Sweeping up a broken heart

Dealing with romantic rejection? Listen to this advice from Alain De Botton

Posted by for Podcasts

In our new series, There’s A Podcast Episode For That, we dig deep into the podcast archives to find the best answers for some of life’s biggest questions. This week, we share the best podcast episode for anyone who’s dealing with romantic rejection.

Rejection. Just reading the word sends a shiver down my spine. Despite it being a fact of life, something that we face all the time, the sting of rejection is just as sharp now as it was in childhood. 

Add romance into the mix and, somehow, rejection becomes even more painful. Whether you’ve been dumped, ghosted or friend-zoned – rejection in relationships is the pits.  

So how exactly should we navigate it properly? How do we do that “learn and grow from it” thing that people around us manage to do a much better job of? How do we deal with romantic rejection?

Luckily, there’s an excellent podcast to help…

How To Fail With Elizabeth Day: Alain De Botton

On the How To Fail podcast, which is a favourite here at Stylist, host Elizabeth Day invites guests to discuss their three biggest life failures. 

Since its launch in 2018, Booker Prize-winner Bernardine Evaristo has talked about the ageism she’s faced, activist Gloria Steinem has challenged the assumption she is an “unfulfilled” childfree woman, and singer Jessie Ware has shared the reality of what it’s like to forgive a parent that left

But in episode three of the sixth series, The School Of Life philosopher Alain De Botton shares three concepts of failure instead of sharing his own personal failures.

Alain De Botton
School Of Life author and philosopher Alain De Botton talks failure and rejection on the How To Fail podcast.

De Botton tackles three big concepts: you can be good but still fail, romantic breakups are not a tragedy and failure is just the norm. 

The whole interview is an eye-opening listen that you’ll want to listen to again and again on your daily walks in lockdown. De Botton talks about the historical meaning of failure in society, the importance of knowing when to quit and why being average is a great thing. 

But it’s the second concept – romantic breakups are not a tragedy – that will help heal a rejected heart and those feelings of failure when it comes to relationships and dating.

A relationship ends because it taught us what we need to learn

To anyone whose relationship has ended before they wanted it to, De Botton says: “We tend to imagine that the only relationship that is viable is one that lasts forever, that the real success of a relationship is its longevity…

“Another way to look at relationships is that they’re opportunities for us to learn from another person. We tend to believe that the lesson will go on forever. The notion of ‘outgrowing someone’ is seen as very dark terms… but there’s something potentially beautiful and liberating that someone can be immensely important in a person’s life and yet not there forever.”

He adds: “When it comes to relationships, we tend to say ‘oh that relationship was a failure because they were only together for X time’ or ‘they never had children together’… But that’s too punitive, so let’s stop torturing ourselves.”

The ex that dumped you isn’t doing as great as you think they are

Admitting to the grudge she bears with people who have broken up with her in the past, Day, in a very relatable manner says: “If someone has broken up with me, for what I feel are unjust reasons, I feel a tremendous amount of grief and rage and self-loathing over that.

“And if they then go on to find someone and that person is ‘better’ than me and they have a more ‘successful’ relationship, I find it very hard to deal with…”

While De Botton’s response is pretty funny, it also makes total sense and is oh-so reassuring: “An important thing to bear in mind in those situations is they’re going to be miserable lots of the time… 

“When we’re in situations of envy – if I can be brutal and say this – we often envy rich people, successful people and also people in other relationships. We just imagine that their life is perfect, we’re very good at that. We have a muscle in our brain that’s excellent at conjuring up images of other people’s happiness.

“I think it’s tremendously helpful to keep in mind that, almost certainly, their level of happiness will be closer to [your] level – ambivalent, good mixed with bad – than it is to some idea of flawless perfection.” 

Reminding us that everyone edits their lives to others, he adds: “The chances of your ex living a blissful life are almost zero.”

Being friend-zoned isn’t a consolation prize

De Botton explains that society places romantic love as the pinnacle of all love, but we should also value friendships just as much as relationships. Because being friend-zoned or being friends with an ex instead of staying in a relationship with them aren’t necessarily always a bad thing. 

“The notion of being ‘just a good friend’ nowadays seems like such a horrible consolation prize – ‘I went out for dinner with somebody and took them home and they said we should remain as just good friends’ – is seen as a terrible disappointment,” he says.

He explains how, before we started to prize romantic love, people would have viewed the friendzone way more positively: “You’ve been spared the nightmare of sexual jealousy and love and all the terrible things that go on in a relationship. You’ve got a friendship. You’ve got the prize of the century!”

Shortlived relationships are just as valid as any other

And if you’ve ever felt silly for feeling rejected after one spectacular date, or just a few weeks of getting to know someone, you are completely allowed to treat it like the end of any other longterm relationship. According to De Botton, the thing to remember is that some brilliant things are only meant to last for a certain amount of time.

“It’s better to think of happiness as moments, and not years,” he says. “I genuinely think somebody should be able to say ‘I had a fantastic summer with somebody and that was amazing. The things we shared were amazing. It didn’t last 10 years, but it lasted a summer, and that is as valid’.”

Listen to Alain De Botton on How To Fail With Elizabeth Day

Sign up for the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you don't miss out on the conversation.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Top image: Getty

Share this article

Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…