Just as love is universal, so is heartbreak. But you may have noticed real life doesn’t always resemble the filmic fantasy of a dainty, white female lead glumly haunting her decadent apartment, draped in white sheets and singing along to 80s ballads while scoffing ice cream. My first real heartbreak hit at university and it was – yes I’m aware of the naivety now – the worst pain I’d ever felt. I was ‘that girl’, overly invested in a one-way situationship, and the aftermath of it all falling to pieces was a new experience.
But suggestions to watch 500 Days of Summer or John Tucker Must Die, get wasted and/or go off the grid just were not cutting it. Instead, thanks to Netflix’s limited selection of classic black films, I risked laptop-throttling viruses to load up films on dodgy sites. From the comfort of my Cath Kidston duvet in boxy uni accommodation, I turned to films like Waiting to Exhale that encouraged me to lean on friends. I switched up my wigs and tried some new colours. I indulged in Caribbean food from Bravos In Bristol, joined new student societies and put myself forward for new roles. But most of all, I just kept it moving.
In a world where “strong black woman” stereotypes persist, we don’t always feel we get the space to process and manage heartbreak in the typically vulnerable ‘film breakup’ ways. But that also opens up room for new breakup rituals, that may well link to specific markers of the diaspora. To find out, I spoke to a group of young women, from DJ and broadcaster Jamz Supernova to sex and relationships TV host Oloni, for their personal insights.
DJ and broadcaster
I was first heartbroken at the tender age of ten, when a ‘boyfriend’ of three years dumped me for one of my friends because she had boobs. My most recent heartbreak was at 22: I found out the guy I’d been seeing since I was 18 had a girlfriend. I thought if I was a good sport and never put pressure on him to be official, he would realise what he had. Turned out, I was a fool.
When encountering heartbreak, I always felt like I could never show the heartbreaker how hurt I really was. So I've had breakup hair dyes, heartbreak fringes and heartbreak weaves. After the last heartbreak I decided to go natural and stop wearing weaves and straightening my hair. I felt like I needed to get used to what I really looked like and accept who I was.
There is an expectation that black women don't get our ‘happily ever after’. We're told this by countless films and see it for ourselves in our mums, aunts, sisters and peers. As a tween, I used to watch films like Mean Girls, Bring It On and 10 Things I Hate About You. I think I always expected heartache to be rectified pretty quickly and for people to get back together. Even in those films, the girls always got the guy in the end!
Presenter and radio personality
Being a black woman definitely shaped the way I experienced heartbreak. Sex and relationships were always taboo at home. I was never given a pep talk, nor did I feel safe to be open about my experiences and emotions so this eventually trickled into my relationships and experiences of heartbreak.
I know this might sound drastic but I automatically assumed that sex and love were the same thing and so my first heartbreak hit like a ton of bricks. He was my first real boyfriend, and took my virginity. According to movies and books, the person you decide to “give your innocence to” is “special”; they’re meant to be The One. Now, with more experience, I no longer believe the unrealistic expectations society has imposed on me about love and virginity.
Coming from a Jamaican household, image is everything. We are taught that people should never see what you’re going through – I can’t have anyone saying “mon look mash-up.” I know we've all heard that ‘success is the best form of revenge’, so how I am perceived is a huge factor in ensuring my healing process goes as smoothly as can be.
Sex and relationships content creator
I feel like black women are told that they have to be stronger and they're not supposed to show emotion. Even when I had conversations with my mum, she would say: “You need to be stronger; you can't allow this to affect you.” I knew she was trying to make me feel better, but I wish I’d been given a bit more sympathy, and told: “Do you know what? It's OK to be sad. It's OK to be miserable.”
I always thought that there'd be a happy ending to heartbreak. I knew you would break up, but eventually I expected you’d get back together, resolve everything, live happily ever after. How wrong I was.
I love listening to music to process a breakup: Sade, Destiny’s Child’s “Through With Love”. Other than that, I believe that if you keep your mind busy, you won't have time to truly start replaying and revisiting old memories. Post-break-up we tend to downplay the bad times and forget why we really broke up. It’s always best not to romanticise a situation.
Singer and rapper
I had a situation where my ex unfortunately passed. He was the love of my life, so it wasn’t only heartbreak but also grief. After he passed, I couldn’t really process it because it was around the time one of my singles was coming out and I just had to boss up and perform at shows.
I went through a phase during my heartbreak where I’d go to this one spot, Lotus Bar, every Wednesday for their event Mix and Blend. I knew the DJs there and it was purely dancehall music. To be honest, when I was growing up I didn’t really think that much about what heartbreak might feel like. I knew it was something dramatic but I never understood the depth of emotion. I always just assumed it was something you performed rather than felt.
Journalist and author
My first heartbreak happened in my mid-twenties. It wasn't like the person was a scumbag or cheated on me or even did anything wrong. We just found out that we were on completely separate pages in terms of what we wanted in life. We decided to break up very amicably, but that almost made it worse, because he was a great guy. It was a very visceral pain because it wasn't like I could tell myself ‘girl, you know you're better off without him!’ or anything like that, because he's actually a very good person.
I have a sister six years older than me, so I'd seen heartache and teenage growing pains several times before I'd experienced them for myself. Looking at her and the older people in my life, I was shown that there was less time to be upset and to navel-gaze. Something that I know me and my friends tend to do is allocate time because we don't feel like we can be miserable indefinitely. There is no time to be crying in toilet stalls like that, it's not a luxury we have. For me, phone conversations have always been a really big thing. When I’m upset and need to offload, I tend to ring each of my friends, as if they’re on shifts, so they don’t get tired of me.