Holly is one of my buddies. I train with her at the gym and have been alongside her as she’s navigated her heartbreak and the changes she’s made to become the incredible woman she is. But seeing it written down has left me speechless. It’s powerful, it’s eloquent and her pain is tangible. I feel humbled she’s chosen to share her experience, her vulnerability and, ultimately, her strength.


  • There are many great ways to describe the pain of heartbreak: a gut punch. A tidal wave. The KT extinction event. Whatever your choice of metaphor, it sucks. You’ve almost certainly been there yourself.

  • Last summer, the only romantic relationship I’ve ever been in – one that spanned the ages of 15 to 31 – ended three months before we were due to get married. It hit me with the force of the six-mile-wide meteor that spelled doom for the dinosaurs. It is the worst thing that’s happened to me.

  • This isn’t the story of how that relationship disintegrated. It was painful and horrible and sad, as these things always are. I did all the things they tell you not to do, as we all do.

  • Instead, this is about how it has felt to carry on.

  • I knew I would survive; pure logic reassured me about that. But I had no idea how much I’d learn about myself – and how much my life has changed since.

  • In the immediate blast radius of the breakup, I wondered if my independence was the problem. I consider myself to have quite a strong sense of who I am, and think it’s a good quality of mine. My ex travelled a lot for work, so I’ve always had a life of my own – we only started living together in 2018.

  • I’d been excited to share my life, and tried to involve my ex in it, but as I went through the pain of cancelling wedding plans and trying to get answers, I wondered if I was too closed off and self-absorbed to let anyone in. It’s a thought that I’ve come to realise wasn’t just wrong – it had been quietly poisoning me for a long time.

  • My independence saved me. In the months that followed, the space my ex left in my life has filled with an exceptional cast of humans. Old friends have been my anchor, and new friendships have blossomed as I’ve had more time and love to give.

  • My friends gave me time and space to feel the dislocation and loss, but I could also let go of worrying what my ex thought about me. I trust all my friends to speak up in a way he didn’t.

  • I deeply appreciated how many friends were ready with a moment to listen or a story of their own to tell. Most of them had been there before, and maybe it’s just my nosiness, but I love hearing a good breakup story. It is inspiring – and highly cathartic – to learn about the pain endured by someone you admire and seeing how they are thriving months or years later.

  • But my independence also masked something about me which the breakup peeled away. I find it extremely hard to be anything but strong.

  • To be truly honest about how I feel, and to ask for help, are things I’ll probably spend the rest of my life working on. I spent years telling myself how lucky and strong I was, and it became a kind of reflective shield: I’m sunny and gregarious, and although I love people, I keep most of them at a safe distance.

  • When I was in a relationship, I became ‘the strong one’. I had little to complain about during lockdown, and about life before then: the last few years have felt like a steady ascent in work, with my social life, and with how I felt about my body (in terms of both finding CrossFit and a growing collection of tattoos). And I had enough external support that I didn’t need to get all my self-assurance from being in a couple.

  • But there are myriad problems with being the strong one. You push through adversity because you think things will be OK, and they usually are in the end. But that only works if the people around you understand that it’s often just a coping mechanism – and you feel they can still make space for you when you feel low under the façade.

  • Looking back, I see how my desperation to maintain stability, particularly during lockdown, was interpreted as selfishness. It is hard enough for me to recognise when I need to show my soft side, let alone expect someone who had run out of tenderness for me to find it. I couldn’t articulate – nor could I have got him to see – the part of me that needed my fears right-sized under the tough outer layer.

  • But the last few months have given me a way into vulnerability. This won’t be new information to anyone who knows me, but beyond giving me a reason to get out of bed every morning, the gym has been my lifeline thanks to the people I’ve got to know through it. It’s also one of the few places my shield gets ripped away.

  • The girls I train with have seen and carried me at my lowest: sleep-deprived, underweight, utterly miserable. But they’ve also seen me at my strongest.

  • At the tail end of last year, on what would have been my wedding day, there was an in-house powerlifting competition.

