Ask Andrew W.K.: 'What's the Purpose of a Broken Heart?'
Photo by Mario Dane
[Editor's note: Every week, New York City's own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
I've been talking to a girl for about a month now, and I'm really getting feelings for her. Compared to other girls, she really makes me happy to be me. I feel like she's the one. I asked her to the prom with me and she said yes, as long as it wouldn't be too romantic.
Now, to understand where I'm going with this, you have to understand that I met this girl through my mom. My mom is a hairstylist and this girl works at her salon.
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One day, I got a text message from my mom telling me that this girl has no romantic interest in me at all. Now I'm extremely confused and don't know what to do about the prom. Please, Andrew. I need your help.
Your pal, Broken-Hearted Buddy
Dear Broken-Hearted Buddy,
It's going to be OK. I realize how much this can hurt. It's a physical feeling that starts with an ache in your chest and runs all the way down to your stomach and then to your throat and settles in your face. It just so happens that I've been in this exact situation before.
When I was in high school, there was this really beautiful and amazing girl named Becky that I had a huge, huge crush on. I wasn't very popular with her circle of friends, but I did everything I could to try and be around her without seeming creepy. She got a lot of attention from older guys I couldn't really compete with. They were tough and intense, and I knew I could never impress her or get her attention like they did. But I just liked her so much.
Around that same time, I had bought a small accordion and was trying to learn how to play it on my own. I'd hang out in the art class room during lunch break and quietly practice and also work on drawings and assorted school projects. I remember one day going in and seeing Becky eating her lunch in the art room with some of her intense friends. I set up on the other side of the room to work on my accordion and art projects, secretly hoping she would somehow notice me. At some point, all her friends left and she ended up staying in the room. I didn't realize it was just the two of us until she came over and shocked me by saying hello.
I could barely speak or look at her. My ears felt like someone had set them on fire. Despite having stared at her for many hours during our classes, I had never been this close to her. She smelled like my old babysitter — like conditioner and gum. I was so scared but incredibly, incredibly excited. It's very hard to describe the feeling, but I'm sure you're familiar with it. It was like a terrifying experience that you don't want to ever end, even though it's so overwhelming and nerve-racking you feel like you're going to pass out.
She asked me about my accordion. She asked me about my artwork. She asked me about one of our classes. I couldn't believe she was talking to me. It seemed like she really was interested in me. I felt like I was in some alternate dimension. In a way, I was: It was a dimension of pure and natural love surging with bewilderment and terror. I couldn't believe I was living through this experience.
She went with me out to the swing set and we talked more about life. She was so incredibly nice, I had to keep reminding myself this was really happening. She was smiling and laughing and didn't say anything mean or insulting the whole time — just pure kindness. We ended the lunch by hugging and she said I was cool and that we should hang out more. I was delirious.
I coasted on a high for many days. That was definitely the most purely happy I had ever felt. It seemed like everything in the world had shifted. It seemed like now anything was possible. Becky had talked to me and actually liked me. Miracles really did happen. When I'd see her in the halls and in our classes, she would smile and sometimes even say hi. That one small hello could make my entire day. By the end of the week, I had made up my mind to ask her to the school dance.
The amount of courage I had to muster up to ask her out was probably the most exhaustingly brave I'd had to be in my entire life. I was more scared than I would've been jumping off a cliff. To my complete shock and amazement, she said yes. I remember going home that day and really feeling like this was the best life could ever get. I had made it. This was heaven on earth; this was the high point. I couldn't believe that in only a few weeks, I would actually be dancing with Becky, and maybe even kissing. This was too good to be true, wasn't it?
The next day, I'll never forget opening my locker and seeing a small folded-up piece of notebook paper pushed through the vents in the locker door. As I stood there looking at it, I had this undeniable sinking feeling that this little piece of paper was going to be something very bad. Life had gotten too good, and now it was going to all be taken away.
Sure enough, Becky had written me a note on that piece of paper that basically said how nice she thought I was, and how cool and unique and how good at art and music I was, and all these sorts of compliments, but that she really just wanted to be friends, and didn't have romantic feelings for me. She said she'd still go to the prom with me, but didn't want me to think she was leading me on toward something that wasn't going to happen.
To say I was devastated, crushed, mortified, destroyed, and sick to my stomach is an extreme understatement. It took all my willpower not to start full-blown crying right there in the hall. I had to kind of duck my head into my locker until I was sure the tears weren't going to pop out of my tear ducts. My face was red hot. It felt like there was a golf ball in my throat. And I had this unbelievable urge to climb inside my locker and never come out again.
I did everything I could to avoid Becky the rest of the day. When I finally had to confront her, I brushed the whole thing off and tried to sound completely casual and uninterested as I told her that I probably wasn't going to go to the prom anyway. She should just go with her regular friends. I could tell she felt awkward, and she was sort of quiet during that last brief and very uncomfortable interaction. She ended up going with the most obvious tough guy she usually hung out with. I felt like the biggest idiot in the world.
But looking back, I wouldn't have changed a single aspect of the entire experience. It remains one of the most sacred events of my life. It was one of the most intensely wonderful and incredibly painful experiences I ever had. It was also something that I still remember as clearly as though it just happened yesterday, even though it was 22 years ago now. It was my life. It is my life. I don't want to block it out. I want to still be able to feel those feelings, even though thinking about them still hurts in some ways. But it is the feeling of being alive.
This is a chance for you to embrace this painful, wonderful, confusing event as a moment in your life. Be strong and brave and don't let the pain take you away from yourself. There's something valuable in every experience, something useful. Maybe we can't see what it is immediately, but we will over time. Some of life's adventures are very mysterious and don't reveal their value for many years.
I was never really sure what I was supposed to have learned from my experience with that girl — it just seemed like pain. But now I see what the whole point of it was: It happened so that I could share it with you now, and so that I could offer you support from my own life when you're going through a similar struggle. Maybe that was the whole reason it was meant to happen to me. And maybe you'll be able to tell your experience to someone else someday and it will help them.
Stay strong, be brave, be nice. Don't let anything take you away from the inherent goodness in your life. It all counts — all of life counts — even the really hard parts. It's all your life and it's all meaningful.
Your friend, Andrew W.K.
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