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Love Hurts, and It Should : Broken Hearts Mend Stronger, Say Orange County Therapists and Other Survivors From the Front

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Just about all of us can recall a time when someone took Cupid’s arrow out of our heart and walked away. Whether it was three days or 30 years ago, it’s hard to forget the sound of a heart breaking. After all, trampling elephants are loud.

While most say that breaking a heart isn’t as painful as having someone shatter yours, it can be pretty unpleasant, too. The experience can conjure up troubling emotions, like that pesky one, guilt.

Believe it or not, all of this agony is actually good for us, say mental health professionals.

“For the emotionally healthy person, having your heart broken is a necessary part of growth,” says Joanie Heinemann, a therapist at Coastline Counseling Center in Newport Beach, who does individual and relationship counseling.

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“If you don’t experience a variety of relationships and have your heart broken and break hearts, I don’t know that you can ever build an intimate, understanding relationship with another person,” she says.

Those who have been on both sides of the equation are sometimes sadder but wiser--realizing after the fact that the way a heart is broken can make the mending easier.

Broken hearts occur most often in one’s 20s and 30s, when people tend to try out different relationships before settling down.

“They are especially common from the ages of 28 to 33, when both men and women begin heeding the sound of their biological clock and often push relationships that just aren’t going to work,” says Heinemann, who adds that just as many women as men break hearts.

Another positive thing to be said for broken hearts is that they usually show you what type of person you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with.

“Having your heart broken is a wonderful life lesson that toughens your skin and cleans your rose-colored glasses, which helps you realize what you do want in a relationship,” says Dave, 32, a communications specialist who, like others in this story, asked that his last name not be used.

“My broken heart experiences led me to my wife, who is my soul mate, and that was worth all the pain.”

Dave’s heart was broken a few years ago after a whirlwind romance. “The relationship was pretty intense, and we both initially thought that it would go far,” says Dave, who grew up in Orange County. After a while, though, he realized that he had been changing his personality to fit her needs and that the two really weren’t that compatible.

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“We went away for the weekend, and one morning we just looked at each other and without really speaking, we both knew it just wasn’t going to work out,” he says. “It was kind of a mutual decision, but it really broke my heart. The day after breaking up, I went on a weeklong road trip to sort out my feelings.”

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While most who have done some heartbreaking agree it’s not a pleasant experience, they admit it’s less traumatic than being on the receiving end of the “it’s over” news.

“Having your heart broken is definitely more painful” than breaking someone’s, says Cynthia, 27, an employment representative for a company in Tustin. “When you break up with someone you’re in control, but when you have your heart broken, you have no control.”

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Perhaps because of youthful idealism, the first time someone breaks our heart is often the most painful.

Cynthia’s heart was crushed at the age of 18 by a 30-year-old architect. “He was really sophisticated and took me places I’d never been. I was madly in love with him,” she says. “He could also talk a good line. I had no idea he was sleeping with other people until I walked in on him with someone else.”

For Cynthia, the experience was heart-wrenching. “I was devastated,” she says. “I cried for days while I listened to love songs over and over again. I just really wallowed in it. It took me about six months to get over him.”

Subsequent broken hearts have been easier but are still difficult for Cynthia, whose most recent one came from a relationship with a man she’d been good friends with for 10 years. Because they have always gotten along so well, last year they decided to try dating, but the results, Cynthia says, were disappointing.

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“Although we were best friends, we just didn’t have any passion,” she says, “and that broke my heart, because I’d always dreamed about someday marrying him.”

Today Cynthia says dealing with the risk of having her heart broken again has become bearable because she knows that she’ll fall in love again. “I remind myself that creating great memories is worth the pain in the long run,” she says.

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Getting over a broken heart varies from person to person and relationship to relationship. While some people can’t get past the pain, others simply dive into work and forget.

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Pat, 33, an Aliso Viejo health-care industry trainer, survived several broken hearts before connecting with the man she married four years ago. She says that over the years she reacted in a number of ways to having her heart torn apart. “I did everything from read self-help books, to calm myself with visualization and meditation, to drink too much wine at times,” she says.

Pat got her first broken heart at 22 when she moved out of state to live with her boyfriend. When she found out he was seeing someone else, she was devastated.

“I was naive and blind and had really idealized the relationship,” she says.

After discovering how deceptive he was, she told him to move out, but he refused. The next time he left the apartment, she threw all his possessions on the front porch and changed the locks.

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For Pat, broken hearts haven’t always ended in disappointment, though. Her husband actually broke her heart when they first started dating.

“A couple of months into dating, he wanted to call things off because he didn’t want a serious relationship,” she says. “I was upset, because he was a nice, stable guy, with a lot of the qualities I was looking for in a man. When he told me he wanted to break up, I didn’t freak out. I remained calm and logical and told him that I didn’t think we’d given the relationship enough time. Then we went our separate ways.”

