How to Heal a Broken Heart

How to Heal a Broken Heart

I confess I have never been a fan of Valentine’s Day,  even in the best of circumstances. I always suspected that Hallmark invented the damn day to offload all the pink ceramic bunnies leftover from the previous Easter. Especially during times of singledom, V-day can feel like lemon juice in a freshly opened wound.

Like many people, creating a stable and healthy love relationship has been a life-long challenge.

On my 35th birthday, while driving to teach an early morning class at the Yoga Workshop in Boulder, Colorado, I passed a huge speed limit sign on the highway.

“35,” it said.

“Why don’t you add, ‘AND STILL SINGLE,’” I screamed.

It did not respond. I broke down and sobbed at the stoplight.

That was 15 years ago. I’m now 6 months away from my 50th birthday, and still single. That is probably the hardest sentence I’ve ever written. The shame and embarrassment are nearly overwhelming. I feel like a big fat failure. From Ego’s perspective, it feels disastrous. My Ego has been pummelled, destroyed, beaten to a pulp.

From a different perspective, however, this is great news.

Ego can’t hide anymore. We (Ego and I) (I and I?) can’t deny that life does not go as planned, or hoped. I am forced to accept the reality of my situation: that my desires have not been satiated. Suffering is real.

I wrote a whole book trying to come to terms with those feelings. So today, despite the terror that says “DO NOT publish this on your blog, what are you nuts?” I’m going to share an excerpt with you from my soon-to-be-released memoir, Diary of a Pilgrim: [deep breath]

Maybe my grandmother was right.

“You know what’s wrong with you, Deary? “ she said. “You’re too smart for ‘em. You need to learn to keep your mouth shut.”

Is that how it works? Play dumb and I’ll get my man?

My mother never questioned whether or not to marry and have a family; until 50 years ago, marriage and children were the assumed outcome of a woman’s life. My mother could expect to be supported by a man. She majored in Home Economics and married my father while still students at University of Miami.

Just a few decades later, it’s a completely different ball game. It’s fantastic that I am free to travel the world on my own, create my own life doing what I love and have the satisfaction of earning enough to pay my own way. But my generation was the first to explore that territory that Ms. Steinem won for us and she didn’t leave any maps. Women in my generation were mostly expected to work. It wasn’t really an option, especially for those of us who grew up in single parent households. Most of us women from this generation generally live an independent life before we consider starting our own families, so the dynamics have shifted. I don’t think they even offer degrees in Home Economics anymore, do they?

When I lived in Bhutan and India, the second question people usually asked (after: “Where are you from?”) was, “Are you married?” When I replied in the negative, I heard the whole gamut of responses: curiosity, suspicion, and judgment.

“Why not?” they wanted to know.

Some older women were in awe and quite openly envious.

“You mean you don’t have to cook for someone every day? So lucky!”

One twice-divorced man in Nepal replied, “Great! Then you can devote your time to spiritual practice.”

I loved that man’s response. Because some days are hard. Sometimes I hear the unspoken questions more loudly than if they were said out loud. Some days my one and only wish is to be able to utter that golden epithet: my wonderful husband.

Instead, my inner critic bombards me with its own selected commentary:

“Why can’t you maintain a stable relationship?”

“Why aren’t you like everyone else?”

“What’s wrong with you?”

Is there something wrong with me? Some days I wonder.

People are uncomfortable with a woman of a certain age who has never been married. A spinster. Old maid. Prude.

Some go into denial. “Oh you’ll meet someone and have babies just when you least expect it.”

Some blame me. “You choose the wrong kind of men.”

Some pity me patronizingly, letting their eyes glaze over as their head tilts imperceptibly to the left and give a ‘there there’ sort of condolence.

“She never married, we always wondered if she was a lesbian.”

And so on.

