When You Have to Keep Your Heartbreak Hidden

My girlfriend broke up with me today. Hardly anyone knows she exists.

Kel Campbell
Human Parts
4 min readJan 25, 2019


Illustration: Malte Mueller/Getty Images

II have a husband. Until this morning, I also had a girlfriend. I’d bet a million dollars that if you and I were in the same room, the air would’ve changed as soon as that sentence left my mouth. You would try to play it cool, of course, and keep all visible signs of shock — wide eyes, restless hands — from telling on you. But in my experience, the show is about as convincing as air freshener in a knocked-over Porta John.

Since we’re not in the same room, you can read on with pearls in hand. Take a deep breath. We’ll get through this together. It’s just non-monogamy. It’s not like I told you I enjoy Puddle of Mudd or something truly contemptible.

Truth be told, I’ve seen all the reactions before, and outright hatred would be a welcome change. When I tell people about my relationships, there’s an undercurrent of accusation that I haven’t found a way to address or refute. The accusations — wrapped up in a thin, degradable tinsel of support — come in varying degrees of forthrightness, but they’re always poking out: That I’m doing my husband wrong. That I’m doing my girlfriend wrong. That I’m some word now that they don’t like having on the tongue — pansexual, swinger, polyamorous, homo-sectial. That one of my relationships is a complete sham. That I’m a liar. That I’m a cheat.

It was easier to stop telling anyone.

Perhaps it can seem seedy, all this non-monogamy business, but in my experience, it has been pure human connection. In this last scenario, it was as far as you can get from greedy debauchery. It was love.

They say love is blind, and I suppose it is more technically rock hard on a chemical high than unable to see, but I think it’s something miraculous. I know, I know. But I do.

You can’t blame me for being sappy. I miss her.

It’s meeting one person and, just with this one person, willfully choosing to look past the clumsy foibles and dark inclinations. It’s not blindness; it is a capacity — a down-to-the-bones strength that arrives out of nowhere at all — to choose the whole of someone regardless. It is so, so scarce to feel a courageous, sure-footed conviction about anything in this world, this place that steals any illusion of assurance or safety with every change, knock on the ass, and disappointment.

Love is a resource of potent good that exists infrequently, vulnerably, and in small supply. But between two people in love, taking in each other’s smell as if it were oxygen, this precious good is thick and luxurious. It comes and comes. Love makes something of nothing — of nobodies — and in the process creates proof of good.

You can’t blame me for being sappy. I miss her. And almost no one knows that she exists.

I told some people, the ones who I know won’t make a whole thing out of it. But my world-at-large won’t ever know her name or look into her eyes or ask me what she does for a living. To 95 percent of my ecosystem, she is a phantom.

Maybe I didn’t tell because of my own cowardice. But I don’t take kindly to the peculiar — but common — sentiment that a relationship not bound by a ring can be shrugged off like a bad night’s sleep. All relationships are exactly the same amount of human. Married or single, with a friend or a lover; it makes no difference. Any true connection is the same in its ability to ravage you, in the best and worst ways.

Experiences are a funny thing. There can be deeply personal moments that belong hidden in one heart and mind alone. But many experiences are, for some reason, inherently bound to others; they exist in their fullest form only when there are witnesses. Love is one of these things. It’s why we get married, I suppose, and why we want to “shout it from the rooftops” when we feel it. Love cannot live under wraps. Love lost certainly can’t.

I came to work today, and I cried. I drank my coffee, and I cried. My husband hugged me and said, “Are you gonna make it, baby?” and — you guessed it — I cried.

But even if this is where I am mentally and emotionally, I will have drinks with a friend later, and she will ask me how I am, and I will say “I’m fine” because I cannot go through seeing the pickled look on her face if I tell her why I am not fine. I will talk to family, and they will ask me what has been going on, and I will say “not a lot” because I cannot tell them that everything that can go on inside a human heart has been going on in mine for some time now. I will travel for work, and my colleagues will ask me about my husband; they will not even know to ask about anything else. For fuck’s sake, I can’t even post a vaguely emotional Facebook status.

I don’t care if you understand how I love, or if you want to judge me. I don’t even care if you care. Here’s all I need from you at this exact moment in time. Are you still there?

I desperately need to claim this relationship, and I need you to be the one to hear it. I just need you to bear witness to a thing: I was in love; she left me.

If you know it, and I know it, it really happened, right?



Kel Campbell
Human Parts

A content and communications pro with words across the internet.