You can actually die of a broken heart. It’s called “broken heart syndrome”, or, more scientifically, “stress-induced cardiomyopathy”. Don’t worry, I don’t think we’ll be dying from teenage heartbreaks! But the point is that it is a matter to be taken seriously.
“Broken heart” is a metaphor for the intense emotional stress or pain you feel when you experience great and deep longing. Usually, it refers to a lost lover. I’m sure most people would take teenage heartbreak pretty seriously (the vast wealth of teen romance films certainly do), but I know there may be some who think it silly. Like I said in my last blog, some adults may view teen relationships not as “real” relationships, but, patronisingly, as “practise” relationships. Some people marry their school sweethearts, but most don’t, and so most parents look at their teenager’s relationship as no big deal.
I know my friends joke about the fact that if you were going out before you were 15/16, “it doesn’t really count”, but I think age is irrelevant. What matters is how mature you are. Though most of my friends look back at their very early relationships and laugh, some, like me, look back and say that the emotions they felt at the time were so real.
Lots of people say you need to experience heartbreak to really experience life. And most people probably do. So, most people will know - it’s awful. And, like I’ve just said, age doesn’t affect that. I have never experienced anything as emotionally intense as when my heart was broken. Now I look back and wonder why, but I know that at the time it was life-changing.
I felt really down. Not just upset; it was like being in a constant bad mood, but that mood was sad instead of angry. It was like my life was all a show – I had to put on a happy face, and get on with school, and deal with my family, when really it felt like I was breaking down inside. I lost a lot of weight, which was a noticeable, physical side-effect. Other than that, I don’t know if anyone knew just how depressed I really felt. I know my friends have felt the same; my friend who’s a few years older than me went through a serious breakup after a year or so at university, and said he’s never felt so awful in his life. But he sort of only recognised that in hindsight. At the time, I don’t think it’s that you don’t feel like you can open up. And it’s not that you don’t feel like your friends will understand, or like you can’t burden them. It’s just all too much to put into words sometimes.
However, lots of teenagers would probably feel like they can’t open up when it comes to their parents. For so many reasons – for me, it would be because it felt silly, especially if they didn’t view it as a “serious” relationship because I was so young. I did tell my Mum pretty much everything when I broke up with my first boyfriend, though. And I think she expected me to be sad for a week or so, but I don’t know if she knows I was quite severely depressed for about two months. (She probably does, because she’s my Mum, but my Dad certainly didn’t! And I don’t think anyone else from my family really knew anything either). But some people might not have this luxury. Or even if they do, they might not want to talk to about it. Or once you do talk about it, that’s it. It’s all out on the table, it’s all been said. But nothing’s changed emotionally.
So, as parents, what can you do to help when teenage heartbreak hits? If my friend was going through a bad breakup, I would support them unconditionally for a while. Buy them chocolate, go and watch rom coms with them while eating ice cream and crying. Take them out. Basically, replace whoever they were with. But after a while, you have to get back to real life. And then I start to be harsher. Not harsh, but harsher. Tell them the truth; you just have to wait. This too shall pass. It will take time, but you just have to actually wait for the time to pass. And that’s bloody crap, but it’s life.
If I was a parent, I guess I would probably do the same. But I do think that for teenagers, friends are more important for this sort of thing. Because it just feels like they’d understand better. So, to be a really good parent, maybe try suggesting or even help organising seeing friends more. And the right ones. A toxic friend is not a friend during a breakup. But if a friend can’t be there, be the friend. When I broke up with my boyfriend, I was meant to be going to the cinema with him that day and we’d already bought the tickets. He offered to reimburse me for them, but I said don’t worry. And I went to go and see the film with my Mum. We spoke about the breakup the whole drive there, concluded it was for the best, and he wasn’t actually that great, but that it would still be sad for a bit (losing someone that important from your life always is). Then we bought a lot of pick’n’mix and popcorn, and watched the film. It felt good.
Just, yeah. Distract from the abyss so they don’t fall into it. Even just watching some TV, going for a walk. Anything. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t push them. Whether you talk about it or not, eventually, they’ll just have to get over it if they want to move on with their lives.
And the reason I mentioned the weight I lost is because: make sure they’re ok, though. If they don’t want to talk about it, fine. But don’t let them do anything to harm themselves. Sounds silly, because it’s so obvious and simple, but I know a friend who took up smoking to try and get through a breakup, and one who went out and got blackout drunk every time. Just check they’re alright, eating the right things, taking care of themselves (if they have an intense skincare routine, make sure they keep it up; they can’t drop things that are important to them). Again, sounds like simple, obvious advice, but I think that’s all you can really do. And it’s really, really important you do. And if you do it in the right way, it can make a huge difference.
Thank you for reading!