Tuesday 23 January 2018

'Thanks Hollywood, but your story of getting over heartache - just like your style of bikini wax - just doesn't work for me'

As she recounts a story of fresh heartbreak, Stefanie Preissner offers some tips for the lost and the lonely

Stefanie Preissner. Photo: Kip Carroll
Stefanie Preissner. Photo: Kip Carroll
Stefanie Preissner. Photo: Kip Carroll

The alarm rings. You were having a dream about your teeth falling out; you gasp for air and hold your mouth when you wake. Brief relief as you realise it's not real, and then it hits you. The reality is worse. For a split second, you had forgotten what happened yesterday. Your stomach fills with a heavy... something... and the place you learned your heart is when you were in school, is sore; genuinely a physical pain.

Every way you try to describe it has already been said. You're heartbroken. No it's aching, it's heartache. This is heartache. You sit up in the bed and make a decision not to be a cliche. Not to be a stereotype. You have been broken up with. That is all. People break up all the time, and no-one dies in pairs, so at some stage everyone loses someone, whether they leave or die. They're gone. I can totally cope with this. It's completely, totally normal.

But it doesn't feel normal.

It feels like no one in the world has ever felt this discomfort. You can't actually believe the audacity of time. The idea that time is demanding to go on; the notion that this day is going to happen with or without you. You remember some remnant of a Leaving Cert poem about 'bells tolling for thee' and some woman who wanted the clocks to stop. You reckon, if you could remember the poem at all, you'd really relate right now. Fucking Leaving Cert.

The pain in your chest is so real that you spend a few minutes while brushing your teeth trying to describe it without using cliches. You go on WebMD and it tells you to go to a hospital. You put down your phone. No texts from him, anyway.

The pain is round and solid and sits in a ball in your chest just to the left of where the joy sat.

Don't be a cliche, don't be a stereotype.

Droplet assassins

Stefanie Preissner. Photo: Kip Carroll
Stefanie Preissner. Photo: Kip Carroll

You consider the shower. The water would act as a nice veil for the tears that come so freely. But then the thought comes of the million little droplet assassins hitting your naked flesh on what is a morning too filled with adverse conditions. No. No, you'll skip the shower. A spritz of dry shampoo and two extra spritzes of perfume will do it.

A yoghurt for breakfast. The women in yoghurt ads have never been broken up with. They're too pure and serene and undamaged to have ever experienced this sort of pain. I wonder will anyone ever look at me the way Nicole Scherzinger looks at a Muller Corner.

On your walk to the bus, you snap your headphones out of your ears during the first two bars of Someone Like You. Sorry Adele, you don't get to sing to me today. You know too much. You're like that terrible kindness offered by an older woman when they tilt their head and ask, "Are you alright?"And then you burst into tears because for some reason this pain gets worse when people are kind.

Maybe if everyone was horrible to you today, it would be more palatable. Maybe the rejection by society at large would reflect the rejection you feel inside and the parallel would be comforting. Somehow the kindness of strangers and friends seems so incongruous that it is contemptuous. You just want them to leave you alone to be fucking sad.

Darkest secrets

You climb on the bus. The bus driver greets you with a smile and a "Howya love". You feel the tears clogging up the back of your throat and you nod, walking on, wondering what it is about men who work in the service industry and their ability to make you share your darkest secrets with them. 'Darkest secrets': don't be a stereotype, don't be a cliche.

You sit on the bus and look out the window. It's the same seat you sit in whenever it's free, but today it's different. There's an armrest you usually lean on so you can text. Your hand falls naturally into this position and you feel like you might vomit or cry or both as you realise you can't text him.

You don't have anyone to text. Well you do, but you're just not ready to start the post-mortems and responding to the deluge of regurgitated support from friends. It's like one girl once got advice from someone about a break-up and, since that day, it has been passed around like a terrible chain letter. The Chinese-whisper syndrome replacing the pertinent details so you feel it's been crafted for you.

"I know it doesn't feel like it now, but this will pass, it will get easier. Hang in there. I'm here for you. Call me if you need anything."

Your phone in your hand feels impotent and useless; you forget momentarily that it has other uses other than texting, calling and holding photos of him.

Netflix. You use his account. You wonder if he's changed his password, thereby signing you out. You rush to the black-and-red icon to check. What fucking folder is it in? There it is in the utilities folder with your period-tracking app. You try not to cry thinking about how you won't need that for a while, either. Right now it feels like you'll never need it again. That somehow this break-up is the equivalent of menopause for ending your future hopes. You tap the app. It opens and his name pops up under the photo of him. Of course he hasn't signed you out, because he is good and kind and he still hasn't done anything wrong.

If he could just do something wrong then you could tell people he is a prick and a bastard and then you could all sit around burning pictures of him and sticking needles in voodoo dolls made in his likeness. It strikes you that a voodoo doll in his likeness would be easier to come by than a hard copy of a photograph to burn.

Walking down Grafton Street. There's a busker playing Wonderwall. You've never listened to that song in a meaningful way before and it certainly wasn't one of 'your songs' with Him, but because you're so sad, the idea of any song at all catches in the back of your throat like a gulp of salt water. Don't be a cliche. Don't be a stereotype.

Then you pass the actual memories and they feel different.

Feel nothing

The things that society tells you are meant to make you feel sad - the songs you listened to; the other couples holding hands; the mother pushing her child on a swing that reminds you that you will never have a family unit with that man - are all fake feelings. They feel nothing like the withering hollow that the real memories induce. When you are queuing to pay for a salad and you turn around and catch the smell of him and you cannot go on, because, for a moment, you think he's right there... and what would you even say?

