When heartbreak leads to self-discovery

I think the greatest quality in humans that makes them far superior to other creatures is the ability to think and act on their own free will. But there is another ability that makes us unique: the gift of feeling emotions and the capacity to love.

Unconditional love makes you a kid. I feel as if it deprives you of your cognitive ability to judge someone. It clouds your vision to see the shortcomings or negative qualities of a person when you are high on emotions. Love is silly like that. You look for things in a person that are not even there and just exist in your imagination.

Most of you must be familiar with the story of Layla and Majnun. It’s an old story of Arab origin about the 7th-century Arabic poet Qays (Majnun) and his lover Layla.

“This is a story of Layla and Harun-al-Rashid, the famous emperor. Upon hearing that a poet named Qays had fallen hopelessly in love with Layla and lost his mind for her and was therefore named Majnun—the madman—the emperor became very curious about the woman who had caused such misery.

“This Layla must be a very special creature. A woman far superior to all other women. Perhaps she is an enchantress unequaled in beauty and charm,” he thought.

Excited, intrigued, and curious, he played every trick in the book to find a way to see Layla with his own eyes.

Finally, one day they brought Layla to the emperor’s palace. When she took off her veil, the emperor was disillusioned. Not that Layla was ugly, crippled, or old, but she wasn’t extraordinarily attractive either. She was a human being with ordinary human needs and several defects, a simple woman, like countless others.

The emperor did not hide his disappointment. “Are you the one Majnun has been crazy about? Why, you look so ordinary. What is so special about you?”

Layla broke into a smile. “Yes, I am Layla. But you are not Majnun,” she answered. “You have to see me with the eyes of Majnun. Otherwise, you could never solve this mystery called love” (Shafak).

I met N. on the first day of medical school. We were sitting next to each other. At the end of the day, she dropped me home. Since that day, we have been best friends. She has an elder sister, who is two years older than her. Both girls were born after their parents turned 40. The elder sister is a consultant at a reputed hospital now. N. is everything a person can be: tall, pretty, independent, empathetic, lively, intelligent, and caring.

Her parents belong to a small village in Punjab. Although they were quite well off, they were influenced by their old norms and customs despite living in Islamabad for a long time. Both girls did all their schooling at English-medium private schools and colleges and were very confident. Unlike other girls, they always participated in a lot of extracurricular activities and athletics. After the mandatory one-year internship we did together, she chose surgery as a career, and I joined oncology.

N.’s parents always wanted to marry their girls as soon as possible. A few years back, N.’s elder sister got engaged to a very ordinary boy from their village, against her wishes, just on her parents’ will. The wedding invitations had been sent, but the groom’s family backed out on the last day for a silly reason. She was so heartbroken that she left the city and started her specialization in another city. N. was left with her parents in Islamabad. She took great care of them and did everything a son could do.

Now her parents started looking for a suitable match for N. and wanted her to get married. The elder sister was not willing to get married at all. Then, one day, N’s parents found a doctor for her. Her husband-to-be had a huge family and was the only son of his parents. The groom’s family spent very little on their son’s marriage and expected everything from N.’s parents. They were so naive that they continued to meet their son-in-law’s irrational demands. N. even bought her wedding ring with her own money because the groom said he was tight on budget. But still, she was happy, and after their marriage, she fell head over heels in love with her husband. She did everything to make him and his family happy.

After some time, his family started having reservations about everything she did, starting with the way she dressed. Although her dressing was modest, they had no problems with it prior to marriage. The groom’s family members were not considerate and objected to her visits to her parents’ home as well. They did not try to understand that her parents were old now and had no one to take care of them except her. Over time, N.’s husband started blaming her for things that were not in her control. He started to verbally abuse her and her parents over silly things.

She started crying frequently and contacting me often. Over time, the verbal abuse transformed into physical abuse. I tried to reason with her multiple times, but she was madly in love with him and tried her best to save her marriage. In the end, her family took a stand for her, and her parents demanded a divorce from her husband. He was so cruel that he dragged on and delayed this painful process for months, just to torture her. He hired lawyers who tried to malign my friend’s image as best they could.

She never forgets those horrible days when she had literally begged her husband to save the marriage at all costs. He snatched her happiness, shattered her confidence, and she started believing that she was unlovable. She started doubting her own sincerity and self-worth.

Then her parents found a groom for her again. This time, it was a doctor but a real gentleman. She is happy now but unable to get over her past experience. Her trauma has made her vulnerable. She is always doubtful of the compliments given to her by her husband or her in-laws. She starts having crying spells and always relates every new experience to the old ones. I counsel her a lot to forget those bitter memories, but she can’t help herself. Whenever we pass by that court and legal offices, just by chance, she starts getting uncomfortable and always mentions those days when she had waited in the same offices for many days. She tried to get rid of her wedding ring too. Due to the declining gold prices, we were unable to sell it. I never wanted her to throw it in the garbage as it was bought with her own hard-earned money and a lot of love. I bought that ring from her, and it always reminds me of the painful years that my friend had to endure, just in the name of love.

Love is never the way it is portrayed in the movies. We assume that love is something that is simple, joyful, upbeat, and excessively positive whenever someone talks about it, but loving the wrong person can result in heartache, grief, and a lot of pain. It’s like opening your heart and giving someone the power to destroy you, and the regret and shame that follows is another story. It can make you miserable and break you in ways you won’t understand.

Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Heartbreak sometimes serves as the stepping stone into the journey of self-discovery and self-realization. The love we all seek is intrinsic to who we are; it is not dependent upon anyone or anything else outside ourselves. You see, in order to find love, we must go within, uncover all layers of conditioning, and then overcome the darkness to embrace and welcome in our fears and shadows as well as the facets of ourselves that we have rejected, denied, repressed, or even disowned. The truth is that finding love is among the most difficult and demanding journeys one can take in life. These situations are incredibly painful and challenging to handle, particularly when there is a second party involved. But sometimes, these experiences make you realize your own potential, and you become resilient and self-sufficient. Thus, love is not a path for the faint-hearted. Actually, it calls for a great deal of bravery and courage.

I think that real happiness is not at all about getting married, having children, buying the next car, getting the next degree, moving into a bigger house, or earning millions every month. It’s actually about loving and accepting your own self. I think our society has set very difficult and materialistic ideals just in the name of happiness and prosperity. The obsession with marrying female doctors only to doctors is really sick. People think that doctors have the brightest future and can earn a very decent livelihood, but that’s not solely a reason to marry your daughter to doctors only. I have seen disastrous outcomes of these marriages due to the stubbornness and lack of flexibility from one or both of the partners. According to statistics, arranged marriages last longer compared to love marriages because love alone is not enough to make a marriage work. The effort should be equal from both individuals, be it an arranged or love marriage.

Damane Zehra is a radiation oncology resident in Pakistan.


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