Monday, January 19, 2015

The terrible way people shun grief after a breakup

Let’s say you’re about to run your first ultra-marathon - which is usually nothing less than 30 miles. They say it is just as hard and exciting as it sounds.

 A dozen of race medals are already neatly line up on a wooden hanger, in your bedroom, but this one will be special. You want it so badly you spare no effort to assure your success. 

So you prepare your workout gear every night before bedtime, wake up at 5 am to do those grueling tempo-runs before going to office, religiously track macros using fancy apps and chug loads of not-so-tasty protein powder concoctions. Despite sacrifices, pounding the pavement feels right and it gives you a purpose. Running makes you a better friend, a more patient parent, and a supportive co-worker.
People who ran similar distances in the past swear it will be the most difficult, yet rewarding experience of your life. You’ll cry a little, laugh a little and you’ll probably reach some mental breakthroughs along the way. 

Just days before, the race is cancelled without noticed. “Oh, and forget about the refund”, a squeaky voice bluntly announces over the phone. “Why?” “How can it be possible?” “I was so close?” All that enthusiasm bubbling inside you is washed down by an ocean of desolation.

That’s basically how being dumped on the way to the altar must feel. Only multiplied by a thousand. But the traditional way people used to cope with such fiascos (gallons of ice cream and floods of tears) has taken a turn for the better. Or so it seems. 

Between August and December 2014, two men and a woman became famous after going public with their breakups or for calling off their weddings. The more heartbreaking the stories, the more viral they became.
However, it took a lot more than just an e-mail to a producer or editor for an intimate, not to mention pretty common event like a split up between two ordinary people to become a TV sensation. Just like in a romantic comedy plot, they had to convert their own misery into a spectacle that will either make people go “Aww!” or cheerfully shout “Hell, yeah!” 

Take the example of Phil Laboon from Pittsburg.
At the end of August 2014, he appeared on, Daily Mail and even on CBS This Morning, though not because he’s the CEO of an Internet marketing company. Not even close. Mr. Laboon, 32, became widely known as “the guy who broke up with his fiancĂ©e and turned their $15,000 reception into a fundraiser”.  “It was obviously pretty heartbreaking for everybody involved,” he told CBS Pittsburgh, adding that it “ended up becoming a really good scenario". The money he managed to raise went to Surgicorp, an organization providing free surgery in developing countries.

Another guy who became suspiciously generous when suddenly found himself single?  Jordan Axani. This handsome, 28, Canadian guy, came up with an idea that could easily trump many top-notch marketing strategies. His offer? An around-the-world trip, which was initially planned to be taken this past Christmas with his now ex-girlfriend, Elizabeth Gallagher. Changing a name on the ticket was almost impossible, so Axani started looking for a vacation companion with the same name as his previous date and a Canadian passport. “It’s just about a ticket not going to waste”, he explained. The announcement grew famous beyond Canadian borders into America and soon enough he stumble upon a perfect candidate. They are already back, though no signs of love butterflies.

Likewise, Shelby Swink, 23, did interviews for several TV shows including “Today Show” and was featured in several newspapers such as Huffington Post after destroying her wedding dress with paint. This was meant to be a cathartic experience. A counter reaction to being left by her college sweetheart five days before saying “I do” in their hometown, Memphis, Tennessee.

“I felt free of sadness, free of disappointment, free of anger”, she claimed. Pictures of Shelby covered in a rainbow of paint, flexing her biceps like a warrior goddess, are now being used as an example by feminist advocates who call her gesture “empowering”. It’s also philanthropic. The dress was displayed for a few weeks in a local bridal shop in Memphis, which donated a portion of its sales to local nonprofit called Be Free Revolution. 

In the process of healing their love wounds, all three, Laboon, Axani and Swink received hundreds of marriage proposals and gained thousands of Facebook friends; even a movie deal for Axani. That’s not to say they don’t suffer. Quite the opposite actually. After a breakup, any human heart goes through various stages on the road to recovery. One of them being grief. But can they really feel the scientific proven stinging pain in their chests or perhaps get to the roots of their separation while constantly rushing to appear on-air? Can speaking to reporters, no matter how friendly and well-intended, replace the need for a deeper conversation with a specialist? Not really. 

Studies show that grieving, which can take up to several years in case of a death loss, is a normal step when curing heartache, see postdoctoral research at Brown University. More importantly, skipping grief can backfire later. 

“We might like to skip grief, but we cannot. Even when we can temporarily deny our pain, it still exists. It may eventually erupt, maybe at an inappropriate moment or during another upset or illness”, points out Judy Tatelbaum, an expert on overcoming grief and emotional suffering. So, sure, throwing a breakup party with your closest friends and family might be a good idea. Making it a national matter, however, could have the same effect as using pain relieving gels to numb a rooting tooth. It will still hurt like hell after a couple of hours.
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