Cold Comfort

I don’t want to be petty. I just want my ex to be sitting alone in his room, turning a lamp on and off and wondering how he’s going to live without me.

It’s been two months now, and we’ve had no contact. Word has it he’s dating a lingerie model, a fact that should inspire bulimia and silent rage. It doesn’t. In my mind, there’s still the chance that dating a lingerie model is some male coping mechanism, a sign of his need for distraction, a futile attempt to bury the pain of losing me. Or, she could just be really hot.

Over some tepid diner coffee, I ask a male friend to explain how his gender deals with heartbreak. I tell him what women do – stay in bed for a weekend, write in a journal, go out drinking with girlfriends, throw ourselves at losers, get a radical haircut that makes us look like something you’d see on a “My mother dresses like a slut” Jenny Jones makeover show.

“So, what do guys do?” I ask, looking for just those kinds of sweeping generalizations that really help at times like this.

“Brooding, stalking and porn,” he answers, succinctly.

Brooding, he explains, entails not shaving. Stalking involves driving by her house on the way home from work, just to see if she’s home. Porn just completes the trifecta of the male grief process.

“Elizabeth Kubler-Ross never mentioned that one,” I say, but I think I understand his point.

A week ago at my dance class, a woman came rushing in, eyes red. I overheard snippets of conversation: “he went back to his wife,” “four margaritas last night,” “I was just learning how to be alone,” “cried for three days.” The woman was swarmed with hugs. I wanted to worm into the huddle of comfort, put my arm around her and tell her she’d find someone better; it wasn’t meant to be. I wanted to promise her that guy was sitting alone in the dark, turning a lamp on and off and wondering how he’d live without her. I wanted to lie to her like I wanted my friends to lie to me.

I can’t picture a guy walking into his weekly poker game going, “She left me. I’ve been sitting in bed with my cat, a bottle of wine and a bag of microwave popcorn. Can we just skip the game, so I can talk about my feelings and get some hugs?”

Instead, according to my male friend, comfort from buddies will come in the form of ax-grinding and bad-mouthing. The most sensitive of males will wallow, but most will simply distract themselves.

In a pattern I’ve noticed, using the very unscientific method of observing the guys I know, they seem to have one big, bad heartbreak. The One left them early on, maybe high school, maybe college, and they were broken. They cried themselves to sleep, perhaps tried pathetically to win her back; they hit the gym obsessively; they couldn’t stand to hear a sad song.

After one slam to the heart, they vowed to never experience the hell of heartbreak again. Most guys I know go through it just once before closing the extreme-vulnerability door and latching at least six of the seven locks. The women I know, myself included, will go back to the well again and again.

I envy people who can bury that sadness under the rug. I really do.

“Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole heart don’t know how to laugh, either,” Golda Meir said.

I’ve always thought that was a beautiful sentiment. Still, sometimes a life of whole-hearted emotions can be a roller coaster. Sometimes, I just want off.

My diner friend assures me everyone feels the same pain. Shove it under the rug, and a lump shows up sooner or later. Or a lingerie model. There isn’t enough porn in the world to unhinge the basic human pain and loss mechanism.

“The question is, why do you care? If you don’t want him back, what does it matter whether he feels as badly as you do?” my friend asks.

I clutch my empty mug and let his very good question sink in. I think of the girl in dance class. I think of my ex, a guy who would snap at me one minute and write me love poems the next. I want him to miss me because like anyone, I want to have mattered.

I’m on my millionth heartbreak, and I want to make sure I’m not the only one.

As the waiter refills my coffee cup, I imagine hundreds of waiters at hundreds of diners, pouring coffee for hundreds of people having this same conversation, maybe at this very moment. We’re all wondering, does he miss me? Will we ever be friends? We’re all exhausting the patience of everyone in our lives with this endless, desperate pondering.

And I know, as sure as my coffee will get cold and my heartbreak will get old, I know we’ll all get over it.

Teresa Strasser is a 20-something now on the Web at