Heart-Barfing: A Dialogue

I’ve been thinking about rejection. The loss of my job (which felt so much like being dumped just because the girl wasn’t “feeling it” it’s almost hilarious), applying for work, and of course the ever-looming dread of romantic… disentanglement? I know it sounds like it runs counter to my renewed effort this year to take value in myself and the things I can offer and accomplish, but it doesn’t. Rejection and acceptance are intimately familiar to each other, and by looking inward at why I’ve internalized rejection for most of my life, I’m hoping to find the answer to how I can internalize its much happier, healthier partner.

My dad never really had the chance to coach me through romantic rejection. He coached me through plenty of other emotional turmoils, but not that particular one. I only went through one major heartbreak in high school, and I never brought that up with him. I’m not sure he would’ve had much insight on the subject: he broke up with every girl he dated before my mom, and even their whirlwind romance could best be described by someone who doesn’t love them as “blandly consensual.” But he would have been their for me, because that was what he did.

So last night, instead of doing any of the things I told myself I was going to do (the dogs got fed and walked, that is a thing that happened, don’t worry), I sat down and wrote this dialogue. Someday I will give this advice to someone, and if I’m actually smart I’ll take it as well.

(Sorry in advance for the schmaltz.)


Son: “Hey Dad.”

Dad: “Uh-oh. The talk with Andy didn’t go quite as you hoped, I take it?”

Son: “Nope.”

Dad: “Scootch over.”

Son: “Dad… why does my chest hurt so much?”

Dad: “That’d be the rejection, buddy.”

S: “Obviously. But why does my chest actually hurt?”

D: “Well, what’d you do today?”

S: “Tried to figure out what I was going to say to Andy tonight.”

D: “We’re you supposed to write that thank you letter to Grandma?”

S: “Sorry.”

D: “It’s okay. When you were going over what you wanted to say to Andy, how did you feel? In your chest and stomach?”

S: “I dunno. Tight in my chest, and sort of ropey in the rest of me.”

D: “And I bet it got worse when you biked over to his house, right?”

S: “Yeah. ”

D: “That, my darling, is how it feels to be in love. Your chest feels tight because your heart knows you’re in love, and it’s trying to get out of there, to go out into the world to find that person and to be with them and to be accepted by them—”

S: “He said he doesn’t like boys. He said I’m one of his best friends, but he doesn’t like boys and he’s dating Trisha Plevish.”

D: “—and sometimes, if you’re not lucky, the person you want to give it to doesn’t want your heart, or they can’t take it for whatever reason, or they’re only able to accept part of it, which is what it sounds like Andy was trying to tell you. And when that happens, your heart often won’t get the message right away. So it’s still trying to go somewhere, but now it has nowhere to go.”

S: “I feel like I did the night after we went to that restaurant.”

D: “You’re emotionally constipated. Your heart needs to make the biggest barf of its life, but it can’t so now it’s just moody and miserable and gassy.”

S: “That’s fucking gross, Dad.”

D: “Don’t swear. And it’s how you feel, isn’t it?”

S: “I think so. How do you know all this?”

D: “I had a life before you came along, Lucas. I had a life before I met your mom, which is probably more germane.”

S: “So what am I supposed to do? I don’t know if can talk to Andy anymore.”

D: “Well, maybe take a week. Eventually your heart will catch up with your brain, it’ll settle back down, and you won’t feel like this anymore. And now you know more about him, and he knows more about you, and you can be better friends to each other.”

S: “Will this happen to me again, Dad?”

D: “Many times. You have inherited my easy affection for other people.”

S: “So you’ve doomed me to heart-barfing forever.”

D: “You’re welcome. It’s not as bad as you think.”

S: “Liar.”

D: “Only kinda. Look, I know it sucks crazy super volcanoes right now. And I cannot promise you won’t go through this a hundred more times. But sometimes, and I can promise you this, the person you want to give your heart will take it gladly.”

S: “I hope so.”

D: “I hope so for you to, Lucas. But what you really should hope for, and work towards, is to be with someone who feels just as pressing a need to hork up their feelings and give them to you too, mess and all. Because as shitty—don’t tell Mom—as shitty as you feel in your chest right now, it doesn’t even compare to how it feels to give your heart to someone who’s going to be selfish with it.”

S: “How will I know if he’s the good kind?”

D: “Maybe he’ll tell you, maybe he won’t. What’s important is that you keep taking that chance—and not just to people you… do you know what I mean when I say like like? Is that still a phrase?”

S: “I can figure it out.”

D: “Well, not just to them. Train your heart to feel barfy for everyone: your friends, your enemies, your teachers, your sister.”

S: “Eh.”

D: “Your sister. Give all of them just little shavings of your heart, and accept those pieces in return, and like that tree whose name I can’t remember those stripling hearts will grow and prosper create a vast network of love and vomit and then, if this sort of emotional blockage happens again, you won’t feel so stopped up in here.”

S: “Oh my God, Dad, stop.”

D: “You’re going to be fine.”

S: “I know.”

D: “I heart-barf you, Lucas. Now and forever, until the sun dies out and the world goes cold.”

S: “I heart-barf you, too, Dad. Why do you always add that last part?”

D: “Because. Now, don’t take any of the advice I just gave you literally, or you’ll probably die.”

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