I’ve been thinking about all the different ways that a heart breaks, not just from the big, terrible life blows, but in a hundred little everyday ways. When we reach for someone who doesn’t reach back. When we work up the nerve to say that thing we’ve been holding in our heart, and we are misunderstood, or (worse) unheard. When we trust someone we shouldn’t, love too  much or too soon, look outside ourselves for validation, definition, absolution, worth. When we leap and the net doesn’t appear.

I think maybe it’s the tiny heartbreaks that do the most damage because they so often go untreated, unnoticed by any but the brokenhearted. They don’t require a period of mourning, paperwork, lawyers, or carefully worded settlements. In fact, careful words are rarely a part of the littlest heartbreaks. Instead, everyday heartbreaks are made of slights and misperceptions, the things that get lost in translation. They’re all about the silences and unfilled spaces, fervent lost causes, the sudden realization that what we thought was real isn’t.

I wanted to write about heartbreaks, because they are the inevitable downside to living a love-filled life. They are the reasons some people stop loving, or at least stop loving easily. They are the reason I’ve had to dig deep, talk myself into staying up here, outside the cave, in the middle of my life, getting jostled and bruised and lost and overlooked.

And, I think maybe, they are the proof that we’re doing it right. That we’re staying open – to experience, to joy, to surprise, to expansion – risking our hearts, daring to leap. Truly living.

I believe isolation is the enemy. We’re made to find each other, to reach out, to touch,  affect, to hold and be held. We’re not supposed to be invisible. We’re not supposed to feel alone. And whatever the risk of loving, however painful the heartache, it is worth it because there are also moments of sweet connection, soul to soul, heart to heart.

And as we search for meaning in our lives, I think we should entertain the possibility that the answers we are looking for are there, in our moments of (nearly) fearless love.


  1. C. Fassett on April 18, 2011 at 10:21 am


    • j on April 18, 2011 at 2:26 pm


  2. Rita on April 18, 2011 at 10:29 am

    After what I wrote about last night, this post just brings tears to my eyes and puts joy in my heart. Thank you for writing this. I love when you share what you know of love and when it resonates so loudly. You keep reminding me why I do what I do and why I am who I am. Thank you for that. There really is something to be said for all those little heartbreaks…all the one’s that no one knows about but us…If you could see my heart you’d see all the bandaids…and yet, here I stand. Smiling. Loving. Fearlessly. Thank you. xo

    • j on April 18, 2011 at 2:28 pm

      Grrr. Your name isn’t linking to your blog. But I will go see what you wrote about last night. In the meantime, thank you right back. You are a constant source of exuberant love, and I’m grateful our worlds have collided so beautifully.

  3. Karen L Hogan on April 18, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Judy, We seem to have written on the same theme today.

    • j on April 18, 2011 at 2:28 pm

      I’ll have to check it out.

  4. Julia Munroe Martin on April 18, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    “I wanted to write about heartbreaks, because they are the inevitable downside to living a love-filled life.”

    I’m glad you posted this today — it’s a good reminder to me to not worry so much (like I’m want to do) about whether I’ll have heartbreak or heartache if I reach out or love too much. As you say, it’s inevitable; and isolation really is the enemy. I am working to be more fearless in my love. Thank you!

    • j on April 18, 2011 at 2:33 pm

      Thank you, Julia. I am working on being more fearless too. It may be a continual process. 😉

  5. Estrella Azul on April 18, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Wow, j, this rings so true to my broken-on-a-daily-basis heart!
    You’re right, the big heartbreaks are one thing, but the small ones we live through every day are the ones that go untreated more often than not as unfortunately we’re almost always the only ones who notice.
    It’s like with all wounds – the tiny ones are the ones that hurt most.
    Yet giving your all and loving (nearly) fearlessly is well worth all of it – I’ve found answers in those exact moments.
    Thank you for writing this balm for our small break-wounds!

    • j on April 18, 2011 at 2:44 pm

      Thank you, Estrella. It was a balm for me today too. It came from a bit of a broken place, and was as much for me as for you. (I trusted, and was right, that I’d feel better sharing with you.)

  6. Jeffrey Bennett on April 18, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    I think isolation can be just as important, when taken responsibly, a pill ingested to induce the transfer of blame from others to us, from any other shoulders to our own. There is a process of owning our own pain, and in that process, we come to cherish, not the pain itself but the ways we received it, and the places where it occurred become our shared places.

