Every current and former member of the Worldwide Club for Broken Hearts can give you their technique for dealing with a breakup. For some, it’s wine; for others, it’s ice cream; and for some people, it’s crying to sympathetic friends and family members, often with wine and ice cream. But I took a different approach. This is how Grey’s Anatomy helped me get over my breakup.
First, I should clarify something. This wasn’t any old breakup. It was my first one ever. Me and my ex had been together for three-and-a-half years (the half matters when you’re 22) but after months of bickering and arguing and never having sex, we finally accepted that we were done. I felt simultaneously free and completely lost; it was like cutting off an anchor that’s been holding you in the same spot, without knowing where the current will take you.
The timing was spectacularly bad. It was January, the worst month of the year. And not only was it January, it was an especially cold and snowy January. In addition, since I was in a broke student house, I was not allowed to turn on the heating for more than four hours a day, even though my degree in English and American literature only required me to go to campus once or twice a week, which meant I was home shivering most days.
On top of that, it was my last year of college, which counted for 70 percent of my overall grade. So to sum up, I was in a freezing house, in dark and unseasonably cold January, trying to ignore the sight of my own breath while typing my grade-defining dissertation, feeling like I’d ripped my life apart based on a vague notion that it was better to be alone than to feel trapped in a relationship that was only OK. Oh, and I also got stomach cramps from the stress, which meant I spent a lot of time lying on the floor with a hot water bottle, crying into the itchy carpet.
Even in my miserable state, it quickly became apparent to me that lying on the floor crying about a boy was not conducive to (1) achieving the kind of academic standard I held myself to, or (2) — and maybe more importantly — my long term emotional well-being. So in the midst of my pity party, I looked for not a solution but a companion to get me through. I turned to this new website called Netflix, which let you watch TV shows and films on your laptop, without even needing a disc. (This was a revolutionary concept in 2013.)
On Netflix, I found Grey’s Anatomy. Even if you haven’t seen it, you’ve absolutely heard about it. It’s a proudly moody, dialogue-heavy, beautifully lit drama/soap opera about doctors who work in a fictional hospital called Seattle Grace. It has a diverse cast in terms of ethnicity and sexuality, and everyone on it is smoking hot. The main character is this self-obsessed (don’t @ me) doctor called Meredith Grey, but it’s the characters around her that make you keep watching.
As well as being unreasonably attractive, they are all extremely good at making the kinds of poor life decisions that make for absorbing TV. There’s a lot of sexual tension leading to a lot of steamy sex, and the relationship drama is always turned up to 11. The actual medical emergencies range from ethical dilemmas that real doctors deal with, to the kinds of emergency situations that happen maybe once every six months IRL, but every other week on the show. In summary, it has highs and lows and no in-betweens. Which is exactly how breakups feel.
At the time, I was too busy crying, having stomach cramps, and worrying that I would never love again (the usual) to really delve deep into the reasons behind why I latched onto Grey’s Anatomy, of all things. I just knew that when I put it on it felt like an escape — like a place that was so far from my own experience that I didn’t have time to think about my situation. And while it’s true that I’ve never had to perform a heart transplant, or any other medical procedure, I think I might have fallen in love with Grey’s Anatomy because of the parts that I actually could relate to.
There’s a lot of getting together and breaking up, and wild declarations of love, and passionate declarations of hate, and "I love you but we can’t ever be together." I think seeing other people — people who are smart and beautiful, people who should supposedly have the world at their feet — going through the same emotions I felt reminded me that the pain of love lost is universal. Also, Grey’s Anatomy is not one to undermine feelings. Even the mopey soundtrack and the constant rain create a perma-angsty vibe. The show takes love and breakups and the fallout from each as seriously as it takes major medical procedures. When you're in the middle of breakup that feels as if someone has surgically cut out part of your heart, watching hot doctors perform heart surgery while sniffling over their own breakups can make you feel better. Like you aren’t just a hysterical woman — you are feeling something legit, something that really does hurt like a physical pain.
January eventually passed. I got through Valentine’s Day. The snow that had been piled outside the window for months melted. Weak English sunshine replaced the heavy grey clouds. I handed in my dissertation. My Grey’s Anatomy dosage, which in the earliest stages equated to about three episodes a day, gradually diminished. I got to the first few episodes of season six — a very dark time for the staff of Seattle Grace — but my own mood no longer matched the drama of the show. One day, over a hundred episodes in, I realized that the sadness that had wedged itself in my heart (or wherever sadness actually comes from) just wasn’t there anymore. That evening, I turned off Grey’s Anatomy halfway through an episode. And I haven’t watched it since.
I’m glad the show is still going, and that it has such a devoted following. It was there for me when I really needed someone to take my pain seriously, while also gently reminding me that it wasn’t life or death, and I would eventually come out better off and stronger. Whatever medicine works for you, take it, use it, know when to come off it, and remember that cut will heal.