By the time we reach our mid-20s, most of us will have gone through at least one hideous, gut-wrenching break-up. I'm not talking about the kind you have at school or uni where you see someone for a few months and then they stop messaging, or one of you kisses someone else, and you feel a bit shit about it. I'm talking about the proper, identity-shaking type of break-up: the ones that feel like illnesses, where you can't eat for months and then do something weird, like get a 70s fringe or adopt a chihuahua.
Writing about break-ups can be difficult because they’re so universal, but also deeply subjective. Your world might feel as though it’s collapsing, but to the next person, it’s just another break-up. If one person knows how to write about modern relationships and heartbreak though, it’s Annie Lord, Vogue columnist, VICE writer and now author of Notes On Heartbreak, her debut book, out today. She writes about intimacy in a way that’s relatable, poetic and makes you think that maybe your own heartbreaks are really as quietly earth-shattering as you thought they were.
Notes On Heartbreak is a memoir about the disintegration of a five-year relationship. It starts with the break-up and goes both backwards and forwards in time, with Lord trying to make sense of things. She confronts her own behaviour. She confronts her ex partner’s. She acknowledges the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories they tell about us, and how the reality of two people is always elusive, or somewhere in between perspectives, or a combination. It’s a sparkling and deliciously indulgent read which gets right into your chest and stays with you afterwards. It’s someone else’s story, but it will make you think about your own.
You can read an exclusive extract from Notes On Heartbreak below.
Just as easily as our relationship reached that place without surprises, the end of it has too. Heartbreak is like a chronic illness I have learned to live with. Knowing which recipes will taste like a Thursday night in with him, what songs will remind me of how we used to dance in the blue of the oven light until the neighbours told us to turn the music down. I have mantras to repeat to myself when it gets bad. He’s not having as much fun as you think he is. You only miss him this badly right now because of hormones.
There are certain procedures I continue to follow, like looking over at a friend’s phone to see if the person who just messaged is him, and if so, is he talking like a happy person? Like a person with a new girlfriend? Rarely do I get that gut-punch sensation now that it’s November; instead, the feeling of loss has come down around me like a cloud, one that people would look up at and say, “Doesn’t look as though the weather’s going to turn.” You’d think in these circumstances I’d think about him less, but at this point he’s on my mind almost constantly, like this bit of food stuck in my teeth that I can’t get out, that is giving me a headache from the way I curl my tongue around to try to get at it. I imagine this is because when humans experience grief they can’t process the pain all in one go. It comes in waves. That’s why there’s denial at first, then guilt, then anger and bargaining, and then there’s depression when you finally start to work through what happened.
I wonder if perhaps he had seasonal depression. He dumped me in August and during that same month the year before he became quite distant from me. Maybe he finds the end of summer sad, and rather than dealing with those emotions he transferred the negative feeling onto me, because getting rid of me was a quick way of changing up his life. And Freud is always talking about mothers so maybe it’s something to do with that. I bend every narrative to suit the one that suggests he still wants me, scrolling down the list of people who have watched my Instagram story to see if he has, because if so then I can tell myself that he hasn’t quite let me go because he still wants to see what I’m up to. If he hasn’t that doesn’t really matter either because I’ll just pretend that he can’t watch my story as it will make him miss me too much.
“Why did he do it?” I ask people, but I never like their answers.
“I feel so aimless nowadays,” I tell my friend Hannah.
“What do you mean?”
I try to explain the sensation but it’s difficult. How many times I go to have a bath, or for a walk, and stop halfway through; turning off the hot tap or pulling the laces back out of my shoes. I can’t stop thinking about how there’s no one there to know that I’ve gone for a bath, or for a walk, and as a result the act of doing one of those things, anything, starts to feel completely pointless. So I turn off the tap or I take off my shoes and curl up at the bottom of the bed, held in a sort of paralysis where all I can do is slide my thumb up and down the screen of my phone.
“You can tell me about that stuff instead,” she says.
“I know, but it’s different with a partner, isn’t it? I’m not exactly gonna ring you every time I see a nice tree or have a friendly interaction with a bus driver. I told Joe all that stuff because we were together all the time. I didn’t worry about boring him.”
Actually, the fear of boring my friends to death isn’t the only reason I don’t talk about these tiny offshoots of experience anymore. I told Joe about my day in this much detail because he was another part of me, and if that other part of me didn’t know what I was doing it felt like only a fraction of an experience. A large part of the enjoyment of doing something was telling him about what happened after it happened, the minutiae of it: thick hot air as the Tube was held at a red signal, me dropping my lighter when I tried to pass it to the man asking for it. I lived life all over again through him and learned each action’s merit through the response it pulled from his body.
Notes on Heartbreak by Annie Lord, published by Trapeze, is available in Hardback, eBook and audio now.