When a bowl, teapot or precious vase falls and breaks into a thousand pieces, we throw them away angrily and regretfully. Yet there is an alternative, a Japanese practice that highlights and enhances the breaks thus adding value to the broken object. It’s called Kintsugi: the art of precious scars. This traditional Japanese art uses a precious metal – liquid gold, liquid silver or lacquer dusted with powdered gold – to bring together the pieces of a broken pottery item and at the same time enhance the breaks. The technique consists in joining fragments and giving them a new, more refined aspect. Every repaired piece is unique, because of the randomness with which ceramics shatters and the irregular patterns formed that are enhanced with the use of metals.
Having your heart broken is a lot like that. When your heart shatters into smithereens you get to choose what you do with the fragments.
Most people can’t comprehend this and they suffer immeasurably, with the sadness lasting days, weeks, months and sometimes even years. Because after all, when someone breaks your heart it is the ultimate rejection and we avoid rejection because we don’t like what it says about us. It says we aren’t good enough, it says we aren’t worthy; and we avoid it because worst of all, it feels like it’s validating what we already know; that we’re unlovable and destined to be alone. When our self-esteem is vulnerable, we avoid blows from rejection as if they were knives, stab, stab, stabbing away at our most vital of organs.
The first time someone breaks your heart is always the one that almost kills you; it feels like a combination of being crushed in a garbage compactor while being drowned in hydrochloric acid. The waves of sadness just keep crashing over you like some kind of sorrowful tsunami and just as you pop your head above the melancholic waters to catch your breath, another wave pulverizes you and drags you down into the depths of the abysmal abyss. You have no frame of reference to relate to what this feels like, you don’t possess the mechanics to patch yourself up; and you feel truly and utterly alone.
The first girl that broke my heart was the first girl I was ever in love with and when she left it ruined me. I kept crying like a little bitch, I had to take two weeks off work because I just couldn’t keep it together. Even my parents were worried I was gonna do something stupid and came to stay with me for a while to keep an eye on me, I was a total fucking train wreck. I didn’t think I would ever feel that way about anyone ever again and I bitterly replayed every argument, every nasty thing I said to her in my head for months afterwards to beat myself up about how I had turned something that was totally pure and full of light and totally wonderful into something that was cold, gnarled and horrible.
I threw the pieces of my heart away angrily and regretfully because I just didn’t know any better.
The second beat that my heart skipped was only marginally less painful than the first but was also quite the experience. She announced one day that she wanted to leave as she wasn’t happy and somehow I convinced her to stay until our lease ran up which was still six months away. Can you envisage what it would be like to sleep next to someone, make love to them and carry on like you are still together for that amount of time, knowing that one day the last grain of sand would fall through the hourglass and it would be over? Imagine slowly, excruciatingly tearing off a bandage that is stuck to a wound underneath for six months; that’s what it was like.
While she was adamant she wouldn’t change her mind, I felt sure that if I couldn’t persuade her to stay she would at least succumb to Stockholm Syndrome like some poor woman that had been held hostage for six months and would stick around haha. Amazingly, when the expiry date arrived she did in fact ask me if I thought we should work it out. I had been waiting for over half a year to hear her say those words and wanted nothing more than for her to stay. But somehow I heard myself telling her that I thought she should go, almost like I had no control over it and someone else was talking out of my mouth. I realized later it was because I loved her so much I couldn’t bear to see her unhappy even if it meant we were together. I realized even later again that the universe rewarded me for this selflessness, as all the people I love the most in this city I only met because I let her go. Life is like that.
The last time my heart broke was a relationship that was doomed from the start. I really wanted to have kids and she didn’t, which was a deal breaker for me yet foolishly I pushed on, frantically trying to bash a puzzle piece together that didn’t fit, for fear I wasn’t deserving of one that did. I let it drag on for way too long, but I discovered some extremely important shit in the process. Like how I wanted to be treated by another person and what I wanted in a relationship. I also came to the realization that if the situation isn’t right, nothing else is.
I’m not even sure now why I told you guys all of that. Maybe in the hope it will build some kind of rapport? Kind of like how we listen to sad songs when we are sad. This would seem counter-intuitive, as you’d think you would listen to songs that make you happy instead. But I guess there is some comfort to be had in knowing that someone else has gone through the same thing we have; it makes us feel not so alone. I’m sure every person reading this has their own stories of heartbreak, so possibly you can relate to mine. But maybe you haven’t come to the same conclusions I have which I suppose is the reason I decided to write about this topic a long time ago.
Some of us resist putting ourselves in that situation again, the memory of how much it hurt us resonates through our lives like ripples in a pond when you throw a rock into it. But as a result of this repulsion towards rejection, we simultaneously avoid the very thing that will develop and strengthen our self-esteem; being accepted for who we really are. The thing about that is, it’s not actually other people we yearn to accept us, it’s ourselves.
I often tell women I date stories about my ex-girlfriends, oblivious to the fact it is faux pas and could even be hurtful depending on how strongly the other person feels about me. But in my mind the stories aren’t really about my ex’s, they are about me. Every relationship I’ve had taught me something about myself and the person I want to be and when you find your own truth, it will lead you to the things (and the people) that you love and that will love you back.
What becomes of the broken hearted is ultimately a choice, you can choose. So in spite of everything I choose to put myself out there, to risk my heart being broken again. Knowing full well that I will suffer, but after that I will gather up the pieces and mend them together with gold and create something flawed but quite beautiful. Every heartbreak I experience brings me just that little bit closer to the person who will always love me, will always be on my side and who will never leave me behind – myself.
Heartbreak is the real art of precious scars.