Or do we start to care less?
I heard the voice of Carrie Bradshaw as I typed those words and part of me wants to gaze pensively out the window, cursor flickering on the screen, as she always did after asking the monumental questions; but my bedroom window overlooks a rather desolate parking lot instead of the bustling streets of New York City, and I don't have the shenanigans of four fabulous but wildly different girlfriends to muse over, so I'll refrain.
Instead, I'll try to answer the question.
My first love ended unbelievably badly (as they tend to). I wasn't even close to ready for the relationship to be over, and for the first few months my known universe was shattered into a kaleidoscope of heartbreaking, blinding fragments - I had no idea how to make sense of it. I didn't want to either; I just wanted to go back, to return to a time when I was undoubtedly loved. We rarely, if ever, get the opportunity to move backwards though, and all the time wishing for it doesn't make it anymore of a reality.
I can't describe the pain I felt because I am so far removed from it now that it's hard to imagine, and because the only words I would use seem disgustingly dramatic now. But it was dramatic. It hurt for what felt like lifetimes. The breakup was it's own infinity; it seemed to last much longer than the relationship even did.
For lots of reasons, I lived with his family for over a year after we broke up. And while he wasn't always home, it was a surreal and horrifying experience when he was. To watch someone no longer love you, and to realize it not once but repeatedly, is one of few experiences that completely break the human spirit. It was in the way his glance would slide right off me when before it would linger, in his complete indifference to my presence, in the absence of all the things he used to do.
With clarity, I remember the moment I found the love letter from another girl. This, above every other moment in the preceding months, was stark betrayal. Letters had littered our entire relationship: across oceans when I returned to England, unsure of when I would return; across states when he left for college, and I agreed to be the one who waited. They were the language of our love, to me, and here he was sharing it with a stranger.
I thought my heart would break. Not figuratively, literally. The physical pain of that moment made my heart feel like it was on fire, and I feared, while trying to remember how to breathe, that it would burst. Heartbreak syndrome is a thing, and patients have experienced the exact same symptoms of a heart attack when they experience a deep loss. Heartbreak can kill you if you succumb to it; if not entirely, parts of you do die.
I survived, but at what cost?
I can't imagine feeling the kind of connection to another human being that the loss of them would cause my heart to burst. Well, that's not entirely true. I can imagine feeling that about a child; I do feel that way about my family members. But about romantic partners? I don't think so. Sometimes my heart will burn with that familiar pain, but unlike when it would consume me, now a quiet voice murmurs: "this too shall pass". Soon, my heart has resumed it's normal rhythms, and the fire becomes little more than a dull ache - uncomfortable? Yes. Heartbreaking? No.
I feel less breakable now, and I don't know whether it's because things no longer hurt as much as they used to, or if I have started to care less. I can handle it if they don't hurt as much anymore, if this is the natural evolution of growing up: with naivety goes the capacity to be destroyed by another person. But if it is that I care less, I worry that I am growing into a robot. If I care less then I love less and that definitely means I live less.
There is another option though. It could be that I have started to accept the Way Things Are - less resistance, less struggle. Not passivity, but an acknowledgement that change is constant and that circumstances are sometimes beyond my control. I resisted against that first heartbreak SO much; I didn't want to be a heartbroken girl and it made me break more. But now I find that I can always return to my unchanging center for a measure of peace; it feels as if there is an island within me untroubled by the chaos of change. I always know one simple truth: neither the loss nor gain of a relationship can make or break me. I am always infinitely loved.
Maybe the answer to both questions is no. It neither hurts less nor do we care less as we grow up. Rather, we recognize our ability to choose. We can decide to explore the infinities within that first moment of raw, unadulterated pain, or we can experience that moment fully and then move on. We can choose to be any number of things, and circumstance may shape us but it does not have the last say on who we are.