The silver lining for men of having our hearts broken.
I recently heard a story about an elderly gentleman who finally learned to express love after having a heart attack. Although I was thrilled for this man, I hope that my sons and I don’t have to have heart attacks to open our hearts.
What I have found is that heartbreaks offer wonderful opportunities to grow into true love. From middle school crushes to unrequited love as a divorced man, my heart has taken a beating. Yet in hindsight, I’m almost thankful for these experiences that seemed to rock the foundations of my world.
Here are some valuable lessons I learned by having my heart broken:
Let Go, Let Come
I once heard that one of the most important lessons we have to learn in life is how to let go, because this prepares us for death—the ultimate letting go. In every heartbreak is the opportunity to let go of some of our deepest desires, fears, and attachments.
From the advice we get while mending a broken heart, it seems that everyone knows the value of letting go. “There are plenty more fish in the sea to fry.” “You’re better off without him/her.” “You’ll meet someone ten times better.”
But actually embodying detachment to someone with whom we are/were intimate takes time, patience, and an iron will. As poet Marge Piercy states, “It hurts to thwart the reflexes/of grab, of clutch; to love and let/go again and again.” Letting go gets easier and easier with every heartbreak, especially when we realize that by letting go, we let new love come into our lives.
Nature hates a vacuum. When we let go, we create space for something new to enter our lives. When we cling on to a specific person or the past, we close the door (and our eyes) to the abundance of beauty, love, and connection in every waking moment.
One Love Instead of One and Only Love
Life is a movement from Lionel Richie’s “Endless Love” to Bob Marley’s “One Love.” We start by equating true love with one person—“no one else will do.” Through heartbreak, we learn that unconditional love doesn’t play favorites.
When the one and only endless love ends in a train wreck of tears, betrayal, and restraining orders, we begin to see through the error in our ways. After a few times through the spin cycle of heartbreak, we are ready to learn to “love with the hands wide open.” We begin to see how all love is sacred, not just the love from those whom we deem as soul-mates.
Heartbreak teaches us to love everyone (including our ex-lovers) and everything (including the pain of unrequited love). When we are able to love unconditionally, we “give thanks and praise to the Lord and…will feel all right.”
“Will I survive this?” “Will I ever love again?” “Will I be alone forever?” These are the types of questions we confront when our hearts are broken. Of course, none of these questions are answerable.
A broken heart forces us to sit in uncertainty. We have no idea what will happen next. At a certain point, we realize that the future is always uncertain. When we embrace this uncertainty, we see how anything is possible.
The less we demand answers to these unanswerable questions, the less we try to force the future into our presence. When we stay in the wild present tense, we see that we are never alone and nothing is really uncertain. We are always already connected and loved. Nothing is left to chance. We just need to get our minds and bodies back into the present beautiful moment.
In one of my favorite songs, Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo`ole talks about his father who died of a massive heart attack. “I still believe that if he called me, he’d be alive. Cuz he died of a broken heart, Brah.”
GMP writer Mark Greene echoes this sentiment in a recent article,: “It is a heart rendering realization that even as men hunger for real connection in our male relationships, we have been trained away from embracing it…That result is isolation, loneliness and early death for men.”
Every time our hearts are broken, we have the impetus to connect with others in a deep and intimate way. As Kamakawiwo`ole and Greene stress, this connection is a matter of life and death for many men. Some of us are so uncomfortable breaking out of the homophobic man box that it takes a life altering event to even consider peeking our heads out.
In the men’s group I facilitate, every time a member authentically shares the pain of heartbreak, deep connection and healing occur spontaneously. The pain in our hearts remains, but somehow we feel more complete and healthy. In fact, I don’t think half the members would have joined if it wasn’t for having their hearts broken.
By no means am I saying to pursue having your heart broken, but if it does happen, know that deep wisdom and healing are available. Or as Rascal Flatts says, “God bless the broken road.”