After the breakup, Pat kept occupied with work and other activities and didn’t expect to hear from him again. So she was surprised when he called a month later and asked to see her.

“Although I could have told him to take a hike, I thought, what good will that do?” she says. “So I agreed to meet him and everything ended up working out well. He said that he appreciated me staying level-headed when he broke up with me, because it made him take a good look at himself and re-evaluate his priorities.”

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Not everyone agrees that having a broken heart is worse than giving one.

Dave, the communications specialist, says he prefers the pain he felt over the end of his whirlwind romance to the horrible way he felt after he broke up with someone else.

“I’m your perpetual nice guy, so breaking up with someone was generally worse for me,” he says, recalling one particularly gut-wrenching breakup that left him feeling like the world’s biggest heel.

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“We’d been dating for about five months, and she started talking about the future and how glad she was that I got along so well with her folks,” he says. “At that point I realized that I would never fall in love with her, so I told her that I had no problem continuing the relationship, but I wanted her to know that I didn’t see a future for us. Although she agreed with me, it soon became apparent that she was hoping I’d change my mind.”

To break up with her, he suggested they go for a walk and he told her that he couldn’t continue to see her. “She broke down in tears, and I felt horrible and apologized,” he says. “I didn’t give her the old line that we could still be friends, though.”

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Those who have broken hearts say that there are do’s and don’ts when it comes to plucking out Cupid’s arrow.

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It’s dishonest to prolong the inevitable, they say. For example, if you know before a holiday that you’re going to break up with a person, don’t wait until afterward to tell them so.

“Don’t wait until after Valentine’s Day because you want to soften the blow,” says therapist Heinemann. “Doing so would be dishonest and make the person feel even more foolish once you do break up.”

The best way to end a relationship with someone is to be honest and upfront, Heinemann says.

“Use ‘I’ statements and tell the person that you have really enjoyed his or her company and care for the person deeply, but the relationship isn’t working for you. The secret is to take full responsibility for the breakup, which keeps the person’s self-esteem intact.”

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Although Denise, 33, a human resource manager, has had her heart broken a few times, she tends to be the heartbreaker. She agrees that a person’s self-esteem is the most important consideration.

“When you break up with someone, emphasize the person’s good points and then say that you don’t wish to continue the relationship,” she says. “Make a clean break. Don’t change your mind, no matter what the person’s reaction.”

Facing up to the person may not be easy, but it’s the best thing for both of you in the long run because it gives you a sense of closure, says Denise, who speaks from experience. “Unfortunately, I haven’t always taken my own advice,” she says, recalling a time when she abruptly stopped answering calls from a man she’d been dating for several months.

“We had different expectations from the get-go. He was interested in starting a family, and I just wanted a companion, so after a while I began to feel smothered by him,” she says.

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On several occasions she tried to tell him that things weren’t going well for her, but she couldn’t get the words out. Finally, after she returned from a two-week vacation out of the country, she simply stopped answering his calls.

“That was definitely an uncalled-for thing to do to someone,” she says now. “He’ll always wonder what went wrong. And although that happened almost two years ago, to this day I still feel bad. I cringe when I think of running into him, because I can’t imagine what I would say.”

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Brian, a 29-year-old engineer who is now engaged to be married, was late in appreciating an open approach in breaking off a relationship.

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He ended two relationships when he abruptly stopped calling two women, one he’d been dating for 18 months. Through the grapevine he learned that he’d broken their hearts but didn’t think much of it until he had his own heart broken.

“The woman who broke up with me was upfront and told me that she was going back to her old boyfriend,” he says. “Knowing why she wanted to end our relationship really helped me deal with the breakup. At that time, I began thinking about the women I stopped calling, and I started to feel really bad about that. Now I wish I’d been more honest and open.”

There are times, however, when honesty and kindness doesn’t work.

Jim, 27, an Orange research and development manager, met a woman when he graduated from college who fell in love with him on their first date. It didn’t take him long to realize that they weren’t compatible.

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“We had very different interests, and she was much more ritzy than me,” he says. “I’m more down-to-earth--like bean burritos--and she was like caviar.”

At first Jim tried to tell her nicely that things weren’t working out, but she got upset and announced that she was pregnant. When he said he’d go in for testing with her, she said she’d had a miscarriage. He then wanted to break if off, but she continued to phone him at all hours.

“I eventually started hanging up on her and not returning phone calls because I didn’t know what else to do,” he says.

Then one night she followed him to a bowling alley when he was out with a friend (who later became his wife).

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“My friend told me to just go up to her and tell her off,” he says. “Although it’s against my nature to be mean, I had really had enough, and I told her so. She left, and I haven’t seen her since.”

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Whether you’re being dumped or are doing the dumping, we are really durable creatures, says therapist Heinemann. Although someone fresh from a breakup may scoff at these words, time does indeed heal wounds.

“If you’ve had your heart broken, let it runs its course,” Heinemann says. “And if you’re going to do the heart breaking, do it right.”

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