Who among us hasn’t been in the deepest throes of heartbreak and known exactly what we want to be told, but can’t seem to find anyone to say it? Our own Aafiyah Shaikh, Digital Product Manager here at The Tempest, had enough of that feeling, and did something about it.
Her debut novel, Letters to You, is a love letter to everyone who’s ever had their heart broken and just doesn’t understand why, or how to cope with it.
As someone who’s had their heart broken, I identified with the book, but was particularly drawn to the unique format. Each letter thoughtfully explores a new scenario, starting from “what do I do next? How do I approach the next five days?” to “What happens when my partner has a new girlfriend?” to “How do I deal with seeing them in public?” Something about Shaikh’s advice being written in letter format made it feel all the more personal; in writing the advice she wishes she had received herself, it landed to me as the reader as if she’s gently giving advice directly to me as a friend.
In covering so many different scenarios, Shaikh ends up covering that full lifecycle of heartbreak, from the disappointments in the relationship, the pain of breaking up, to kind of the long slow trudge to moving on. Her book ends on that last celebratory note of finally knowing you’re over someone you thought you’d be attached to for life, but what I appreciated the most was that it still demonstrated how recovery is never truly linear.
Coming out of any relationship – whether it’s a breakup or just a lost friendship – is a messy, ugly process of alternating between waking up one morning and thinking you’re fully healed, and struggling to find the air to breathe the next. Shaikh’s letters embrace you in a warm hug and remind you that you’re not the only one trying to navigate the rollercoaster, and that there is an end in sight.
Eventually, you realize you love the memories more than you love the person in front of you. As Shaikh describes, you eventually hit a point where you realize you like the person that you knew, but the person you knew doesn’t exist anymore – but neither do you, because you’re continuously changing and growing as a person, too.
Not that that growth process isn’t painful, too. It’s certainly a hard pill to swallow when I occasionally remember that there are moments in life that I can no longer share with people I thought would always be my first phone call when anything happens. There are so many times after I’ve parted ways with someone that I’ve had raw insecurities and fears brought up to the surface – what if I don’t ever find someone else to be that first call? Or worse, what if I do find someone and they drop me out of nowhere, too?
And yet, Letters to You reminded me that there’s strength to be found in leaning into the vulnerability. Strength isn’t being upbeat all the time in the face of all adversity; it can also be diving deep inside yourself and learning how to love and respect yourself when it feels like no one else does.
As Shaikh reminds me, the way self-respect manifests itself looks different for everybody – a point she touches on in the nuanced letter “What to Do When He Cheats.” But the end of the day, Shaikh firmly believes that self-respect is just fundamentally being able to look at yourself in the mirror and being able to say I respect me at this moment in time – if I do this at the age of 22, I can look back at myself at the age of 32 and think that even if it’s the wrong decision, I made the best decision for me at the time with the information that I had.
It’s a point I’m continuing to mull over long after reading (and re-reading) Letters to You. I know that I’m going to keep making mistakes and getting hung up on the wrong people, because that’s part of life. But I’m no longer going to hate myself every time someone falls out of my circle.
Instead, I’m going to remind myself of Shaikh’s point – that I trusted myself, I took a worthy risk, and that the even if I ignored useful advice, the people who gave me advice who really care about me will stick around, even if it goes horribly wrong. I’m going to be more self-compassionate, and remind myself that knowing my vulnerabilities and actively working on them is what gives me strength. And then, I’m going to curl up with Letters to You, and enjoy the warm hug of a good letter to help me in my recovery journey.
Letters To You is, undoubtedly, a story of heartbreak. But it’s not the screaming and crying that occurs during or after the fallout. It’s the quiet moments, the ones we don’t see in films. It’s everything that happens in between grieving and learning to be okay again. It’s nurturing your pain, replaying good and bad memories. It’s looking at them through new lenses. It’s learning to rearrange your world as it shifts back onto its axis – yourself, not him. It’s those moments when there is no music playing, no big moment of realization because broken hearts require time and patience to be mended, but they do mend. Letters To You is, above all, a story of strength and triumph, through adversities, against all odds, about finding ourselves again.