  • The day started dreadfully. I thought I could barrel through it but I woke up crying, it was freezing cold, I failed multiple lifts. My bravado evaporated. I wanted to give up.

  • But then, for my final lift of the day, I hit my heaviest deadlift yet. And as the barbell left the floor, a shift began. I look back on that moment now as the first, extremely practical, lesson in how being vulnerable is the key to growth. You don’t get stronger if you’re too afraid to bring everything and try for something you might fail at.

  • I went home victorious and exhausted, showered, put on some lipstick and a little black dress. I went out that night to celebrate a best mate’s birthday and felt enveloped with love. I swanned off on a girly holiday in the sun the following week. I started to regroup.

  • I don’t know how long it was going on for, but I realised I had seen myself as some kind of villain in our relationship, undermining my self-worth in the process. When I listen back to music that reminds me of being with my ex, I hear how often I related to songs about being the one who’d done something wrong, or who wasn’t good enough, or needed to make up for their bad behaviour.

  • I’m not perfect, but I’m not broken. I think a drive to be perfect is what prevented me from showing the vulnerability that I thought was weakness.

  • (A week of lying on a sun lounger and listening mostly to Taylor Swift helped with this a lot.)

  • Being alone now is giving me time to own my flaws, but not let them overwrite all that’s good about me anymore. I certainly had a hand in the degradation of our relationship, but he decided to give up. Maybe it was months, maybe it was weeks, but at some point he made up his mind that I was no longer worth it. And I think that actually had very little to do with me.

  • I feel less like I have to apologise for myself now, and have come to see that there is a wider gulf between confidence and arrogance than I used to believe. So although I’m getting to know the darker parts of myself, I’m unashamed to say how proud I am of my successful career, and my friendships with brilliant people, and my curiosity about the world.

  • I came home from the holiday in December knowing I had to adapt in ways that were uncomfortable. I had to be more honest about how I felt and stop trying to be strong the whole time. I think I’ve shocked some people in recent months when I’ve been able to tell them how hurt I have been, because I find it so easy to act like everything is fine.

  • But I realised I was so tired of being strong.

  • It’s impossible to know ahead of time what a disaster will bring out in you, but whatever it does, I think it becomes key to your survival. And sometimes survival isn’t about being the grittiest, or the smartest, or the bravest. It’s about knowing when you’ve given something your all and lost, and letting it go.

  • For me, survival meant finally facing up to how hard it is for me to be vulnerable. It also meant stepping into that small, quiet room of acceptance – whether that’s accepting that I can’t max out my bench press on 4 hours’ sleep, or accepting that it will be too upsetting to put up a Christmas tree, or accepting my former soulmate thinks I am a monster.

  • That makes it sound relatively straightforward, but acceptance is bastard hard. I have no control over how long it will take me to heal. There is no neat finality of ‘getting closure’ – closure is a made-up thing by Steven Spielberg to sell movie tickets. It is one of the biggest swindles in the circus of emotional pain. It doesn’t exist in the real world.

  • As I write this, I’ve just competed in a second powerlifting competition at my gym. It could have been a neat instance of bringing myself some closure, of showing how the story of moving on from heartbreak links with my physical strength building. But this is real life.

  • On the last lift of the day, once again, I went to deadlift – and pulled my hamstring. I banked my warmup score, but the 200kg total lift I’d set my heart on slipped out of my grasp. I was upset, but I know I will eventually reach that goal; there’s just no guarantees about timing.

  • A group of us sat in the sun afterwards and had a beer. I went home and sank into an extremely long bath. I felt so happy about what all my friends had achieved, my own stumble felt like a minor frustration in an otherwise great day. I’ll get to where I want in time. I wish I could have reached back six months and given myself a hug.

  • I am glad that I told myself when the breakup first happened that in three months, six months, nine months, a year, I would gradually feel better. It’s cold logic, but when I look back, I can see how it allowed me to practice being softer.

