Heartbreak: Fact or Fiction?

By Mara Shapiro

Andi Garciabr, senior in LAS, had been dating her boyfriend for three months when he broke up with her. She said her now ex-boyfriend thought their futures were going in different directions, and figured ending the relationship sooner rather than later would be easier. Garcia said she considers it her first heartbreak.

“We were hanging out for three months and I already knew I loved this guy. I wanted to constantly buy things for him that I thought he would enjoy,” she said. “I couldn’t freak him out and blurt, “I love you,” but when we broke up I didn’t hold anything back. He told me he felt guilty for not feeling the same way.”

Garcia said she went through emotional pain after the breakup, explaining that she would rely on her dad, friends and roommates for support.

“It’s dealing with the feeling that you’re not wanted. It’s hard to be alone,” she said. “I needed someone to be there. You almost get depressed. I would call them ‘little victories’ when I would get out of bed or walk to class.”

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    Garcia explained she also experienced physical symptoms.

    “I felt like my heart was broken. There was a pain in my chest,” she said. “But nothing is there. It’s all your brain. I felt tired and antisocial.”

    Marie Pritchard, owner and therapist at New Dawn Counseling Center of Central Illinoisbr, said she sees patients of all ages and genders dealing with heartbreak, and physical and emotional symptoms are not uncommon. After a breakup, Pritchard explained that people go through five stages of grief.

    “It’s a grief. Early on, the person is in shock,” she said. “Then they become angry. They don’t know how it happened or how to go on. They don’t know what life will look like without this person. It’s a death of a relationship.”

    Pritchard said people may experience depression, eat or sleep too much or too little, isolate themselves or check out from their lives. She said overall, they are not taking care of themselves.

    It’s common for people to experience their first real heartbreak while in college, according to Pritchard, as the relationships seem more real and adult, as compared to previous relationships in high school.

    “It can be the first time falling in love. There is nothing to compare it to, so it feels like they’re never going to feel that way again,” she said. “People who are going through their second or third breakup know they can get through it and find someone else. (But) the first one just feels like, ‘How can I possibly find someone else after this?’”

    The end of an intimate relationship can cause a loss of identity for someone going through heartbreak, Pritchard explained. She said a heartbroken person has to find new rituals, especially when they end fairly constant communication with their ex. She also said mental illnesses, such as anxiety disorders or depression, can accelerate the symptoms caused by a breakup.

    Chris Fraley, professor of psychology at the Universitybr, also supports the science behind heartbreak. He discussed something called the attachment theory, in his article “Attachment, Loss and Grief,” citing psychologist John Bowlby’sbr research.

    “It is not uncommon for people — even adults — to experience intense yearning for a lost mate, and to continue for some time to find it surprising or disquieting when aspects of the normal routine are interrupted by the attachment figure’s conspicuous but still shocking absence,” Fraley wrote in the article.

    Fraley also wrote that while emotional support is sought after by those experiencing detachment, it doesn’t always help. He discussed that a support network, even made up of close family or friends, does not always fill the void that the ex left. His source for research, Bowlby, claimed that “attachment bonds are person-specific and involve many memories and feelings unique to a history of interactions with that particular person.”

    Garcia said it was hard to go “cold turkey” with her ex, considering they had communicated daily while dating. She said they had to discuss their reactions when they would run into each other post-breakup, because it caused relapses in her heartbreak when she saw him.

    “We agreed that we both could say ‘Hi’ to each other if we ran into each other. Then, we were both at a party and I realized I can’t handle this,” she said. “You’re trying to put on this face that you’re super confident while he continues to hit on every girl at the party. Then, when I left, he texted me … and if it wasn’t for my friend, we would have probably met up to hook up,” Garcia said.

    Pritchard had similar advice for people recovering from a breakup.

    “I tell my patients to take care of themselves. Even though you may not feel like it, try to socialize and rely on your support system,” she said. “Don’t pull the covers up and stop life.”

    Garcia now counsels local young girls and said that they bring up relationships in their discussions.

    “Whether you’re 16 or 21, heartbreak is heartbreak,” Garcia said.

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