How To Advise A Man In Love: Do Not
As the old romantic saying almost goes: if you love something, let it go – naturally while retaining a semblance of hope that it will come back.
Is there anything left to say about that over-analysed institution, The Couple? What more worthwhile tidbits can we add to the old, old story? Boy meets girl, blah, blah, blah. Bridget Jones, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Yet, here we are. Love in the 21st century is Schrödinger’s cat, mutating interestingly as we try to reconfigure it for lives led at a different speed, but its power is undiminished, its grip on our hearts tighter as ever. But the fact is: while all the world loves a lover, nobody loves a couple.
The happily-ever-after ends with a wedding, the presumed lovers fading away into the spring sunset, now they just fade away. Couples are uninteresting at best, mundane at worst.
My favourite couple broke up. I am not going to mention names, well, at least not yet. If someone had told me I would have been playing Dr Phil in their tryst, offering morsels of counsel and telling him good-riddance-to-bad-rubbish tropes, I’d have been offended; outraged even. But there it is. And, if you believe in karma, then I guess I’m paying for it all now with egg on my face. They are back together. I didn’t see it, alas.
Pilgrims, I’ve been to the mountain top. I’ve seen the promised land: Hearken to my call—treat your friends’ love relationships as an active crime scene. You will be tempted to offer a shoulder, if you do, offer a cold one. I have always avoided meddling and asking about my friends’ relationships. I never want to be the silent third party, with the obligatory, “How is mamaa?”
When Ajax* (of course not his actual name) hit me up, he sounded broken. His voice was shaky. Normally, he is a very measured guy. “Bro, I have been left.” His exact words. Of course, I knew what it meant. In Shakespearean dramatic flair, I dropped everything to go and comfort him. Ain’t nothing as ugly as the sight of a broken-hearted man.
“Spill the tea!” I wanted to say. “Talk to me?” I said. He poured his heart, and I listened with the care of a man maintaining a pretence of polite interest while milling around a notably disappointing flea market. His heart was the last can of beer, bouncing around an empty cooler in the trunk of a hot car for a while. The contents had been under pressure, and when he finally popped the top, it made a great big mess. It doesn’t matter what you did, or what she did, I thought. It’s over. He asked me what I think. What I think? I thought you’d never ask.
You should have seen me. I had a PowerPoint and a Venn Diagram and a Prezi slide of my valuable input into the(ir) relationship, you know, just in case something got lost in translation. A plus and minus column, you would’ve thought I was the final trifecta in that tryst. I was. As Nassim Taleb would say, I had skin in the game.
Only for them to make up in less than a week? Look, if you are reading this, do not offer your ‘heartfelt’ views on someone’s relationship. Desist. Do not for the love of God tell him what you really think about their relationship. In fact, don’t even confess that you think the chic looked worse and fatter by the time she left the relationship. Because that begs the question, so you have been checking out my girl, eh?
Keep your words terse and avoidant. Deflect all matters of personal opinion, in fact, all you should is play good music and let him beat you on Fifa a game or two. There is a reason God blessed *men only* with the subtle skill of selective hearing. Judge me if you wish – goodness knows I have judged myself over the years.
I remember my first heartbreak. (That implies they have been many. I plead the fifth.) I get it. I really do.
Oh, brother. Getting dumped is the worst. It’s a nuclear Chernobyl of emotions. You will beg them. Dn’t leave me! You’re crazy! It sharpens your deepest insecurities. Everywhere you go, you are reminded about them and every song on the radio is about you. It rips you out of the cozy cocoon of coupledom and drops you right into the middle of Siberia, alone. We all think we are the Big Kahuna so when someone ‘lets you go,’ they are effectively firing you. It is someone looking at you, mulling it over and saying, “No, thanks.” It’s a miracle anyone survives it.
But people do. Not everyone gets to marry their high school sweetheart. Have you ever met someone who married their high school sweetie? Or someone who has never been dumped? Doesn’t it feel like you are talking to half-full human being (or half-empty depending on your personality type)? The pain of a breakup is the tax we pay to live as a full human.
But there are deep lessons to be found in the cracks of a broken heart. It’s a permanent heart marker that when you go to the doctor and they notice a crevice in there, you can aways tell them that’s the door she used when she left your heart.
Advise exceeds demand
Good advice is like a nutrient-rich broth, made from boiling down the bones of life. But advise is the only commodity where the supply exceeds the demand.
I’m not the greatest empath, so when Ajax was groveling, I did what any man would do. I bought food. I cooked mbuzi. I even washed his dishes! This whole heartbreak process is why there is an Adele in the first place. I couldn’t help myself but put on some love songs, just in case the knife in the back wasn’t wedged well enough. Where do broken hearts go? That was a good one. Of course, Carl Storm’s ‘Wake up with you in the morning’ finished him completely, before I sunk him with Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’, completely finishing him. See, lyrics about heartbreak navigate loss and grief and distill it into words, burning with the righteous anger that being hurt can give you. But that’s beside the point. The point being, as James Baldwin would say, you think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.
Advising a man in love is like trying to crack open a coconut with a feather duster: intriguing but pointless. It is absurd – like trying to deal with a river about to burst its banks armed only with a bucket.
If anyone calls me for a pity party, I will greet them with the enthusiasm of the guy who fumbles for his wallet when the bill arrives, but has no intention of actually getting it out.
Because here’s the thing you eventually discover about relationships: you can plan a pretty picnic. But you can’t predict the weather.