  • I let myself sob in the shower every morning for weeks, and step away from conversations about engagements and weddings, and emotionally shitpost on Instagram, knowing that I would gradually recover. I would stop crying, I’d stop feeling like something was snatched away from me, my anger would burn itself out.

  • You have to get air to a wound to help it heal – same with heartbreak. You have to air it a little and risk bashing it in order to aid the healing process.

  • Knowing these things take time aided another natural process in me. As a species, we are obligate storytellers. Our memories knit into a grand biographical narrative we each carry in our heads. The way our brains sort through things means the hurt might still be there, but gradually, my mind is transforming my pain from a formless mass of sorrow into a story. A story I can maybe tell someone else at some point when they’re fresh out of a breakup and looking for consolation.

  • It also helps me see this chapter of my life as a turning point rather than a disaster. And that for the first time in a long time, I’m free to decide how the next part goes.

  • I’m free to develop as I wish. I’m free to make mistakes. I am choosing to spend time investigating what makes me happy, and deciding what I really want out of life, and which people I would like to share it with.

  • Before my ex left, I had such a clear idea about what was to come next in our life together, I stopped paying attention to things that might have warned me earlier that something was going wrong. I’m very far from the Disney princess type, but I believed that a marriage proposal was as good as the vows themselves.

  • I got to a point where I couldn’t imagine life any other way. I stopped at nothing to protect a fantasy of perfect mutual unconditional acceptance, dutifully ignoring all the things I should have paid more attention to. It was a horrible way to learn, but it was a lesson in how being the strong one and ploughing on can backfire extremely hard.

  • I still have a very long way to go. My most solid insight at this stage, and therefore the only real advice I have for anyone going through the same, is to get a therapist. A good therapist will act as a kind of accomplice to your healing, an emotional archaeologist who can help you identify the oddities you pull out of the dirt as you excavate your foundations.

  • Therapy is helping me understand myself, and go easier on myself. It helped me see what led to the mistakes I made, but also that anyone could have made them. And that I wasn’t an idiot to have tried to open up, in all my misshapen glory, to someone else.

  • Things will never be the same, but being adapted to just one specific environment sets any creature up for a swift path to extinction. It’s still painful at times, but I know already that I’m better prepared for what comes next in my life. I have irrevocably changed. But in a strange way, I’m evolving into a version of myself that is so much more ‘me’.



–  READ  Hollie de Cruz’s list Surviving Divorce where she openly shares her challenging experience, as well as her strength and humility.

–  READ Life After Divorce by Keira who writes about how her life looks three years down the line after her marriage ended and she became a single parent.

–  READ the powerful list I Left My Abusive Husband in which the writer talks about the unrelenting fear she lived with for years, before the relationship ended.

–  READ one woman’s honest account of the circumstances that lead to her being unfaithful in the list I Had An Affair.

–  READ Gaslighting AKA Psychological Abuse by Elisa, who writes how this abuse can be hard to pinpoint because there is no physical manifestation.

–  LISTEN to Natasha Lunn on But Why? where she talks about Love, the reasons why it fails and the importance of platonic love.

–  LISTEN to But Why? podcast with Helen Thorn, who is one half of the Scummy Mummies, as she frankly discusses Divorce and finding her way heartbreak in the aftermath of her marriage breaking down.



Find submission guidelines here. All writers and topics are welcome.


** ‘But why do adults drink beer and what does it do?’ But why don’t I feel happy all the time?’ and ‘But why do people die and are they just sleeping?’ are some of the tricky questions I tackle in my debut book BUT WHY? which is available to order now and also on audiobook.**

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1 Comment

  • Reply Jane Smyth June 19, 2022 at 11:13 am

    Thank you, Holly, for this courageous list. Navigating between the extremes of co-dependence and hyper-dependence is a theme that’s getting a lot of air time in my group at the moment. A friend shared this quote recently: “Hyper-independence is the result of trauma. ‘I don’t need anybody and must do everything myself’ really means, ‘My ability to trust has been injured by people systematically letting me down and failing me.’ As someone who idealised hyperdependence, this was a challenging reframe for me.

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