    This is a specific sort of journey though, and the task to undertake it must be done with much work and commitment.

    Your thoughts are clear, and ring true to the source.

    Like the exchange of elements, like air making little tears in the fabric of its surface tensions, exchanging to gases, the steam that releases the scents of the ghosts, the tea when a boil is reached; we are fortunate when we can allow the world to touch us and work out the shape of the prints.

    It impresses me, when I read your posts I always seem to hear a sound in the background that isn’t in the room I’m sitting in. There is the one room, and the more familiar it becomes, and those others in it, the sounds that ring out draw our attention and we work our way to the source, all the while, rippling in ourselves.

    Reading Zebra Sounds, I come to hear the shuffling of the rest of you, all of us here, in the room together, obtaining our conversations, peeling our layers, sharing our findings. This is a place of good, and you are truly an appropriate host.

    Thank you j.

    • j on April 18, 2011 at 2:42 pm

      I wondered if someone would take up the cause of isolation. 😉 Choosing to step back from the world, complete a journey, heal alone… yes, I can see where that is good. I meant isolation that stems from the fear of being heartbroken… or even the feeling that there is no where we belong, no one we belong with.

      I think too often, out of fear, we wall ourselves off, when what we should do is stand right out in the open and shine. I know I’m speaking from an intensely personal place (we all are), but I know so few people who are truly better off all alone, except maybe, during temporary respites. (In fact, I can’t think of anyone… though my hermit friends my argue otherwise.)

      Your last two paragraphs are like the most poetic reason I could give to anyone who asks me why I blog. Yes. For that. For you. For this conversation that just keeps circling around, feeding my soul, expanding me constantly.

  7. kaleighsomers on April 18, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of heartbreak and what it really means, besides just the obvious cliche we think of when we Google the word. What’s scary (to me) is that you’re right. There’s heartbreak in a million different ways and it’s not just someone breaking someone else’s heart when they’re dating or married. It’s a lot more. I hope your Love Project can help a bit with that.

    • j on April 18, 2011 at 6:10 pm

      Maybe. I suppose everyone who’s participating in the love project, in thinking more about love and connection, will be more cognizant of the hurts they inflict. The thing is heartbreak is unavoidable. Friends leave, we outlive our pets and family members with whom we never come to terms. We believe things we shouldn’t, see things that aren’t there, hang back when we should rush forward, or rush when we should pause.

      I guess I wanted to say that if those heartaches are the price of connection, the price of joy and community and losing yourself in someone’s smile that is meant just for you – a lover’s, a parent’s, a child’s, a friend’s – then okay. I’ll pay that price. I’ll remember it’s worth it. Or I’ll try to. After I cry a little first.

  8. Meg Sweeney on April 18, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Heartbreak and isolation. Very deep. I need another day to sit with these…I know that heartbreak is essential to gain compassion. There is no way around it. And isolation…give me a few more hours, and thanks a million for this post and the comments.

    • j on April 18, 2011 at 6:11 pm

      That sounds sort of horrible… sitting with heartbreak and isolation. Hopefully you just mean to wrap your brain around it. Figure out your stance. I had to do that too. After I shed a few tears. 😉

  9. Jeffrey Bennett on April 18, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    I think I see the difference, j, or I am trying to. I never made the connection to heartbreak, which, of all the pains we transmute might be the least shameful.

    Last time I was heartbroken, I found that I had led myself along paths, that while the territory seemed to shift to a green/blue underbrush, for her it was all in flames, and sometimes vice-versa. As time went on, these little fissures began to develop over the surface of the place that I felt my heart was supposed to be. Little mouths, yawning pain, like little birth birds screaming for a food, and I’m a drop of water in the worm. I can sense that there is pain, or need, and I can feel the kick in the air, the same pull that keeps the earth flying around the sun, but I feel powerless to do any more than try to point to a safe place to stand.

    The only perspective I’ve come away with in these times is one of endurance over time. There is heartbreak, there is time. What you see, from where you stand.

    I think that approximates how I can relate to the feeling of knowing there is no one I belong with. I am one of those people who keeps hearing that line in the movies, “Have you ever needed someone?” and my eyes widen, I look around the room, half expecting people to pop out of the walls and cheer YES!

    No. If there is someone there for me, great. I can’t wait to walk with her, real slow, and catch up. If not, I will gladly sit here, on my stone, and look up every now and again, cheer for the rest of you. I cheer loudly.

