A few years ago I went through an absolutely heart-shredding breakup.
I cried in many, many coffee shops, moved into a tiny apartment, and leaned on my friends a lot. They helped me move all the furniture I bought from Craigslist, listened to my late-night bawling, and baked beer/cheese/bacon cupcakes with me.
Among the various instances of public crying and omg-I-hate-dating, one stands out.
I was sitting at a friend’s kitchen table, a few months post break up, crying (again) about a guy I shouldn’t have been with anyway. It felt embarrassing to be so broken up and worn down by something like the end of a 2.5 year relationship. I had friends who’d lost parents, who’d gone through divorce, miscarriage, foreclosure.
For Pete’s sake, I was teaching English to refugees who had lost their entire families. And the worst thing that had ever happened to me was the fairly mutual end to a short-ish relationship.
Clearly, I’ve lead a charmed life.
I said this to my friend as I sat weeping at her kitchen table. Her reply?
“Your problems are your problems. The fact that other people have different problems doesn’t negate yours. It’s not your fault that this is your first real heartbreak. Knowing that other people are struggling doesn’t make your struggle any easier and pretending you’re fine serves no one.”
It took me a while to really believe her. I am frequently the first person to wink and mutter “first world problems, amiright?” and I’m a big believer in my grandma’s saying “If the whole world put their problems in a pile, you’d be happy to take yours back.” And I maintain that this applies to problems like spilling Ikea caviar onto your laptop or getting a blister from breaking in your Fryes.
There’s little benefit to downplaying your pain – you can’t get past it that way.
There are people starving all over the world. This does not negate your eating disorder.
There are homeless people in every country. This does not negate the fact that your landlord evicted you illegally.
Millions of people have lost their parents. This does not negate the fact that it’s heartbreaking to have an emotionally distant mom or dad.
Much of the world didn’t have the opportunity to attend university. This does not negate your crippling college debt.
Of course, you should count your blessings.
Of course, you should check yourself if you fall apart every time things don’t go your way.
Of course, you should know your audience. Don’t complain about your boss to your chronically unemployed friend.
But know that it’s okay to be sad.
When things end. When someone you trusted hurts you. When life is, inevitably, unfair.
Take some time sit with it. Stop trying to guilt-trip and bargain your way out of it.
Know that some day, in the far and distant future, this will be one of those character-building experiences your mom told you about.And you’ll be able to write a blog post about it.
Do you ever feel guilty for feeling sad? Do you think there’s any merit in comparing your problems to other people’s problems? Has it ever made you feel better?
P.S. How to be less judgmental + more empathetic