In a man’s man’s world, who says there’s no room for Bette Midler?
Heartbreak. At one time or another, whether male or female, we’ve all been there: it’s a normal part of growing up, a normal part of life. But that doesn’t make dealing with it any easier. For many, it is the most painful experience that they will ever have to face.
I’ve dealt with it plenty over the course of my 22-year life. I can remember with perfect clarity the first time my heart was broken—I was four years old, kissing my cat Princess goodbye as the family vet euthanized her. I remember that I cried from that instant up until we got home and my father poured the last shovelful of dirt over her backyard grave, at which point he turned to me and said, “Stop crying. What are you, a little girl?”
And so I stopped. From that point on, I did my best not to cry in front of him or anyone else. When I felt the urge coming on, or the pain coming back, I pushed it down and didn’t let it out until I was certain that nobody was around to hear me. After all, I wasn’t a girl. I was a boy. And boys don’t cry.
That was my first lesson in love, and I learned a lot from it. On the one hand I learned that, if you love something, you’re opening yourself up for a lot of pain; you risk getting hurt. On the other, I learned that society prefers its men stoic. Men are supposed to be strong—physically, mentally, emotionally. They don’t break down over something as foolish as love and the pain it can cause.
I was an unbearably shy child growing up. I was overweight, I didn’t have many friends, and for a long time I was the butt of every bully’s joke. Needless to say, I didn’t have many girls interested in me.
But that’s not to say that I didn’t experience love. I experienced every pain associated with it and none of the joys.
I was the boy who became friends with his crushes, but never anything more. I was the boy who went to dances alone because he didn’t have the courage to ask anyone to go with him. I was the boy who loved from a distance because he was too afraid of getting close. What’s the point? I thought. Who could love someone like me?
I was convinced that there was something wrong with me, that if I could just change something, I would deserve to be loved.
The most obvious problem I could address was my weight, and so in my senior year of high school I crash dieted. I even went through a period of about a month in which I was bulimic. I lost 80 pounds in six months. But it wasn’t enough. There was so much about me that needed to be fixed, I thought, and I just didn’t know what else to do. How could I expect somebody else to love me when I didn’t even love myself?
It was at this low point in my life that I was home alone, listening to the radio, when a song came on that summed up everything I was going through. It brought me to tears as I listened. It’s by Bette Midler, it’s called “The Rose,” and when I say it changed my life, I mean it truly did.
I was in a really dark place at that time, and I hadn’t known how to get out. I had thought about suicide on more than one occasion—I believed that it might be the only way to get rid of the pain that I was feeling. I didn’t think that anybody knew what I was going through, didn’t think that anybody could understand what it was like to be so completely alone, to be so filled with love and have nobody to give it to. And then this song came on and made me realize that I wasn’t alone, that however much I didn’t believe it, I did in fact deserve to be loved.
It’s funny, looking back and saying this now, but Bette Midler saved my life.
In case you aren’t familiar with the song, here are the first eight lines:
Some say love, it is a river
that drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor,
that leaves your soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger,
and endless, aching need.
I say love, it is a flower,
and you, it’s only seed.
The metaphors get gooier and more romantic the longer you listen, and I will be the first person to admit that it is a song aimed towards women. It’s sappy, it’s cliched, it just oozes of estrogen, and I love it. Always will. From the first time I heard it, it’s become my emotional porn of choice.
I turn to this song whenever life and love get me down. When my heart is broken or I find myself questioning the point of it all, it’s “The Rose” that keeps me out of that dark place that I lived in for so long. It’s “The Rose” that finally made me realize that I, like everyone else, deserve to be loved, that I deserve to love myself, and it’s “The Rose” that gave me the courage to go out there and take the chances that need to be taken in order to find happiness.
And you know what? Fine, it may not be the manliest way to deal with a broken heart. But I’ve had friends who have been dumped by their girlfriends who reacted by going out and screwing the first girl that they met. I’ve had friends who went around punching walls and trees and lampposts. And of course I’ve known people to respond to heartbreak by going out and getting shitfaced—my father dealt with emotional issues the same way he dealt with any issue, by hitting the bottle, and I watched his marriage to my mother disintegrate because of it.
I’ve known men react to love problems in all of the ways that it is expected for a man to react, and I can tell you now with all certainty that none of them ever felt better just by going out and having sex with a stranger or by punching inanimate objects or by getting drunk. The only thing that ever makes them feel better is realizing that even though love can hurt, it doesn’t have to hurt forever.
And that’s why I’m talking about this song now. I have, admittedly, kept my affiliation with this song a secret for a long time, quite simply because I was embarrassed. I mean, if men can’t even cry, then no human being that lays claim to testes—no real man—would ever be caught dead listening to this song.
But it’s time to come clean. “The Rose” helped me out of a really dark place, and I don’t know if I ever would have gotten out of it without this song. So I’m done with being quiet about it just because society prefers it that way. I’m sharing my experience with it in hopes that it can help even just one other man climb up out of that hole.
I’m going to end with the last eight lines of the song, for the sole reason that they are awesome lines with which to end an essay on heartbreak:
When the night has been too lonely
and the road has been too long,
and you think that love is only
for the lucky, and the strong,
just remember, in the winter,
far beneathe the bitter snow
lies the seed that with the sun’s love
in the spring becomes the rose.
Just remember guys, it won’t always be this bad, and there’s no shame in crying when it is.
—Photo AP/The Telegraph