The truth is, I am conflicted. The traditional prize promised to me as a bright, beautiful, young girl from a respectable family line (home, husband, happiness, holidays) has not been forthcoming. And yet in its place is the Whole Wide World. Freedom. Independence. Creativity. Wealth. Adventure. The opportunity to pursue my spiritual path. I know I would be miserable as a caged bird, and yet life alone can sometimes be frightening. Who would know if I electrocuted myself in the bathtub in some obscure hotel in India? (Come to think of it, obscure Indian hotels don’t have bathtubs, but that’s beside the point.) What if I encountered a group of crazy Cambodians on a lost backstreet? (OH wait, I have.) But the safety and protection of the promised life is an illusion. Am I not better off accepting and even appreciating the truth that we all come here and leave alone? Isn’t it better to face my existential dilemma head on?

Do I accept my role as fore-runner in a generation with new territory to conquer? Write this off as my tragic character flaw? Bitch, moan and cry that some men are cruel, heartless bastards? The truth is I have been through the relationship wringer more times than I care to admit, and I am just now learning to see my part in the process. I am wrung out, finally. It’s humbling to say the least.

Maybe my grandmother’s advice held weight in her generation. For her, silencing her voice may have been a matter of survival. But the times have changed. For me, my greatest downfall has been NOT using my voice. Sure, it’s good to know when to keep your mouth shut sometimes. But I have kept quiet when I needed to speak up and ask for what I need. I’ve remained silent when I needed to say NO to disrespect. To protest when someone is careless with my heart.

And that’s a crime against all women, and men who want to escape that old paradigm of oppression. So that’s not happening any more.

Maybe we as women need to let our men know that it is no longer fashionable to disrespect us or keep us quietly under their thumbs. Maybe the sacred feminine voice is our greatest asset and men of the old regime should listen to us for a change.

My Valentine’s Day gift to you

The gift in all this is that I’ve learned strength. I’ve had to learn skills over the years and learn how to heal a broken heart. One of the best ways I know to do that is a practice called tonglen, from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Tonglen translates as “sending and taking,” and the practice is about exchanging our own suffering with that of others, to eventually realise that suffering is the doorway to compassion. This is the most powerful practice I know for working through heartache of any kind. Click here to listen to a guided meditation I recorded just for you. Because you are worth it!

Here is permission to speak your truth. Share it in the comments below!

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20 Responses to How to Heal a Broken Heart

  1. Thank you, Kim! I can’t wait to read your book… Your bravery in opening your self…the honesty and the humor, and the pain… I’m not as eloquent with words as you are, but thank you for writing this. Thanks for “making the map.” You are wonderful.

  2. Kim, thanks for being brave and sharing this. I know how hard that is to do, so well done! I resonate with so much of what you have written, especially about the speaking up and respecting ourselves and demanding respect from men. Very important and a big part of my learning process on this relation-ship path. And as strong women who are brave and face our fears and travel the world alone, we need equally strong men who respect and love us for that. Love – M

  3. Thank you Kim, for being so brave and posting this despite what your inner critic says!

    I’m taking comfort in this on my mission to serve others, and knowing that, nearly 40 I am still a long way from settling down, despite the times when it feels it can feel so low.

    Carrying on shining your light. You’re doing a great job!

  4. Beautiful Kim, I for one am happy that you were not at home baking cookies for your ‘wonderful husband’ and that I got to be part of one of your retreats in Thailand!!! My life is brighter from encountering you and I am grateful you have followed the path of freedom, adventure and truth.
    I am in process at the moment, trying to see if I really would like to manifest (MAN – ifest) a partner, or if I would like to continue to thrive on my own – 43, single and deeply content!!! What I am discovering is that the thing that I resist is the traditional idea of having a partner. It does not entice me at all. But none of the ‘normal’ ways of being really resonate with me and I have found my own path in all other areas of my life and enjoyed this process of creation. So now I am stepping out of the ‘normal’ concept of a partner and playing with the idea of creating my own version. In this version I get to keep the sacred spaces I have taken so much time carving out for myself. I also get to ponder and make sure that the addition of a partner will bring me more joy and help me grow.

    Your story is very timely to my current contemplation. Do you think St Valentine is playing with our hearts??? LOVE and FREEDOM, tash

  5. Thank you Reuben for your kind and supportive words and for taking the time to write them! Much appreciated. Wish you all the best on your journey.

