Featured Illustration: Daylight Illustrations
Before I had my heart severely broken, I was a junior in college at the University of Arkansas, living in the Northwest corner of the state. The year was 2016. That summer was a challenging one, as I found myself yearning to be in an intimate relationship more than I ever had before.
Southern hospitality, while not extended to everyone, is very real. Strangers go out of their way to address each other on the streets, acquaintances morph into lifelong friends at “shindigs”, and overall, people are more involved in each other’s lives. In essence, there’s a higher level of camaraderie there than I’ve seen elsewhere in the United States, which includes stints in Pennsylvania and now Illinois. Witnessing this way of life, coupled with constantly being bombarded by engagement notifications on social media and new relationship updates made me more motivated than ever to elevate my dating life to higher heights.
At that point, I’d only dated one girl seriously, so I was somewhat nervous about the prospect of putting myself out there. I eventually got over those nerves, consulting my older brother who, unlike me, has dated innumerable females. Aware of the type of woman I was after, he recommended I check out a local young adult ministry called the Link, so I did. Initially, I went there for Jesus. I ended up leaving that same night distracted after meeting the love of my life — or so I thought.
Her name was Evangeline. To respect her privacy, I won’t use her last name. Though I felt wronged by her, slandering her is the last thing on my mind. When we met that humid night in June of 2016, I was sure she was my future wife. She was tall, fit, and of course, beautiful. I’d never laid eyes on a more attractive Caucasian woman with strawberry blonde hair in my life. More importantly, she came across as someone with a kind, warm heart after sitting a few seats away in the same row I was in and offering me a piece of gum. Orbit sweet mint: I’ll never forget that. I gleefully accepted while simultaneously taking in as much of her as possible. Over the course of the next five months, we got to know one another better, spending more and more time together until we made things official in the fall of that same year.
Our relationship started off like any other, full of good vibes and overwhelmingly positive interactions. One of the most profound memories I have of our time together was the first time I ventured over to her house. Her family lived in a picturesque mansion, the epitome of the American Dream. As a kid from the inner cities who grew up in poverty, I’d never seen a 6,000 square foot home with an adjoining 2,000 square foot guest house (where Evangeline lived) in real life. Call me crazy, but I felt fulfilled — a pretty girl from a wealthy family liked me!
All was well until we took our relationship public. That’s when the foundation we’d built, which I thought was solid, began to show how riddled it was with cracks. Those cracks would eventually make their way up to my heart, obliterating it into millions of fragmented pieces.
The church we attended jointly, Christian Life Cathedral, was once my favorite place on the planet (I’ve since cuts all ties with that institution). In spite of this, it was there that drama, envy, jealousy, preconceived notions, and racism reared their ugly heads — all at once. From prominent leaders close to the top of the church’s hierarchy to newcomers and frequent attendees alike, I found myself subjected to the opinions of other people regarding our relationship on a semi-frequent basis. These individuals chose to meddle in our relationship, sharing their negativity with Evangeline as often as they could, always whenever I was nowhere to be found. Things spiraled out of control, eventually paving the way for name-calling. I was referred to as dangerous, a future murderer, a narcissist, a player, gay (due to my somewhat effeminate nature), and so many other painful, shocking names. All from so-called “religious” people. As crazy as this sounds, with the exception of those painful moments, I was unfazed by their accusations, far-fetched claims, and words because, in the back of my mind, my girlfriend was for me, not against me. I was certain of it. Then, that certainty devolved into a harsh realization — she was never really on my team.
While I was busy defending her honor and attempting to demonstrate to all who’d pay attention that I wasn’t a dangerous guy, that being dark-skinned shouldn’t equate to outlandish preconceived notions about me, my girlfriend was playing both sides. When with me, she shut down any of the negative thoughts I vocalized regarding my concerns about our relationship. When with the nay-sayers, she soaked up their opinions, allowing those who held influential roles in her life to sway how she viewed me in a detrimental fashion. I don’t remember when it started, but one night, while having a somewhat heated conversation, she purged herself of what seemed like months of insinuations others had cast onto her about me. I realized at that moment that she wasn’t who I thought she was — I didn’t have a teammate committed to us winning. I was dating someone who eagerly contributed to the less-than-ideal conversations others had about who I was behind closed doors. Things digressed from that point. In the end, our interracial relationship unraveled at the fourteen-month mark. Not because it couldn’t have worked, but because I was with someone who trusted the opinions of others more than me. Toward the beginning of 2018, I received a letter from her informing me that our relationship had run its course and was over. That’s when immense heartbreak set in.
Pain is usually the body’s way of letting us know that something is amiss and needs to be tended to immediately.
We pay attention to physical pain — aches, cuts, gashes, scrapes, etc., giving these ailments the attention they deserve. Yet, with internal pain, or pain that cannot be seen as readily — like heartbreak — more often than not, we let it remain internalized, allowing it to grow beneath the surface until one of two things usually happens: 1) we grow incredibly bitter as a result or 2) we inevitably blow up, usually finding an innocent scapegoat to take our internal woes out on. Instead of acting this way, I chose to treat my heartbreak like an actual wound, tending to it until it turned into a figurative scar. There was no emotional festering; I felt my feelings to the fullest extent possible. There were many late-night crying sessions, conversations with loved ones and a therapist, and a surfeit of writing sessions in my journal, which has become my go-to method for self-expression and cathartic release. I seldom enjoyed this process, but I was able to rid myself of any and all profound negative feelings, like forcefully wringing out a dirty sponge until it’s clean again. Ironically, I now find myself in a position to turn my writing endeavors into an actual career. Who knew pain could be profitable?
I don’t know if there is a one-size-fits-all approach to recovering from heartbreak that works, as there are varying levels of pain felt in the aftermath. I do know this, however: it isn’t the end of the world, it just feels like it, and that mostly stems from the weight of your emotional pain. Still, like all pain, it can subside with proper treatment and eventually go away, but only with intentional effort. Is it important to take time to grieve? Absolutely! Still, there’s a difference between living in an eternal state of grief compared to feeling it. One leads to cynicism, the other to emotional release. When you choose to confront your emotional pain instead of letting it fester beneath the surface, you’ll start to figure out what sorts of situations to avoid in life because you’ll remember the pain you once felt.
Having my heart broken showed me what I don’t want in life and created the space for me to figure out what I do want and what’s most important. It forced me to stop, reflex, and adjust. By doing so, it also enabled me to find myself, my passions, and perhaps my purpose. I “wholeheartedly” believe it can do the same thing for you… pun intended.