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February 11, 2009

The Curiously Self-Aware Dude’s Guide to Healing a Broken Heart

It was the storybook summer romance: The sun shone, the birds sang — we were instant soulmates. We went to movies, held hands and drank wine under the stars. Lots and lots of wine.

And then one day, without warning, she ended it. “I love you, but I’m not in love with you,” she said. It sounded as heartfelt as a belch.

I didn’t know how to respond — that’s almost like saying, “I really like sushi, but I never swallow it” — so I scowled and told her she looks like Abraham Lincoln. Then I crawled away to nurse my broken heart back to health, so that I might one day love again …

RECONNAISSANCE

OK, guys, what’s wrong with the above scenario? You’re right: plenty. But the key problem here is that I broke the two most important rules of dating:

1) Soulmates are for suckers — if it seems too good to be true, it is.

2) Never, ever, under any circumstances, date a girl who drinks as much as you and looks like a former president.

I ignored the rules, leapt in too fast and threw my heart down before an oncoming stampede of emotional anguish. Fact is, we’ve all done it — especially when we felt we had met “The One.”

And it hurts. In fact, some relationship experts believe that men take a breakup much harder than women, because we have a more difficult time letting go of the emotional connection — especially when it is not broken on our terms.

“With some men, it’s difficult because of our society, and men traditionally have been the ones to choose whether to come or go,” says John E. Turner of the Couples Clinic of Louisville. “Also, men generally have more trouble being alone.”

There you have it.

And so, to commemorate Valentine’s Day, LEO presents “The Curiously Self-Aware Dude’s Guide to Healing a Broken Heart.” Follow it and you can be back to normal in just seven easy steps. To test its validity, I ran each step past Turner, who is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has been in social work and/or counseling for more than 30 years, so that he could validate or debunk my methods.

STEP 1:

Decide how long your heart needs to heal, and afford yourself that time.

There is a handy guide at healmybrokenheart.com that has a Heart-Repair Calculator to determine how long it should take. It offers formulas for short, mid-range and long-term relationships based on the theory that healing time is directly proportional to the length of the relationship and the amount of time you spent together on a weekly basis. I crunched the numbers on my recent heartbreak, and the calculator told me it’s going to take 18 months. EIGHTEEN MONTHS?! OK, no chick is worth that. Let’s say three months. There’s the No. 3 most important rule of dating, guys: If you can’t heal a broken heart in three months or less, you’re a pussy. Write it down.

Turner says: “I think this is legit. You need to let yourself dwell on it for while, but it’s smart to think, ‘How long do I want to give it?’ But learn to nurse your grief and loss — it can have a certain sweetness that validates the positives in the relationship you are letting go of. Taking three months to get over it? That would be reasonable. You’re not a pussy.”

STEP 2:

Get all reminders of her out of sight.

The first thing I did when I got dumped was seek out that iconic photo of her. I looked at it longingly for a moment … then I flung it angrily into the trash. You see, disposing of at least one photo is ceremonial, a symbolic gesture that gives you a brief feeling that you are dumping her, rather than the other way around.

Next, un-friend her on MySpace and Facebook. Why? Because you don’t need an RSS feed to pop up tomorrow and report that her new profile status says, “[Your ex’s name here] had sex last night, and it was the best she ever had.” Seeing something like that will make you vomit your soul.

Turner says: “It’s a good idea to get that stuff out of the way. Do not be tempted to persecute yourself with hacking into her e-mail via the password she may have shared with you and read the ongoing exchanges between her friends or new lovers. That’s different than looking at old love letters.”

STEP 3:

Forget what Oprah and Dr. Phil will tell you; the grudge-fuck is therapeutic.

Yes, it sounds crass, but we’re guys, so just get to it. Your best bet is to find a girl who is not offended when you say, “This fling means as much to me as a pork chop.” That said, do not “date” until after your healing time is up. This is not the time for building new attachments, because deep down inside, you’re still a pathetic, quivering blob of emotional goo. A good woman will be turned off by that, and a cunning, heartless woman will take advantage of it.

