Hayley Quinn begins her captivating Ted Talk with the catchphrase, “So, let me tell you a love story. Once upon a time…” As you might guess, at first the plot unraveled as many love stories go. She met a guy, he was perfect, they fell in love. Hayley believed they would spend the rest of their lives together. He was tall, dark, a bit famous, and smart. Fast forward a few months, and in her weakest moment, this “perfect” guy abandoned her, while she was unable get out of bed, drowning in the sadness of miscarrying their baby and the sheer sting of rejection. She reflects, in those moments, after the excitement, joy, and fantasy, she had nothing. Cogitating, Hayley says, “I was a magnet for chaos,” because when she was in chaos, she didn’t have to face who she knew herself to be. On that day, however, she realized that she wasn’t truly alone, because because after all, she had herself. And that meant she had to finally face herself.
Hayley’s story is a testament to how many of us need to change our unhealthy approach to love. I believe in intimacy and human connection, and have found it to be incredibly fulfilling. However, the way we approach it, as Hayley demonstrates, makes all the difference. If we continue to chase love, as though it is the “ultimate solution to ourselves,” under the misconception that it makes our past okay, solidifies our direction for the future, and fills every new day with excitement and meaning, we are almost always already pursuing a toxic relationship. As Hayley says, love is oftentimes used as an act of escapism, and the ultimate distraction to fixing ourselves, and doing what is needed to make us happy. To fix how we’re feeling, we have to stop running from the past, chasing someone new, consuming ourselves with social media to distract ourselves with others’ fake-perfect lives, jumping from one chaotic relationship to the next, or simply serial dating around every city we visit. As Hayley says, “I think, sometimes, the melodrama of love takes us further away, rather than closer, to who we actually are.”
I found myself watching this Ted Talk in the midst of my third painful breakup, and as I watched, I felt the least alone since, well, forever. Unbeknownst to me, I had always sought this type of exotic love. Subconsciously, I desired that these romances would fill me with a love I had never been provided. As Hayley says, “It’s because our eyes are off ourselves, we’re looking for that next adventure, that greener grass, that new person, so we don’t have to deal with any of that stuff.” I know that she’s 100% correct, at least in my personal experience. (Preach!) My first true love was from boarding school, and we met when we were fifteen years old. He was half Mexican, half English, and his foreign background added the very spark I was looking for. I imagined myself living with him in Mexico City and all over Europe. When we broke up, I was single for a bit, but then jumped into an even more exotic relationship with a guy from Ecuador, where I had spent a semester abroad. This relationship was tumultuous to say the least; we had really high high’s, but the low’s were unbearable. Shortly after ending this passionate romance, I jumped into a comforting relationship with someone I already knew, someone my friends call “white toast”. By that, they meant that he was kind, warm, and funny, but so boring. When this love didn’t distract me from what I had been running from for years, I literally lost it. I battled with anxiety, found myself on a medication that left me severely depressed, and that very person left me when I was at my lowest. It’s been about five months now, and when someone runs towards me with love, I am now the one to run away. I run the other way because at twenty-four, I want to think about my needs, my wants, my past, and all the things that are stopping me from being happy. Nowadays, I go to therapy at least once a month, enjoy staying in on the weekends with a cold glass of wine and a good book, invest in friendships that have been there through the good and bad, and while coming to peace with the past, I’m learning to love myself despite those imperfections. After all, at the end of the day, we have to live with no one but ourselves forever.
Thanks, Hayley, for having the courage to speak out about something so unbelievably universal, yet oftentimes uncomfortable. I am beyond grateful for the energy and time you’ve put into answering my questions about your experiences, reflections and insights.
Miss Independent: In recounting your story of separation, you mentioned that when you were at your weakest, he left. You also said that you would’ve followed him to the ends of the earth. I think many women (and men) are often busy chasing others who don’t give them even close to what they deserve. Oftentimes, we want so badly just to be in a relationship that we could care less if they are actually fulfilling our most basic (or more specific) needs. What advice / self-reflection would you provide around demanding what you deserve from a relationship / not settling for less? What would you say about those partners that leave in the moments we need them most?
Hayley: A relationship doesn’t make us any more complete or valuable as human beings. There can be tremendous social pressure to be in a relationship. In fact when you feel calm, stable and fulfilled solo you are in a much better position to work out who is able to add value to your life. A good barometer for this is how supported you feel in other areas of your life: the stability you get from your romantic relationship should help your social and professional relationships to thrive. If the heady intensity of your on / off relationship are in fact detracting from this: get out. Also early on look out for tells about how reliable a partner is going to be to you. Cancelled dates, not helping you prep for that important meeting, showing inconsideration to your time should all be screened out early on. Remember people show who they are in the small gestures, and the most important qualities you need in a relationship – WAY MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE SPARK – are trust, connection, safety and acceptance.
Miss Independent: You recounted, when you realized he had left, that at the end of all that love, you felt you had nothing. Do you still believe this to be true? From your experience, what can we take away from our breakups to better ourselves?
Hayley: Big break ups can feel awful, no doubt. However sometimes they act as a cathartic way to clear out issues in your life that you haven’t as of yet been brave enough to address. Forgive yourself for overlooking the warning signs, take stock and also have faith in yourself that you can rebuild and love again.
Miss Independent: You mentioned that you liked chaos, because you didn’t have to face yourself. But then you found, that on the floor that day, you in fact had yourself. Can you talk about this process of finding yourself? What did you do / what did you cut out? What were some of the ugliest parts of the journey? What were the most fulfilling parts?
Hayley: When you hit rock bottom one of the good things (in a strange way) is that you realise you can survive without many of the things you thought you needed to be happy. I realised personally that one of the first things I had to do was to get grounded, this meant I reconnected with family, and healed some relationships there. I also began everyday by standing outside and meditating. I also slowly made more drastic changes, swapping out fair weather ‘cool’ friends for more solid relationships. I also stopped partying, and became far healthier. In a break-up it can be tempting to try to replace the intensity from the relationship with intensity elsewhere: constant travel, over exercising/ dieting, drink/ drugs, new romances, etc. However you have to realise that you no longer want to go in the direction of intensity – you want to go in the direction of calm and stability. Long run this is far, far more rewarding.
Miss Independent: “Our quest to love is often the ultimate distraction from ourselves.” I love this line. Oftentimes, after a breakup, our immediate urge is to think of our ex happy with someone else. This perpetuates the vicious cycle of chasing the chaos of love, as we enter into a sort of competition, hooking up with other people right away, or jumping back onto dating apps. Refusing to be truly alone. How can we fight these urges, and instead use the time after our breakup to just be?
Hayley: My five-step plan to do this would be to:
1. Reconnect and repair. Can you strengthen your bond with your family or old friends? Do you need to apologise or be heard? Get those stabilising, loving, relationships in place.
2. Have a clean break. Eat right, sleep right, and stay in.
3. Disconnect. If you’re feeling anxious or a compulsion to do something, turn off your phone, have a bath and chill.
4. Take up a hobby that keeps you in your body and out of your head: this could be yoga, dance, crossfit or whatever you enjoy.
5. Forgive yourself if you slip back into old habits. It’s a process, not an overnight transformation.
Miss Independent: How do you relax?
Hayley: I love spending down time with friends and family. Dance, puzzles and baking.
Miss Independent: What’s the best place you’ve traveled to?
Hayley: Tough one! Probably Sintra in Portugal, it’s like a fairytale.
Miss Independent: Who is your inspiration / biggest role model?
Hayley: My mum. She has overcome so much in her life with grace, and kindness.
Find out more about Hayley Quinn, the infamous London dating coach.