By Adam J. Pearson
Today, I heard something I have heard people say again and again over the years, something that is often toted by the cynical and the hurting as the best solution to the pain of heartbreak, namely, that:
“The best way to not get your heart broken is to pretend that you don’t have one.”
At first glance, this might seem like a plausible idea. If caring was what got us to hurt in the first place, then why don’t we just cease to care? Why don’t we act cold and heartless? Why don’t we avoid ever going all in, opening ourselves up, or trying to connect? Will that keep us from hurting?
The truth is that living like this just doesn’t work. It’s a strategy that is not only unsustainable, but ineffective. In the vulnerable jungle of life, there’s no get-out-of-pain-free card. Pain and vulnerability are inevitable. Being cold to others doesn’t prevent us from getting hurt. It only makes us feel more miserable, hopeless, and isolated. Adopting an attitude of global apathy can even lead us to act in ways that we later regret, to treat people in ways that don’t feel like “us,” and to numb ourselves from the fullness of human emotion. In short, it can lead us to miss out on the best feelings and experiences that life has to offer.
The solution to the excruciating ‘problem of heartbreak’ is counterintuitive. It goes against the conventional “wisdom” of the advice to disengage and stop opening ourselves up to the painful risks of love. The solution to the problem of heartbreak is not ceasing to care; it’s daring to care. It’s not dropping out of the game; it’s getting back in the arena. It’s not moving away; it’s moving towards. It’s not disengaging; it’s reengaging. Freshly. As if for the first time.
This is the uncomfortable truth about healing a broken heart. It’s uncomfortable because, when we feel broken and hurting, it’s the last thing we want to do. We want to hide our heart away, thinking that if we hide away and act heartless, no one can ever hurt us again. However, this “solution” only represses the pain; it doesn’t heal it.
Only warmth, empathy, compassion, and kindness can heal the rifts in a broken heart, melt the ice that has come to surround it, and give it the wings it needs to soar freely as it once did. Only the courage to be vulnerable is in line with the inherent vulnerability of human existence, the vulnerability that lies at the heart of all human feelings and experiences. Only the willingness to bravely risk the hazards of caring for another human being can open us up to the love and belonging we so desperately need.
Yes, opening up, putting yourself out there, and being bold enough to care rather than apathetically disconnect takes courage. Yes, it’s incredibly risky and uncertain and can leave us feeling emotionally exposed. However, in my experience, it’s worth it. And considering the alternative lifestyle of coldness, isolation, desperation, cynical distrust, taking the risk to love and care and go all in with love is the only choice I’m willing to make.
To shut ourselves off from love is to deprive ourselves of both the power to fulfill one of our deepest needs and the pleasure of experiencing one of the greatest experiences that life has to offer. Love may be a plunge into the unknown and the vulnerability that accompanies it may sometimes be terrifying. However, it’s a leap worth taking and a fear worth facing.
In closing, pretending we don’t have a heart isn’t only inherently delusional, self-limiting, isolating, and attitude-poisoning. It isn’t only a strategy that fails to save us from the suffering of heartbreak. No. Acting heartless and disengaging from the capacity to love is also the the best way to avoid ever feeling truly alive, fulfilled, and engaged with the fullness of life again. It’s the best way to put ourselves on the sidelines of our own life. The solution is to be brave enough to get back in the game and risk caring again. Love may be inherently vulnerable, but vulnerability isn’t weakness; it’s the greatest sign of courage and strength.