Finding love after heartbreak

Finding love after heartbreak (esolla, Getty photo illustration)

What becomes of the broken-hearted?

Ask the huddled masses rocking back and forth in the post-breakup pit of despair, when every waking moment (as well as those rare sleeping moments) is spent wondering what went wrong, what they could have done differently and how life can go on without the embrace of their lost lover and best friend, and the outlook is not good.

It will never feel better, they whimper. Ever.

But let a few weeks go by, or a few months — sometimes it takes a few years — and the clouds do part. Hope streams through. Happiness, and often a truer love, waits around the corner.

The best is yet to come, affirm the once broken-hearted, after they've put the pieces back together. A few tales of heartbreaks and their happy endings:

The marriage-phobe

When Lauren Sternberg and her college boyfriend moved in together after six years of dating, she started asking if marriage was in their future. He never wanted to talk about it.

"There was always a reason — money, 'I'm not ready' — but then he'd say, 'I love you and want to be with you,'" Sternberg said. "It left me believing enough that I wasn't wasting my time."

As more friends got engaged, as well as her younger sister, she found herself feeling increasingly sad that her relationship felt like it was moving backward.

"I got to the point where I was crying in the shower by myself," said Sternberg, who was 29 and living in Washington at the time. "I was just in this fog."

After eight years, Sternberg couldn't do it anymore.

Within a week she packed all her stuff in a Penske truck and moved back in with her parents on Long Island, N.Y., where she spent a few too many Friday nights on the couch with her mom watching "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?"

She felt lost and scared. But "my grief was more for the loss of what I hoped would have been, not the reality of what was," she said.

Sternberg threw herself a happy hour to reconnect with old friends, and among those who showed up was a high school acquaintance named Jeremy. Every few months they'd bump into each other at gatherings and talk for hours late into the night.

But Sternberg felt too upset for romance and wanted to figure out who she was outside the context of a relationship. She saw a therapist. She signed up for an oil painting class. She took up running. She traveled to Spain with a girlfriend.

After 10 months, Jeremy finally made a move. The relationship came easy. He came to her parents' house for Christmas the first year. (In the eight years with her ex, they had never spent the holidays with each other's families.) They were married in 2011.

"There was such a difference, it was eye-opening to me that someone cared this much," said Sternberg, now 34, "and was willing to jump through a whole bunch of hoops to make me happy."

The cheater

One of the worst things about betrayal, says Helen Berger, is that "you feel like you're crazy." When she suspected, less than a year after their commitment ceremony, that her partner was cheating, Berger's queries were met by a series of denials until finally she admitted to an affair and said she was torn.

They went to counseling, but it persisted. Berger found herself having panic attacks. She went through her partner's phone records. She checked their joint bank account to look for clues. And yet she still begged for reconciliation.