We all deserve the same chances at love and heartbreak.

Heartbreak, it’s a universal experience isn’t it? It is something every single one of us has suffered at some point and will suffer again. Oh, we can try to believe we won’t experience it again, do everything to plan around it’s eventuality but it happens, there is no avoiding it.

Now there are lots of different types of heartbreak but the heartbreak I’m talking about here is the heartbreak of love in all of its different degrees.  On one end there is the heartbreak of disappointment over a new or potential relationship that just didn’t pan out. On the other end there is the heartbreak caused by the end of a marriage, which for those who have been through it can only be described as devastation or even a death. This is the heartbreak that comes with having planned your life with and around someone, the heartbreak that causes change to every single part of your life. This is the type of heartbreak that uproots your children, causes you to sell your home and to change your plans for retirement. In between the heartbreak of disappointment and the heartbreak of devastation are a million other types of heartbreaks, each one unique to the people who are suffering them and each one painful in their own way.

I’ve suffered many of those, as have most of us have, in one way or another. The hardest of course to end is a marriage because it affects your entire family and its future. It picks up your world, gives it a good shake and then dumps it back out again, pieces scattered everywhere. I still can’t say that I have entirely recovered from my last divorce. In fact, I know that I haven’t. But I have moved on, tried love again, failed again, salvaged what I could and kept walking.

So once again I find myself these last few weeks suffering a heartbreak.  A person I love dearly is leaving, moving on, and I am left to try to make sense of it all, learn a few lessons, become a better person, blah blah blah. Some days it hardly seems worth it, to open up to other people. Yet, what choice do we have really? We can grow old and bitter and alone or we can be open to love and the possibility of heartbreak. What we have to remember is that even if it doesn’t last forever, it brings with it joy, it adds richness to our life, it comes with new experiences and happy moments. Yes, it often ends and certainly we would wish to avoid that but it is what makes us human isn’t it? The need to love and be loved in all forms is what makes us who we are. In the long run we can’t help ourselves. Before we know it we will find ourselves once again with feelings for someone, opening ourselves up to hurt all over again.

What I have thought about this week are the labels that society has put on my relationships and the meaning behind them. I can tell you “I am divorced” and you immediately recognize the pain and depth of that experience. I can say “my boyfriend and I broke up” and you recognize that as another type of pain. Someone can say “I am a widow” and you know instantly the wrenching heartbreak they have suffered. While I would prefer that we not label relationships it simply is what it is. If I meet someone and she tells me she is married, I immediately know what that means, that behind her lies a committed and loving long term relationship.

What that means for my friends in same-sex relationships is that there are no universally recognized terms to describe their life situations. If someone tells you they are in a “committed relationship” with a partner it simply doesn’t hold the same meaning as saying they are married. Society doesn’t ascribe the same definition it does to the term marriage. Not only does it not come with the same legal rights but it does not come with the same respect for the family behind the term.

The same is true when a relationships ends. I have had friends who have experienced “divorce” in the same way I have. They have had to move with their children, redefine their family, sell their home and re-plan for their future. This period in their lives was as painful and devastating as my divorce yet there was no recognizable word to describe their pain and suffering. Often, there also wasn’t the same respect from others that their pain would have received if they could have said they were “divorced.”

While I have experienced both success and failure in my own relationships, I have always been free to define them how I choose. I have always been free to marry or not. My relationships have been respected and understood simply because of the term “marriage.” The legitimacy of my children’s family has never been questioned.

And that’s all I want for my friends as well, the ability to be able to define their relationships and their family in ways that society can understand. I want their choices and their dreams to be respected in the same way mine were. And if in the end it doesn’t work out, I want people to understand that their divorce is just as painful, just as life altering as any of ours were. I want them to have the same chance to succeed or fail at marriage that I had because love is part of our human experience. Heartbreak is part of our human experience. Denying anyone a chance at either is saying that their experiences are less than ours, that in fact they themselves are somehow less.

While I don’t wish anyone heartbreak, I wish them a level playing field. I wish them the same chances that the rest of us have had to live happily ever after or not. Please think about it, and then Vote Yes on Question One in Maine.

Karen Foley

About Karen Foley

Karen Foley, has successfully been writing her blog for the BDN since May 2011. By successful, she means a few people read it, and she has not been sued, stalked or fired since starting it.