Remaining a romantic after you’ve had your heart broken requires a Leonardo-DiCaprio-fighting-a-bear level of survivalist chutzpah. Nothing can prepare you for the feeling; no book, no movie, no conversation with a friend. Heartbreak is physical. It squeezes at your chest, and scrabbles at your throat, your head pounds, your heart—the blood-pumping thing, not the spiritual, psychic thing—feels like it is beating both faster and slower at the same time, like it is being lanced by an invisible, sharp object.
In the actual moment—if it is a singular moment that you’re able to pinpoint—you feel like you want to throw up. Heartbreak tastes like too much salt in the mouth. The world blurs, your brain short circuits. It’s like the worst kind of drunk. Reality slips from your grip. Is this happening? This can’t be happening. Knowledge you thought was secure crumbles, and memories demand forensic investigation: Was I stupid? What did I miss? Were there clues? I am smarter than this. You feel contempt for your own confidence; it mutates into an unfounded arrogance that you despise. Why did you think this couldn’t happen to you?
When it happened for me, it was a balmy, warm day, a park kick-back, where I was looking good, and previously feeling good, and halfway through our conversation (in which I commanded myself to not cry at the words spoken at me while nervous eyes evaded mine) I noticed a punchy girl-rap song playing from someone’s speakers nearby. It was a raucous nimbus hovering above his voice. Something about being a bad bitch, something about not taking shit. I remember thinking, “I can’t believe he is ruining this song for me. I waited for this song to play and now I can’t even twerk to it. Fuck.”
His words warbled as he worked hard not to see beyond my carefully placid mask, a frozen lake of casualness. Taking the spirit of my heartbreak soundtrack to heart, I affirmed that I was a bad bitch, and I did not, in fact, take shit. I did not want him to see my hurt. The only coherent thing in my mind was my internal command to not crumble in front of him. Don’t you dare, bitch. Do not let him see you cry. He does not get to have this. It was the only thing I could grip onto, the only thing I understood. I nodded at him and I think I murmured, bizarrely, “Oh? What does she do for a living?” It was like a grenade being thrown at you and deciding to play a whimsical game of catch with it. Like saying “hey kitty” to a tiger. Unhinged but also, possibly badass?
My retort was a survival mechanism, something to help convince my brain that this was a regular conversation until I could make my escape and figure out what was happening. I don’t remember his response , or if he even answered my question. Eventually, I drifted away into the crowd. I don’t remember saying goodbye, or if I even said goodbye. I bumped into my cousin, who saw my face and asked me if I was okay. I opened my mouth to say, “yes,” but when someone loves you, truth will find a way to be told, and so “no” came out, followed by a sharp sob, and then I was crying with my whole body.
While “emotionally decimated” feels a touch dramatic in retrospect—and granted, I am dramatic—at the time this is what I felt. It was a pain that thrummed and hurtled me far away from the soft, sweet past. Those memories turned hard and rancid once touched by the reality of the present. And yet, despite this, in the midst of this, there were never any regrets, or any doubts that I would fall in love again, steadfastly, confidently, perhaps even harder, in a safer and more secure place. And despite this, in the midst of this, the idea of being “alone” was not frightening. There wasn’t even a yearning for what was “had” because I deserved better than a casual, heartbreaking bomb dropped on me at a kickback, in the sun, to a twerk-worthy song while I was wearing a skirt that made my ass look really, really good. Despite the debris of my crumbled affection—playlists that had to be deleted, a blocked number and an archived chat—I was okay, knew I would be okay, because I am a romantic, and my version of romanticism means that we are the toughest tribe of people despite what the world says.
The thing with being a romantic is that everyone aligns it with “hopeless.” Hopeless romantic. We’re seen as people with a proclivity to surrender to the frivolity of emotions, to chase the transient high of attraction. We are swiftly charmed and easily flattered. We are seen as fantasists who need to get a grip, who believe that the world can replicate the rom-com universes of chunky sweater vests, sappy orchestral swells, and mid-ranking media jobs that somehow pay enough to afford a decent apartment in a major metropolis. In reality, being a romantic is edgy, resilient, courageous. It is seeing Mount Everest, seeing just how impossibly high it is, and still deciding to climb it because you know the air will be better, the view will be transcendent. We may tumble down on the way up, but we still continue our ascent. It is hope against hope, believing in the existence of light when surrounded by abject darkness. It is being brave. It also believing in the type of love you seek, of revering romance and love so much that it is not about being partnered for the sake of being partnered, but desiring the right kind of partnership for you.
Healthy romanticism is loving yourself enough to know that you deserve what you desire. Loving rom-coms isn’t an elevated act of delusion, but a belief that we can find the happiness we feel when we consume those stories in reality, that pure joy that the world often attempts to make us forget. Being a romantic means that heartbreak doesn’t mean your hope breaks. It means that you know, one day, you will be able to twerk to that song again.