When you see the restaurant you had breakfast in that first morning, and you get the urge to go in and ask them to take the eggs Benedict you shared off the menu - for anyone else to order it from now on would tarnish it forever, and you feel compelled to demand that the world stops for just one second to acknowledge your loss.

But you can't.

You get to your desk and the banality of your job sends your imagination into overdrive. What if he just showed up at the office to get you back? What if you got hit by a car and gave his number at the hospital? Then he would have to come. You imagine all of the situations that would make him break his commitment to "having some space to get used to being apart". Once your store of hope has been run dry by your imagination, you start going over the facts. The facts of yesterday. You replay the fight and the break-up over and over, and it reminds you of the very first fight you had and how you thought it was over then... but you came back from that one. Maybe you can come back from this one.

After 10 months we had our first fight,

We hadn't quite worked how to do it right.

Stephen was upset and couldn't get work.

Had a degree that was just paper, he was going berserk.

And all of his friends were posting photos online of lying in the sun and being drunk all the time.

He was getting so angry, so deeply unhappy, shouting at me, being nasty and snapping.

'Ya, well if you weren't keeping me here I'd be gone!'

'Well leave so, Stephen, do what you want!'

'I can't do what I want because there's no fucking jobs.'

'You haven't applied in months cause you're a snob and you're being too picky about the work that you'll take!'

'I am a trained engineer, for Jesus' sake!

I'm entitled to work in the field that I trained'

'You're not entitled to anything, do you need that explained?'

'Shut up, Stefanie'

'You shut up. Go on then, leave, go be an engineer.'

'I can't cause I've no experience, which I can't get here

and I can't bloody leave because I don't have the money.'

'And is that my fault? No. Go, go where it's sunny.'

'If I thought for a minute I could just move away without feeling guilty and burdened by you, I wouldn't stay.

I'd be gone in the morning, but no, you make sure,

that you're there crying, closing every door.'

'I can't believe you're being such a prick.

Don't stay here for me, you stupid dick.

I am fine on my own, I don't need you!'

'Come on now, we both know that's not true.

You're so neeeeeeedy, and you're driving me mad.'

'I am not needy, I am not that bad.

I just get headaches and they're really sore.'


'I'm sorry', he says, 'the way I've done it is wrong,

but it's over, I'm sorry, the love is gone.'

He picks up his jacket and walks out the front door.

I slide down the wall and sit on the floor.

I start to compose a text message to Steve,

I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Please don't leave.

I delete the text, write the same thing again.

Delete it.

You left your toothbrush.

Delete it.

You're going to be the worst engineer ever. And I hope you are unemployed for the rest of your life.

Delete it.

I hope you can't get a visa because of that time you kicked the guard. And I hope someone in your family dies and you can't get a flight home for the funeral.

Delete it.

Please come back, I think I'm going to faint. Will you bring me to the hospital?

Delete it.

Come back. Please Steve. I love you, I think.


Why are people so shit at dealing with break-ups? I mean, they're shit at dealing with their own break-ups, but I find people are spectacularly terrible at dealing with other people's uncoupling. It's like once you've gone through it, you forget what it is like and are incapable of having the empathic imagination to put yourself in a freshly heartbroken person's shoes.

If you turn to popular culture, it seems that the only way to get over a break-up is to sit around in oversized, unbecoming lounge wear, eating ice-cream - specifically a brand that comes in a round tub and not a cardboard slab.

You listen to sad songs; be a cliche; get your sassiest friend to give you a stern pep talk; you work on your passion project of a Dracula puppet comedy; you put on the show, everyone loves it and you meet someone who is better for you and you have officially forgotten Sarah Marshall.

Thanks Hollywood, but your story of getting over heartache - just like your style of bikini wax - just doesn't work for me and is unrealistic and seems to ignore the pain factor.

Heartbreak hurts.

Excruciating platitudes

I have found that the only way to get over it is to go through it. Just stand there and feel how awful it is.

Don't listen to the excruciating platitudes of people who are telling you it will get better. Of course it will. We all know this, but that's not where you're at right now, so tell them to kindly take their future-focussed bs and get out of your life for a few weeks.

There are four things you need to know:

1 This is going to hurt for ages. So just know that.

2 If you try to run away from the pain, or numb it, you're just putting it on hold. Maybe that works for you. Maybe you're in the middle of some big work thing or a family crisis and you just don't have time to deal with the break-up grief right now. No problem. But just know, it's waiting in the wings and will probably hit you when you think you've come out unscathed.

3 Going to the gym and getting a 'revenge body' will not bring him back and if it does, he's hardly the kind

of guy you want, is he?

4 There is no 'normal' way of grieving. Grief is unpredictable and changes the sufferer - so any way you experience it, even if it is completely uncharacteristic of you, is ok.

I was going to give some tips on how to get over a break-up. Then I realised I am completely the wrong person to do that. I don't have much experience at all, at all, and when I once did do it, I did it terribly. The one thing I will say is if one more person ever tells me: 'you're too good for him', I'll clock them.

If I was too good for him, he wouldn't have left me, like.

Stefanie Preissner's book 'Why Can't Everything Just Stay The Same? (And Other Things I Shout When I Can't Cope)' is on sale from October 5 and is available for pre-order from Eason, Dubray and Amazon now

Photography by Kip Carroll

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