The pandemic touched all of our lives. For some of us, it meant a loss of a former way of life. We missed our friends and our families. We missed going to work or school. We missed graduations, parties, and milestones celebrated. And we lost people we loved. It’s safe to say that most of us have felt some heartbreak in the past two years. Florence Williams knows a thing or two about that.
She has literally written the book on it. Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey (W.W. Norton & Company), is her scientific exploration of the subject we all have felt in one way or another. She writes, “Breakups are common, and heartbreak is nearly universal. And yet, it wallops us.” Its effects can be devastating. But as she points out, “If this was such a common and devastating experience, why wasn’t there a validated protocol for recovery beyond weep-dancing while belting out Gloria Gaynor? Where was the research and what did it say? You’d think after a million years of hominins sighing at the moon over lost love, we would have figured this out by now.”
Williams put her skills as a science writer to work and experimented on herself in order to see if she could understand the way heartbreak changes our neurons, our bodies, and our sense of ourselves. Heartbreak traces, through her own story, the general trajectory of the ailment from the moment of shock to grief and loneliness toward a measure of repair. She tells us, “What I found was extraordinary, surprising, and immensely helpful. It would change the way I think about the world, our health, our relationships, and what it means to be human.”
Williams takes us on her intensely personal journey to find healing for her heartbreak after her divorce. Here is some of what she learned.
The last stop on Williams’ journey is the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia. Here she learns that in order to let go of heartbreak, it’s helpful to let go of physical reminders of that pain. Founder Drazen Grubisic says, “It’s such a serious thing and there’s nothing to help with resolution.” To that end, the museum allows people from all over the world to donate their artifacts of heartache and tell their stories. Williams writes, “The artifacts, like the memories they convey, become both enshrined and released at the same time.”