Personal Essay

The Problem with Starting Over

After You’ve Been Treated Badly

Wendy Cohan
5 min readJul 24, 2023

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Photo by Marah Bashir on Unsplash

“Keep your heart open,” “don’t be too picky,” “give people a chance,” are the words of advice I often hear. I also hear the tales of people who fell in love on a whim, trusting their hearts completely after first meeting “the one.” When I ask them how they knew, it was often something as simple as, “he was the one at the dance who knew how to swing me,” or, “he was exactly what I imagined — tall, dark, and handsome, but also gentle.”

I’ve heard and witnessed strong love stories across the spectrum, about immediate attraction, and trust, almost at first sight. And other stories about love, and sex, only after a cautious months-long waiting period. I’ve heard about an “I love you” that waited two patient years to be reciprocated. Imagine the trust and faith that requires

The thing is, my heart was once wide open, too. But betrayal in a multitude of ways, and by repeated men (I’m cis-hetero), has had a tendency to nudge that door closed.

And yet…every potential partner expects us to come to them with an open heart and no baggage. “No drama,” is heard so frequently that it’s become a joke. What does that even mean? To me, it means we’re not allowed to feel all of the things our hearts naturally feel — not if we want a man to hang around.

I’m so over my husband it’s not funny — he wasn’t ever, not for one moment, the man that I deserved. But still, life sometimes presents moments that piss me off and make me resent that we’re not able to share them: weddings, grandchildren, engagements of extended family that once felt like my own. I don’t create “drama.” But as a human being, I have every right to feel and process the emotions that naturally come up after spending what I thought would be a lifetime together.

It’s hard to start over, especially when you’re alone and without a lot of family support. And, when you’ve had to give up twenty people — I counted — that you cooked for, cared about, and picked out Christmas presents and birthday cards for. It’s the women who do these things. It’s the women that remember anniversaries and birthdays at all. It’s the women who plan and host the baby showers and thanksgivings and surprise trips to the beach to

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Wendy Cohan

Author of character-driven women's fiction, short stories, and essays. Her contemporary romance, The Renaissance Sisters, debuted May 23, 2023.