    • j on April 18, 2011 at 6:17 pm

      I didn’t really mean “a person,” though that is one of the worst kinds of heartache of all. When I think of the people I belong with, I think of the people who give me big, expansive love. They don’t box me in or demand that I be someone else. I think of the wild creatives, the searchers, the intellectual outlaws, the people who’d rather be hurt loving, then be safe and untouched, alone.

      That wouldn’t be everyone’s definition. It’s just mine. The family I’ve created over time, and continue to create. The ones who stay even if romantic love comes and goes.

      You cheering loudly… that made me smile.

    • lunaJune on April 19, 2011 at 8:22 am

      ” a belief is just a thought you keep thinking ”
      so much of our own heartbreak we make ourselves
      and in the same thought….
      all our joy we create it as well

      the thing I know more that anything is we can survive alone
      but we can not thrive without each other
      the touch of another’s hand upon yours
      mentally as well as physically
      better to reach out and share the uniqueness of ‘you’
      then to stand alone and hold the heartaches of yesterday
      better to feel the sting…. and let it remind you you are alive

      I loved this…

      “Reading Zebra Sounds, I come to hear the shuffling of the rest of you, all of us here, in the room together, obtaining our conversations, peeling our layers, sharing our findings. This is a place of good, and you are truly an appropriate host. ”

      finding ourselves
      sharing our views
      and opening our hearts

      wishing a wonderful heart felt day to all

  10. Meg Sweeney on April 18, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Helen Keller, in light of her condition and the time that she lived, surmised that although she was filled with passion and longing, she would have to redirect her passions, which thankfully she did for the rest of us. I guess the key is that on some level, we are always connected, and romantic love must at last, be transmuted to a higher purpose, definitely not ignored. Anyway, Helen wrote “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength (above defeat).” Note: above defeat was ‘undefeatable’ but I am told that isn’t a word! humph.

  11. j on April 18, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    Wow. You just supplied this Friday’s quote. That’s beautiful. I think sometimes we get too focused on romantic love. Not that romantic love isn’t awesome, and perfectly worthy of focus, but the love that changes the world is bigger than that. It’s about compassion, support, generosity, gratitude, soul. All of which, you know quite a lot about, my friend.

  12. Pam on April 18, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    On the topic of isolation, I’ll just say I think it’s different from solitude. We sometimes seek solitude in which to work things out, or to come back to ourselves after something (or someone) has bent us out of shape. Isolation can be imposed from the outside, or it can be a retreat from involvement. I think the person for whom isolation is the ideal option is quite rare.

    When I was first dating my sweetie, I wrote him a note & used the image of a snail to describe my experience of letting my feelings come out and mingle with his. If something went a bit wrong, my little squishy antennae would curl up & retreat. If something went wrong in a big way, I would be all shell. (Luckily, he did not stop seeing me.) I was trying to learn what I think is always the lesson of heartbreak: I had more love. If we can be brave, we have more love every time.

    • j on April 18, 2011 at 6:35 pm

      Yes! I totally agree. It is the difference between isolation and solitude. I really can’t imagine when isolation would ever feel expansive and right to me. But solitude. There are clearly times for solitude. Thank you for that bit of word mastery!

      I love your snail analogy. Did you draw him a picture? xo

  13. Tall Pajama Man on April 18, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    Ah, that love-hate relationship with the heartbreaks… the proof of a true effort at love, and yet the proof you never want to have… or at least I never want to. It has been said it is better to have loved and lost, but even losing the smallest part is like a paper cut… those seem to hurt the worst cuz you can’t do anything about it. But love and loving is worth it… hard to admit, but I guess in the admitting it validates the focus of such a life.
    (I’m trying to psych myself up to accept the paper cuts for the sake of a love that continues to flow over and through me 🙂 )

    And the whole solitude thing… sure you didn’t write my sermon for me? 🙂

    • j on April 19, 2011 at 11:56 am

      I’m definitely going to go read that sermon. Did you post it at Kidstuph yet?

  14. terrepruitt on April 18, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    Today one of my ending songs in class is “Thank You For Hearing Me” and the last section is something like, thank you for breaking my heart because now I have a strong, strong heart. One of my students said, it’d be nice if we could get a strong heart without it having been broken. And since we were exercising I immediately thought of muscles and said, “Yeah, but that is not how it works.” (because you have to breakdown a muscle in order for it to grow stronger). And unfortunately I think it’s true for hearts too. And I do believe it is better to have loved and lost than to not have love at all.

