more time, I will flip. There are already millions of existing Babes, Sweetie-pies, Darlings and Sweethearts all around the world. I don’t want to be known as one. What I like are unique nicknames that make sense only to the two of you.

These are the reasons why I’m not in a relationship. These are all I see everywhere. Clearly not what I want. Plus, the men I keep meeting are either obnoxious pigs who are motivated by ego and driven by base physical needs, or insecure babies who are easily intimidated and need constant reassurance that they’re doing the right thing.

Let me be clear—it’s not that I don’t want to be in a relationship. It’s that I want to start something meaningful with someone special and not just merely follow what society dictates as a normal, standard, relationship.