A few weeks ago, a Kenyan social media influencer advertised break up classes. Ms Lydia Mukami, having recently gone through a break up herself, partnered up with Dr Caroline Vundi, a psychiatrist, to offer a workshop called “A Better Break up” where for the price of Ksh 3000, one would learn “the science and psychiatry of heartbreak”. The two-week course included Zoom seminars, a support group on WhatsApp, and a host of resources, including books and exercises, on how to deal with breakups.
The reactions to this were interesting. Some people accused Lydia of monetising her break up, and others just dismissed it as the latest social media gimmick. I wish that those who signed up for it would speak up too because I, too, think it’s an inspired idea.
I would have gladly joined this workshop in 2015 when the pain of heartbreak sent me to my boss’s office, sobbing and hyperventilating, sure that the world had ended. I worked in a busy newsroom with very little privacy, not even in the toilets, which were always occupied. Her office was the one place I could have my meltdown without the entire world witnessing it. She closed the door and patiently watched me cry myself hoarse, listened to the whole sorry story, then offered to go buy me ice cream (thank you so much, Pam, if you’re reading this).
It’s curious how resistant we are to help for people who have been as traumatized as we have been by relationships in this Nairobi. You can’t scroll through twitter on a random Monday morning without tripping over someone’s account of a toxic ex, or of how love generally has always done them dirty. We all agree that it’s tough out there, so why do we scoff at the thought of doing something about it?
We have been socialized to actively work on other areas of our lives except our relationships. Nobody raises an eyebrow at the concept of having a career coach or attending seminars to become a better worker. Events that style themselves as “networking opportunities for busy professionals” have become rote. But god forbid that same degree of care extends to our personal lives. Suddenly we’re weird, and trying too much.
Love and relationships are supposed to come freely. Romance is supposed to just happen.
The right person will find you when you’re not looking (we cringe at publicly admitting we’re on a dating app because ew, have you really been unable to meet someone “organically” like everyone else?), if you are in a relationship and work at it too hard then it might not be the relationship for you (couples therapy? And you’re not even married? Please be serious), if you break up just cry and eat ice cream and drink too much and sleep around until you get over it (therapy is only for serious mental illnesses, not your little break up).
Is it any wonder that we have become so dysfunctional?
There is a collective feeling of ickiness we get from embracing the reality of our humanity, especially the side that is not tied to being a highly functional cog in the capitalism machine. Capitalism has isolated us from ourselves and turned us into drones who only see our value based on our productivity, with no identities outside our jobs and salaries and LinkedIn.
So while we proudly display our latest degree certificate or professional qualification, we’d rather die than publicly admit that we attended a relationship workshop and came away with a working understanding of our emotions and a pass grade on how to be a better partner or friend. To imagine that we could sit in “heartbreak” classes and find them helpful is to recognise just how ill equipped we are to process something as life changing as a break up, and to acknowledge that we need help.
There is no shame, beloveds.
Yes, I have found boyfriends on dating apps. Yes, I have attended couples counseling to try and save a relationship that was not marriage. And, yes, while I did not sign up for Lydia’s heartbreak class, I have found solace on my therapist’s couch after yet another relationship bit the dust. There, I said it, and I did not die. In fact, I might be a better person for it – I haven’t cried in anyone’s office since 2015. There are no prizes to be won for going through this life as an entire stranger to yourself. Just more heartbreak down the road.
I think that monetising heartbreak is brilliant, actually. The same way retired presidents can make millions off speakers’ circuits, and write books that fly off the shelves, so too should we regular folks be able to make money off our life-defining events, be it heartbreak, or parenthood, or whatever. Capitalism demands it.