  6. Dear Tash, thanks again for your enthusiasm, love and support! You are such a shining star! So wonderful to have had the chance to know you a bit. I’m wishing you all good things on your path and hope it will cross with mine again soon. much love.

  7. Dear Kimmie-la,

    Thank you for opening your heart to us. When I have that broken-hearted feeling, often I give thanks, because a broken heart is an open heart.

    Valentines day is always treacherous, and I find it more so (and perhaps this is gender-specific as a man) when I’m in a relationship, because I never know whether I will be able to meet my partner’s expectations or encounter a hidden minefield. It’s all about expectations, isn’t it?

    The great Yogi Milarepa said the main enemies of the yogi are hope and fear. (Two sides of the expectation coin.) And traditional relationship ideas bring along huge expectations.

    Perhaps Kim, your broken heart is the key to your gift of writing and teaching others. My prayer for you is that your heart breaks every day!

    I’m grateful be your friend. Keep softening your heart with tonglen (aka pranayama) and have a wonderful Valentines day doing what you love!

  8. Sweet, vulnerable Kim. Thank you for revealing the truth of who you are and your inner journey. We are all sisters and speaking up with our true voices is the only way we will reclaim the power within. As a 60 year old woman who spent 26 years in relationship with one man/husband and raised a child, I have had the privilege to learn many, many lessons about myself and life. Now as a divorced woman on her own again for the past 3 years, so very different than the last time I was single (at 34!), I am learning lots of new lessons of what does it mean to love myself and find my place on this big, out of control globe. It’s daunting and exciting and a huge stretch. Some days I love it and some days I don’t… but it’s all me creating it, so I know that my higher self must think this is the path to greater expression of real love that comes from my Soul. I want you to know I walk with you and hope you walk with me.

    As I take part in 1 Billion Rising this weekend here in Chiang Mai, I am feeling the incredible resonance that I am a part of something bigger and more inclusive than I can even imagine. That’s really what i want my remaining life to be about – engaging, with compassion and curiosity and love wherever I find myself.
    I am heading for your meditation now and just wanted to say thank you!
    To the Journey,
    Victoria

  9. Thank you dear Chester for your wise and kind words. I’m also happy to call you a friend…I hope we get some time to catch up soon when I am back. xxx

  10. Thanks Laura! I always remember your stories about Muay Thai on your blog…admired your courage to do that. Some days I think I’d like to learn boxing as well so I can meet my inner critic and kick some ass!

  11. Thanks so much Victoria…I appreciate you sharing your story. Isn;t it really about that? Sharing stories with each other so we can all help each other along? Hope to run into you soon around these parts. be in touch. xxx

  12. Dearest Kim, I’m almost also 50 and not single like you but currently married for the fourth time, with four children from three different marriages. I’m sure most would agree that this doesn’t look very good on paper, I’m sure most would agree that it looks (and sounds) better to say that you’re still single despite what your age may be. For me, it’s all good. So,, single or married, it all comes with a lot of pain and suffering. But without all this pain and suffering, I don’t think that I would be able to see, smell or feel (all the colors of the rainbow) as vividly as I do. Of course, I desire to have less suffering (we all could do with less suffering), however, I would not trade in this s stuff if it meant to have my senses made dull. Life is grand. Remember to wear that shirt that says “I’m the Queen” (the queen of hearts!). Thank you. Love, Molly

  13. Thank you so much for this beautiful, honest piece, dear Kim. You speak from the heart, and that takes so much courage! We all have those shameful places of embarrassment or vulnerability. Mine are of a different nature from yours, as I’ve been in a long-term relationship for over 30 years. But from within that space, I’ve had to struggle with so much insecurity and self-doubt. I look out at the strong, brave women like you who have embraced the path of freedom and adventure and feel the profoundest admiration. This piece inspires me so much to come to terms with my own vulnerability. You have turned yours into a strength as well as a gift to others, and that is so very, very beautiful. Your courage touches me deeply! Much love, xx

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