The Algorithm at the Heart of Heartbreak

The other day, I was looking through a whole bunch of playlists on iTunes for a tune to dedicate to my better half. And let’s face it, fellas–she really is the better half.

I’m a numbers kind of guy and the right words have always avoided me as though I were a skunk. Speaking of skunk, I rarely say the right thing at the right time. I end up saying hurtful things and I often don’t realise it at the time. And worse still, by the time I do realise it, it is too late to undo the damage.

Oh bugger.

You know that old cliche that, ‘Actions speak louder than words’. I bought into it and believed in it wholeheartedly. That was till I started dating a writer. My careless ways with words were over.

I started secretly reading in the night while she lay asleep in the hopes to one day impress her with my perfectly carved words. Cause that’s what we do when we really start to fall for someone–we try to impress them. And let me just say, when it came to words–I was downright dreadful.

You can count on me to ask the wrong questions at the wrong time and to say the worst thing at the worst possible time. I cannot begin to describe how much damage I unintentionally caused with all the thoughtless things I said.

Who knew words had such weight?

Anyways, coming back to the musical playlists I was looking through. If I can’t find the right words, I pray to God Almighty that someone else–someone far more poetic than me–can help me to voice everything I want to say.

So I started listening to three decades worth of love songs…

And since I am a numbers guy, I started to notice a pattern.

An algorithm at the heart of heartbreak.

On average, a large majority of the songs sung by men go something like, “You were amazing, I did something stupid and now you’re gone and I want you back.’

And on average, a large majority of the songs sung by women go something like, “You were terrible, you did so many stupid things and I’m so glad you’re gone… Oh and by the way, I’m doing fine without you.” To add insult to injury, some of them even added, “The new guy is much better than you!”

Alright, so first things first–I only looked through the most popular songs of the last three decades. While it is not wholly representative of all the music or the myriad of experiences out there–it does indicate the songs that people sing, buy, download or play repeatedly.

As far as pop culture is concerned, this is the algorithm that sells because this is what most of us seem to be going through when it comes to our relationships.

On the surface, the guy still has his career achievements and accolades, but deep down, he wants her back and he’s jealous as hell that she’s moved on to someone who treats her right. And let’s not kid ourselves, we do feel jealous as hell, even if we don’t say it. Most of the guys I know–even the ones who are married–get upset when an ex-girlfriend whom they loved gets married to some other guy.

In either case, it appears that when a heart breaks, it is the guy–and not the girl–who gets left with the short end of the stick.

Sometime back, my better half told me how an ex of hers had moved on to ‘some younger girl’ (standard description) a few months after they broke up. She confided in me that this same guy had never made her feel loved throughout the course of her 3.5 year relationship. That’s a long time to endure that emotion.

I have no doubt he cared about her. But it’s one thing to feel it and another thing to express it. And that too, to express it in a way that both parties can feel happy.

Oh and surprise–she didn’t want him back! The algorithm must be right!

And so I sat down and practised the song that I wanted to sing to her. As the words emerged from my lips, I realised that I had nothing to be afraid of. If Brian McKnight can sing out loud for all the world to hear (and make lots of money doing it) then why couldn’t I just open my mouth and say what my heart longed to say?

I still had no idea how to do it. And I have no doubt that she would not be impressed by my math skills. Unless she was hiring an accounting or finance guy, that is.

So I borrowed McKnight’s words and hoped that in them–she would see my own.

And thank Heavens–she did.


Cracking the algorithm at the heart of heartbreak taught me that I was not alone in my feelings. That I wasn’t the only guy who had screwed up when it came to saying and doing the things I should have.

But it also taught me that if I didn’t fix things, the song on the other side would be the one where she sings, “You were terrible, you did so many stupid things and I’m so glad you’re gone… Oh and by the way, the new guy is much better than you!”

And even if she–God forbid–did say that, then I know that it is pretty much on point as far as the algorithm of heartbreak is concerned.

I’m yet another cliche guy who said and did some terrible things and got royally dumped…

To soothe my ego, I’ll do what all guys do–I’ll spend the evening at the bar with all the other guys who couldn’t get it right and we’ll pretend we’ve got it all going on as we ramble on about work and our impossibly boring careers where we all make more money than we need–or even know what to do with.

Oh–I forgot–lockdown is still in place where I live.

Oh bugger. Better sing that song and sing it right.

Life is too short to lose the only woman you’ll ever love.

Next up, I’m learning to slow dance.

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