    Keep living. Yay you!

    • j on April 19, 2011 at 11:57 am

      Interesting correlation. I like that. Physically and metaphorically. We (and our hearts) grow during the repair process. <3

  15. Carey Jones on April 19, 2011 at 12:12 am

    Thank you as always Judy for opening doors in our minds and our hearts . . . our souls 🙂 I hope it is alright to copy lyrics here (below) . . . I sent these words recently to a person I love who is in that sort of isolation you mentioned. When I heard the song, the tears just came without warning. A lot of it’s beauty is also in the expression from the artist (singing) — I’ll be curious to find out if you might know the Songwriter/lyricist. Some of the posting from Jeffrey Bennett made me think of the song also.

    In every heart there is a room
    A sanctuary safe and strong
    To heal the wounds from lovers past
    Until a new one comes along
    I spoke to you in cautious tones
    You answered me with no pretense
    And still I feel I said too much
    My silence is my self defense
    And every time I’ve held a rose
    It seems I only felt the thorns
    And so it goes, and so it goes
    And so will you soon I suppose
    But if my silence made you leave
    Then that would be my worst mistake
    So I will share this room with you
    And you can have this heart to break
    And this is why my eyes are closed
    It’s just as well for all I’ve seen
    And so it goes, and so it goes
    And you’re the only one who knows
    So I would choose to be with you
    That’s if the choice were mine to make
    But you can make decisions too
    And you can have this heart to break
    And so it goes, and so it goes
    And you’re the only one who knows

    • j on April 19, 2011 at 12:01 pm

      I had to look it up. It’s lovely. “My silence is my self-defense…” I think that’s true of most of us. And a habit I am absolutely trying to break.

  16. Michael on April 19, 2011 at 9:27 am

    I understand where Jeffery is coming from. The topography he describes seems very familiar to me, as does the sense that some journeys seem to naturally preclude an ease to finding that special romantic relationship. I get that. I embrace that.

    I also hear you, j, when you say that what yo’re talking about isn’t necessarily the romantic kind of love that makes one relationship preeminent over pretty much all others, but that it includes all the little things, and the friendships, and the joys, and all the ways we can and should connect so that we don’t become that island that Donne said we simply can’t be.

    But another piece of old literature suggested that there are seasons for everything. Like Jeffrey, I can wait for the big fireworks displays. If it happens, it happens; I don’t need to search for it. In the mean time, I’ll enjoy the other ways to connect, the ones that nurture ad build without. And I’ll enjoy the solitude too.

    Still and always, love the way you think, j.

    • j on April 19, 2011 at 12:11 pm

      Romantic love is certainly part of the big picture, a love-filled life. But in this post, I wanted to acknowledge how heartbreaks come in many forms, and only a few are at the hands of a lover. More than any lover, my heart has been broken by family, friends, dreams, my precious truths that turned out not to be so true in the end…

      It’s comforting to me to think of those scars as proof that I am now living the life I want to live. And that if anything, I want to risk more, not less. As for fireworks for you and Jeffrey, I can’t even conceive how that wouldn’t be in the cards, if fireworks are what you want.

      “Still and always…” that made me smile. Thank you.

  17. Becky on April 30, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    I really really love this post.
    There’s a poem by a “modern (?)” spoken word-poetry slam poet named Anis Mojghani. It’s called “Shake The Dust” — a line in it goes something like, “… every time I write, every time I open my eyes it’s like cutting out parts of myself just to give them to you…” I don’t know, the talk of broken hearts made me think of that.
    Well done.

  18. j on May 2, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    I didn’t have time to read (watch) “Shake the Dust” today, but I saved it. I love spoken poetry.

    Thank you, Becky.

  19. Becky on July 25, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately, seems some days I just can’t stop my mind traveling from topic to feeling to emotion — each thought brings a downpour.
    I don’t understand why heartbreaks aren’t repairable. Why can’t where you’re heart is broken be where it is molded back together? Why can’t the diving into the deep end of your absolute worst bullshit and cleaning it up and all that bullshit becomes compost for a new beautiful self — why can’t forgiveness live right there? Why can’t everything work out the way your unfaltering hope knows it should?
    I can’t distinguish between knowing hope exists and throwing in the towel.

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