If you work with love, you will hear stories of pain.
The pain of having your partner steal your heart and later leave for good. The pain of beautiful relationships that cooled to ashes.
The pain of wondering whether love is worth it after all.
It can be a disservice to focus on how to get a perfect love while erasing or minimizing all the pain that our quest for love causes us.
We talk about how to love, but we don’t talk about how to lose.
Love is supposed to be a happy ending. When it turns out badly, we got the wrong ending. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
Why did it all go so wrong?
To make matters worse, self-doubt creeps in.
I screw everything up, it whispers. I’m the reason this didn’t work out. I don’t know how anyone can love me.
Love hurts. But the stories we tell about that hurt, the way we make sense of it, and the way we make peace with it, determine how easily our heart loves again.
The Power of Bittersweet
Rom-coms and romance novels wouldn’t feel satisfying if the hero and heroine didn’t fall into each other’s arms at the end.
When love ends in loss, it feels incomplete. It leaves an ache.
And yet something about lost love is so compelling that it inspires heartbreaking music, poetry filled with longing, and art that wrenches your heart.
Author, Susan Cain found that she loved listening to sad music. It gave her chills and touched her heart in a way that happy music couldn’t.
She discovered that many other people also prefer sad songs. A study found that people listen to the sad songs on their playlist 800 times and the happy songs only 175 times.
What was it about the longing for love you could never have, love that’s lost to you forever?
Cain explores that question in her #1 New York Times bestselling book Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole.
Lessons from Loss
Cain found that living in a culture of enforced positivity leads us to be ashamed of sorrow and loss.
We’re not supposed to let our sorrows get to us. Bad things happen to everyone, we’re told. Just move on.
Yet not allowing ourselves to grieve just makes those feelings go underground, where they can emerge in unwanted behaviors.
Pretending like something doesn’t matter doesn’t make it not matter. It just makes us numb and disconnected.
Fully experiencing the pain of loss can feel terrifying. If you allowed yourself to feel, you might worry you’ll never get out of bed again.
But grief passes more quickly when we allow it to take up temporary residence in our heart.
This is where sad music, sad movies, or sad books can help.
Listening to other people’s stories about their own losses reminds us that we are not alone. Loss is not the exception; it’s the rule. The bitter is part of the sweet.
We’re also able to put our own losses into a wider context.
The fact that your love ended in loss is not a verdict on your lovability. It feels personal, but in fact it is universal. Everyone loves and loses, no matter how good they are as a person.
Cain explains that our desire for guarantees—like the certainty of happily-ever-after—is in contradiction to life’s impermanence.
Inside every beautiful moment is the understanding that it will not last.
The relationship you’ll have tomorrow is not the relationship you had yesterday.
The man he is right now is not the man he’ll be in 5 years.
Happiness comes, and happiness goes. It doesn’t stay forever, yet it always comes back.
Turning Your Pain into Meaning
So, when we experience the pain of loss or disappointment, we can think, “This is not what was supposed to happen!”
Or we can tell ourselves, “Ah, yes. This is how life is.”
We can remember our pain when we’re talking to a friend who’s also grieving. We can show up as more compassionate people because of what we’ve been through.
We can use our pain as inspiration to make art, write a social media post, or take positive action in the world.
We can seek out other people who have experienced similar pain. We can hear their stories and share our experiences and know that we are not alone.
Loss is part of the dance of life. It is not a mark of failure. Rather, it is woven into the fabric of what it means to be human.
And the meaning you make of it is an important choice. Choose well.