Is that what you need right now? Hell no. It’s fourth down, so punt. Enjoy the sanctity of the sidelines for the next three months, because there will still be plenty of time left on the clock. 

Turner says: “Oprah’s probably right, but I have trouble giving Dr. Phil credit for anything except making money.” [OK, maybe the pork chop idea isn’t so valid. Turner said he does agree with the “no dating” concept, though.]

STEP 4:

Write her an e-mail telling her it’s all her fault.

In this e-mail, tell her that you are the greatest catch since Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series, and that she doesn’t have the sense nature gave a mollusk if she can’t see that. Tell her you hope the next guy she meets has pubic crabs in his beard and that he gives her a disease that hasn’t been discovered yet. Call her names. Curse with gusto. Then save it and close it, but don’t send it to her.

Why? Because she doesn’t care what you think anyway, moron. Go back, read the message again the next day and revise it to reflect what you are feeling in that moment. Continue this for as many days/weeks as you need to until you have fully organized and worked through your emotions, then file the letter away forever and do a celebratory shot of tequila. (OK, the tequila is optional. Bourbon works just as well.) 

Turner says: “Excellent. A for-your-eyes-only exercise — this is a perfect diary-like process that will assist you in validating your emotional recovery. To write it and then go back to it later and revise it, that’s a version of charting your ups and downs. And you might decide to put it in LEO later, who knows?”

STEP 5:

Lean on your buddies — they are there to help.

Yes, they will make jokes at your expense, but when it comes right down to it, at least they will be there for you. She may not love you the way you wanted her to, but they still do; it doesn’t matter to them that you’re a lovesick pansy. So call her a “love retard,” scrutinize her disproportionate cranium and pretend with all your might that from Day 1 you could see through that gaping, icy chasm where her basic sense of human empathy should reside. What it all boils down to is that these are the people who know you and appreciate you the most, and their opinions matter way more than ol’ what’s-her-name anyway. Harumph.

Turner says: “That’s very healthy. Of course, stick to buddies who are loyal and put you before her. You want to pick the guys who are your guys. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and look for the irony and humor in the story; maybe your buddies can help you see that, too.”

STEP 6:

Take responsibility for your half of this disaster.

That’s right, by this stage you should be ready to admit you made some mistakes along the way, too. (Hey, even if she slept with your boss and kidnapped your dog, there were probably some things you could have done better.) Don’t be afraid to try counseling, because it helps to talk it out with someone who understands what you’re going through. Read books about relationships, healing, etc. Hell, consult a psychic if you have to, but for crying out loud, learn something from the experience. After all, you

may feel she crucified you, but it may well have been you who handed her the nails in the first place.

Turner says: “Kevin, you are good. This eventual stage — and it should be step 6 or later, not early — will be your chance to learn, grow and know yourself better. Of course, some of those books you read, you might throw across the room during certain chapters. You’ll say, ‘Why didn’t I read this before?!?’”

STEP 7:

Slowly open the door again.

Finally, your three months are up. Take a deep breath and look around. See that girl over there? The one with jet-black hair, bright-red lipstick and the Social Distortion neck tattoo? She is not only yummy, she would also gleefully sabotage your brakes or make out with the bartender the first time you looked away. It’s OK, though; she can’t hurt you because you aren’t in love with her. Yet.

So before you jump in, take stock in what you learned during your recovery and be more careful this time. Above all, though, remember the rules you learned, especially this one: If you meet someone who instantly feels like your soulmate, if she feels like that one perfect girl with whom you are destined to be connected forever, RUN. Love doesn’t work that way — love is something that builds over time.

Turner says: “Woo! All right, yes! Pay your dues in relationshipping. Soulmating is for novels and movies. If the relationship ever gets to the soulmate level, it is years and many rigorous trials later. I object to the concept in some ways even as a goal — don’t be two years into a marriage and be longing to be a soulmate; you should long to be a good communicator and to be good at reading the other person. [Soulmating] happens to some people, but you’re lucky if it does.”

CONCLUSION

There you have it, guys: your roadmap back into the game. Happy Valentine’s Day, and please be careful out there — I think I saw Richard Nixon in a dress and pumps, and he was checking out your ass.

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