I got an email the other day that I am not at liberty to post. In short, it was by a brokenhearted woman who is dating again and thinks that in order to have a relationship with a new man, she must make herself "vulnerable." Now, "vulnus" means wound, and it strikes me that this woman needs to heal the wounds so recently inflicted on her heart before she does any such thing. And I am deeply suspicious of any view of male-female romance relationship that talks about a need to accept wounds anyway. The essence of trusting a guy with your heart is a deeply informed and correct opinion, formed over time, that the guy isn't going to reject you
If anything, the male-female romance relationship is the LAST relationship where you need to court vulnerability. Vulnerability is for mentors and protegees, bosses and employees, teachers and students, editors and the edited. When you hand over your intellectual work, or your creative work, or your paid work, to someone for evaluation, you are pretty darn vulnerable. And you have to take whatever is said by mentor, boss, teacher or editor on the chin. And mentor, boss, teacher or editor will have to field your reaction. It used to be said that men could accept that their work was something separate from themselves, but women took criticism of their work personally. I don't believe that: I think we ALL take it personally, and most of us have to work to A) become detached B) accept justifiable criticism.
"Don't despair when you see all the red," said Polish Pretend Son last night, as he prepared to embrace the beckoning Edinburgh night. He was talking about his correction of my "Teolgia Kobietości" essay, and since I have corrected the English in any number of essays, I thought, "Hey! That's my line!" I was highly amused, and this morning I am even more amused to read Polish Pretend Son's comments. The reasons for my wondeful detachment are that I completely trust Polish Pretend Son's opinions regarding Polish style, and at this point I have few expectations of my Polish prose. As Polish Pretend Son pointed out, there's quite a distance between reading Julek i Julka and translating theology into Polish.
But imagine if I were a great Polish stylist, and my ego was wrapped up in my ability to turn out Polish prose. Perhaps I had won a gold medal in university for it, or something. And, flushed with the compliments of my teachers and professors, I wrote a masterful book about the Polish countryside, and all over Poland, critics tore it to bits. My professors backtracked. My friends who said they liked my book were obviously lying. Would I, heartbroken, be handing over my essay to Polish Pretend Son within six months and snickering at the sea of red and the snarky remarks about my alleged linguistic feminism? No. I would be weeping in my coffee.
In short, if you get your heart smashed, the last thing you want to do is make it "vulnerable" to some man again. And you shouldn't want to. Your heart needs a good healing, it needs to be as detached from the opinions of strangers as I am from my Polish prose, and you need to get your equilibrium back before you pop back out into the world with an eye to attracting suitors. It takes as long as it takes. However, I think there is one way to speed things up.
Travel across a body of water, preferably an ocean. There are study programs and work programs for foreigners under 30, and if you are over 30, well, a ten day holiday in Tuscany, religiously saved for out of your earnings, can work wonders. Oh, and go alone. I forgot to mention that part. If going alone is too scary, sign up with a tour group you'll meet up with when you get there, wherever there is. The idea is to go away from the scene of your heartbreak into a totally new place, a place with no memories of the ex, and ample opportunities to put your adult skills of self-reliance to the test. (If you go with a female friend. you will talk to her about the ex, which defeats the purpose of this exercise.) If you are forced to speak another language, so much the better. Reading maps, asking strangers questions, finding food, finding shelter--your brain will be too crowded to contemplate your aching heart and every time you achieve something, you will feel like you have scored a goal.
"I have fallen in the shower, and I need some ice," said Seraphic, age 27, in Italian to a hotel receptionist over the phone somewhere outside Venice, and not only did the ice ease my aching limb, it soothed my wounded heart. Look what I can do!
If you really, really, cannot leave home now or within any imaginable length of time (but if in England, why not France? If in New England, why not Quebec?), then I recommend you find something new to do. Take a night school class, particularly in a language. Take a second job, part-time, somewhere you think is cool--cafe in an art gallery, office in a charity. Do something that speaks to your sense of adventure to remind it that romance is not the only adventure.
And I think this really goes to the heart of what was wrong with my attitude to romance when I was growing up. For a long time, romance was the only adventure for most women. If one doesn't work out, well then, start another. And another. And another. And unsurprisingly, this gets old. It gets boring. Serial monogamy, even if completely chaste, gets to be a drag. And if you are now shouting "Yes!" at the computer, then why not get off the old treadmill of romance? Find another adventure. Get out of Dodge. Take a night class. Get a second job. Try a martial art. Challenge yourself to something utterly new and absorbing. Not only will you heal, you'll grow.