I came across the movie “(500) Days of Summer” when my best friend was going through his first breakup. We were both freshmen living in West Quad at the time. He was inexperienced in dealing with breakups. I was inexperienced in supporting a friend through a breakup. Given that we didn’t know any better, we did what seemed rational to do: We decided to watch multiple romantic comedies in the bleak hopes that we could find some sort of guidance. We became students of the genre, and as I helped my friend get through the rough of it, we felt that we were adequately equipped to deal with any future heartbreak.
However, two years later, when I found myself nursing my own broken heart, nothing gathered from my rom-com education seemed to help. Sure, I had learned how to be a supportive friend in such situations from past experience. But for myself, I had no idea where to begin. So without a beat, I turned again to “(500) Days of Summer.” I’ve probably seen this movie so many times that, along with listening to Frank Ocean and the Beatles, it has cemented itself as one of my key stages of grief.
I’ve gotten to know the main characters of the movie, Tom and Summer, and the nature of their tumultuous relationship — and eventual breakup — quite well. It pains me to say this now, but I’ve often commiserated with Tom over our respective heartaches. Projecting my own situation onto the movie, I rode the roller coaster ride of emotions alongside Tom and after the film, couldn’t help but wonder why and how Summer took Tom’s heart, stepped on it, tossed it into a trash can and set it on fire. The question of who’s to blame for Tom’s and Summer’s breakup is inevitable. However, for a movie about such an intricate emotion as love, it’s funny that our instinctive reaction to heartbreak is simply picking a side.
I’ve experienced this firsthand. Feeling lost in my own ordeal, I turned to my friends for emotional support. They tried to comfort me by standing by my side, assuring me I was in the right and that she was in the wrong, that she couldn’t appreciate me for who I was and that I could do much better. With the world of online dating making love seemingly more accessible to all, some friends even suggested that I just get a Tinder and move on. We choose sides; we point fingers and we quickly try to rebound, hoping we might mitigate the slow pain of heartache. But these reaffirmations don’t last long.
Soon I found myself trudging into my best friend’s apartment, bemoaning to him the question of why she and I weren’t together anymore. I was determined to know. I would come to him with my wildest conjectures and he would always receive me, liquor in hand. Our conversation would often be an attempt to analyze my every move, trying to figure out where she and I went wrong. Did I come off too strong? Was I not strong enough? Was it because I made fun of her for liking Taco Bell or rooting for Ohio State, even though she goes to Michigan?
By the end, we would usually come to some sort of conclusion, but it would go stale within a couple of days and we would inevitably repeat this process until our patience wore thin. I was fixated on the past, constantly overanalyzing and reevaluating what love meant to me and how I approached it — even in non-romantic contexts. Whenever a close friend told me they love me, a brief awkward silence followed. Anxiety-ridden questions such as “Do they really mean that?” and “Do I say that I love them back?” rushed into my head before I replied back with a meek “same.”
My friend and I ventured on in search of the answer to my own ordeal. Between my experience as an engineering student and his as a philosophy major, we trusted our joint abilities to make a sound argument and get to the bottom of this. I even tried approaching this ordeal as I would a free body diagram. I drew a (verbal) picture; I stated my givens and described the nature of the problem. Instead of using math, my friend would interject with lovelorn passages from Albert Camus or John Donne. However, the factor that we failed to account for is that love is not a rational emotion. Logical reasoning was hopeless in the face of a multifaceted problem. I demanded an answer for where we went wrong, but only approached it from my perspective. I came to realize that Tom, the fictional character that I had projected so much of my emotion onto, had done the same. Like Tom, I had set an expectation for the woman I wanted to be with that was rooted in my own feelings — it was an expectation that failed to consider what she might want or how she might really feel, and frankly, I never really asked her. This left me with mathematical techniques and poetic verses to solve an issue when really, all I should have been more cognizant and attentive of how she felt.
Though at one point in time it would have brought me great satisfaction to get a straightforward answer for this question, I’ve learned to be content with not knowing. As a matter of fact, Tom learns to find comfort in the same sense. Throughout the movie, we see Tom’s flaws and insecurities in his relationship and how he handles his breakup. But what gives me hope is that he grows tremendously by the end of the film. We watch him pick his life back up and gain a more nuanced perspective towards love. Similarly, I would not trade my experience of dealing with heartbreak for anything else. Though flawed at times, the introspection and the time I took, whether it was with friends or by myself, to think about the idiosyncrasies of love are immeasurable. And I’m sure as I live a bit more life, my outlook towards love will continue to grow and evolve, but I will have found a sense of comfort in such uncertainty.
If you’re dealing with heartbreak this Valentine’s Day, I promise you you’ll get through it and inevitably come out the other side better for it. Speaking from experience, heartbreak, though painful, often forces us to grow and learn things about ourselves that we might not have known before. This period of growth is usually littered with a myriad of complicated and difficult questions — most of which you won’t have a simple answer to. But, the ability to find comfort with the unknown through introspection and learning are unparalleled. From one seemingly hopeless romantic to another, though hard to explain at times, I will always believe, or at least have faith, in love. Don’t let anyone or any experience convince you otherwise. Zelda Fitzgerald once said that “Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.” I would like to add that neither have any rom-com directors, philosophers or even engineers.
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