“Heartbreak”: Effects of Love and Friendship Endings

A new book, Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey by Florence Williams, and a recent article, “It’s Your Friends Who Break Your Heart” by Jennifer Senior, are highlighted below.

I. Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey by Florence Williams

As one book reviewer states, Heartbreak is about “the physicality of loss”—in the author’s case, caused by divorce after a 25-year marriage. “I was shedding weight I didn’t want to lose, barely sleeping, and my pancreas suddenly stopped producing enough insulin,” states Williams. “I was tipping into diabetes. My body felt like it was plugged into a faulty electrical socket” (Los Angeles Times).

What else motivated Williams to delve deeply into the research about this level of heartbreak? What did she find out? From The Atlantic: “I wanted to know why we feel so operatically sad when a romantic attachment dissolves. What I discovered is that love changes us so deeply—at a physiological level—that when it’s lost, we hurt more than if we had never loved at all.”

More info from a Publishers Weekly review excerpt:

She cites studies showing divorce to be a greater health risk than smoking; hears about experiments on monogamous prairie voles, in which those separated from their partners produce more stress hormones; and learns about ‘broken-heart syndrome,’ the symptoms of which are similar to a heart attack.

Read her NPR interview recap at this link.

II. “It’s Your Friends Who Break Your Heart” by Jennifer Senior

This article’s subtitle resonates: The older we get, the more we need our friends—and the harder it is to keep them.

Senior admits to undergoing a phenomenon she calls “a Great Pandemic Friendship Reckoning,” which she believes most people have experienced as well. But she’d been interested in this topic pre-COVID too.

You lose friends to marriage, to parenthood, to politics—even when you share the same politics. (Political obsessions are a big, underdiscussed friendship-ender in my view, and they seem to only deepen with age.) You lose friends to success, to failure, to flukish strokes of good or ill luck. (Envy, dear God—it’s the mother of all unspeakables in a friendship, the lulu of all shames.) These life changes and upheavals don’t just consume your friends’ time and attention. They often reveal unseemly characterological truths about the people you love most, behaviors and traits you previously hadn’t imagined possible…

Which, she adds, is not even to mention three other biggies: moving, divorce, and death.

The bottom line, of course, is that whether friendships drift apart or come crashing down, hurt and heartbreak are involved. So how can this be prevented?

The problem is that when it comes to friendship, we are ritual-deficient, nearly devoid of rites that force us together. Emily Langan, a Wheaton College professor of communication, argues that we need them. Friendship anniversaries. Regular road trips. Sunday-night phone calls, annual gatherings at the same rental house, whatever it takes. ‘We’re not in the habit of elevating the practices of friendship,’ she says. ‘But they should be similar to what we do for other relationships.’

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