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Being sad about breakups, romantic or otherwise, is one of the many indignities of living and loving. To love someone is to know how to tell their story. And when you finally do, what if the other person suddenly doesn’t need your storytelling anymore? Daring to be happy with someone again takes a lot of time. In the meantime, I personally bury my nose in the books. Baldwin said: “You think your pain and grief is unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was the books that taught me that the things that tormented me the most were the very things that connected me to all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive. And no matter how heartbreaking my heartaches have been in the past, this nudge from our dying world about my vitality quotient has never failed to make me want to bounce back again.
The white paper by Han Kang is about death. Fortunately, I never had to experience the death of a friend. I also haven’t witnessed the enormity of grief that Kang is talking about here. But when I stumbled across it, my friendship with my best friend of nine years was slowly dying. Kang wrote, “We lift our feet from the solid ground of our entire lived life thus far and take this perilous step into the void. Not because we can claim any particular courage, but because there is no other way. Even when I felt like my heart was going to break with such great grief, I was inevitably pushed forward. To begin to accept the slow death of a friendship, not because something drastic had happened but because we were drifting apart, was not brave of me. Rather, it was just an endless wait for adult things to feel less bad.
“There are certain memories that remain inviolate to the ravages of time. And to those of suffering. It’s not true that everything is colored by time and suffering. It’s not true that they ruin everything.
But what to do with the vestiges of this friendship? What about all the magical trivia that could still be learned from the different hats we both shared? I went back to Kang’s book for advice and sure enough, she didn’t disappoint. Kang said, “There are certain memories that remain untouched by the ravages of time. And to those of suffering. It’s not true that everything is colored by time and suffering. It’s not true that they ruin everything. As our friendship has come to its logical conclusion, our life together is still something close to my heart. To be completely honest, I’m not nostalgic for him at all. But I yearn for the kind of youthful certainty we believed in together, that life should be good, that everything would fall into place for the best one day.
I discovered Maggie Nelson’s Bluets in 2019 after the man I was dating decided to break up. Since Bluets has become a songbird the size of a book, reciting the art and antics of loving, which I keep in my pocket. With the man I loved, I was happy enough to know how horrible it was to lose him. But you can’t make someone feel something you want them to feel, so began the process of overcoming an all-pervading love. In Bluets Nelson wrote: “For wishing to forget how much you loved someone – and then actually forgetting – can sometimes feel like the slaughter of a beautiful bird that has chosen, by nothing less than grace, to do of your habitat a habitat. heart.” The idea that he didn’t want what I wanted for us wasn’t as hard to swallow as the fact that resilient as I was, my survival instincts would kick in at any moment, slowly pushing the love I had for him out of memory. As expected, I sought solace in Bluets. Nelson wrote: “I have been trying, for some time now, to find dignity in my loneliness. I found this difficult to do. Of course, it is easier to find your dignity in your solitude. Loneliness is loneliness with a problem.
“Sometimes we cry in front of a mirror not to feel sorry for ourselves, but because we want to feel witness to our despair.”
The loneliness of an entirely ungrounded heart replaces the loneliness of clinging to relationships doomed to collapse. To know that I was not alone, to be disconcerted by the nakedness of loneliness, its inability to attract an audience even when it strives to put on a show, was comforting. But having time to despair of your own loneliness is also a luxury when you have emails to come back to and societal collapse to watch. So once again I looked to Nelson for answers. In Bluets, Nelson further wrote, “We sometimes cry in front of a mirror not to stir up self-pity, but because we want to feel witness to our despair.” The sudden rise of adulthood and the world at large meant that I couldn’t afford to be in a state of perpetual mourning or longing, not like there was much difference between the two. What I did instead was, inspired by Nelson, I cried in front of a mirror for months. The man I’ve been talking about all this time is now reduced to a bittersweet memory in my mind that only comes to the surface once every few months. But time and time again, I start crying again in front of a mirror, because tears always help with dark pains that the tongue is just too depleted to bear.
If you want to read more books about heartbreak, check out 10 Books to Read When You’re Going Through Heartbreak and 5 Heartwarming Books About Friendship Breakups.