In 2015, Poorna Bell’s husband took his own life. He was a successful journalist, but he also battled depression, heroin addiction and financial problems, to the point he couldn’t see a different way out. Though his suicide has deeply affected her life, it hasn’t defined it. In the aftermath, Poorna wrote her first book Chase the Rainbow, which deals with the deadly paradox of modern-day masculinity. Having just finished her second book, In Search of Silence (a memoir about snapping out of societal autopilot and figuring out what you want from life), here she tells us what she wants women of the future to know about heartbreak…
1. Heartbreak is about loss
When I lost my husband Rob, I didn’t think I would ever move past it. But eventually I did, and I started dating again.
It was then that I realised how much being with Rob had changed me as a person – for the better.
When you’re with someone who respects and loves you, it shores up your sense of self-esteem immeasurably.
It’s not that someone else loving you is what makes you love yourself. It’s more that you look at the parts of you they love, and you learn to appreciate them beyond your own self-criticism.
So, even though heartbreak is about loss, it can also show you how you’ve grown as a person.
2. If your heart gets broken, it’s not always something you’ve done
When I was growing up, there wasn’t an awareness around mental health. What I’ve learnt is when you go back over why a relationship ended, you often realise there’s a much bigger story.
The way I always used to think about breakups is that it comes back to me. It was something I didn’t do right. I wasn’t easy to love.
What I’ve discovered since, especially concerning men’s mental health, is that not only do men obviously have mental health problems (as do women), but there’s a double-bind. Men struggle, but they also struggle to articulate their feelings because of societal constraints.
I’m not gracious about rejection or heartbreak, but my understanding now is that it might be part of a bigger picture.
Recentre yourself and realise it’s not all down to you.
3. It makes you stronger
Every time you experience heartbreak, you think, ‘I’m never going to get over it’. But guess what happens? At some point, you think about it less. You start to laugh again. You make your peace with it. You move on.
What it teaches you is that you’re stronger than you realise. You’re capable of loving someone, but also surviving the loss of them.
4. Heartbreak is the absence of love, but it means you experienced it
Some people never get a chance to experience love.
Some aren’t sure they’ve ever had it.
But if you have loved, don’t be sad that you might never experience it again. Marvel at this incredible thing that is your heart – that was so open and caring and capable of loving another human being.
And know that if it was capable of doing so, it can do so again a thousand times more.
5. It teaches you more about yourself each time, and what you need from a partner
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt, whether it’s at the beginning or end of a relationship, is that advice from others about matters of the heart is great, but you probably know the right answer already.
I’ll ask people for advice on a situation like meeting up with someone and I’ll follow their advice against what I really want to do. Which is to not do it.
I’ll tell myself I’m being too closed-minded. And it never works.
Now I know that what really matters is if he’s a good person, if he shares the same values as me, and is kind. I’ve learnt this the hard way.
Your instinct and knowledge of what you want gets stronger the older you get. You should follow it, especially when your heart is breaking.
6. Sometimes things don’t work out for a reason
I’m not talking about woo-woo, spiritual, astrological prediction stuff to do with fate and destiny and all that guff.
Sometimes, that person was not going to be the right fit for where you were going in life, or where you need to be, or what you need from them.
We always beat ourselves up about career choices, for instance – when we prioritise our work over a relationship. But I think if the relationship was really right, it wouldn’t have boiled down to that ‘tough’ choice.
For me, it wouldn’t be a choice at all – I would always choose love. So, when I make a choice where I don’t choose love, it was never right in the first place.
7. Heartbreak teaches you a lot about what you shouldn’t compromise on as a woman
And that’s a good thing.
There have been times when my heart’s been broken where I wondered if I should have been less forthright and assertive. Whether if I’d managed to dampen my personality, they wouldn’t have left.
No partner should ever make you feel like you can’t be who you are.
What I’ve realised is the right partner will love you because of those things, not in spite of them – and that’s worth waiting for.
In the past, I’ve compromised on values that relate to my self-esteem and things like boundaries. And I’ve compromised on them because of the world around us, the language that’s used, the perceptions of women. It’s made me feel like I’m the one who’s being too difficult.
What’s ended up happening is I’ve found myself in situations I don’t want to be in, that feed into this rhetoric that I’m unable to make things work.
But if you think about what you really want, and whether that person is able to provide it, then you shouldn’t have to compromise.
8. Heartbreak creates a furnace where some of the strongest friendships are forged
I have a lot of friends, but the ones who’ve become my closest allies have almost certainly helped me through some form of heartbreak. They’ve been there for me when I didn’t know what to do with myself.
I remember one guy cheated on me, a week before I was due to go on a massive group holiday to Jamaica.
I thought I’d be miserable, and sometimes I was. But my friends made me laugh at a point when I genuinely thought I’d never laugh again
We’re still friends to this day, 20 years on.
9. Heartbreak is inevitable
But it’s a sign you were brave and you took a chance.
I know so many people who don’t want to get hurt again, and decide it’s better to avoid love altogether.
When I add up all the loss I’ve felt around heartbreak, I know that in there is the best part of my optimism.
Wishing away your heartbreak is also wishing away all the love and good times you’ve experienced. And no matter how badly my heart has been broken in the past, the good times are what made it all worth living for.
I wouldn’t give that up for anything.
10. The only thing you can be certain of is that the pain of it will pass
It may feel like it never will – and sometimes I think we hold on to that pain because we’re scared of forgetting them. But it is the only certainty you have.
When you feel like the pain will ever end, it’s good to remember that.