A dear friend recently broke up with her boyfriend. Amicable though the parting was, and unambiguous though the decision was, her heart has been heavy. She tells me how things are going: how she does her best to spend time with her friends, or to focus on her professional engagements, but how the sadness is inescapable.
I found myself saying, at one point, “You can do your best to alleviate the pain a little, but it’s like the common cold, y’know? It just takes its own time to run its course.” There was a beat of silence, and I feared I had offended her with the comparison. Then she started laughing. “That,” she said, “is the perfect analogy.” So let’s see how far I can take it.
How a break-up is like the common cold: three striking similarities
One: They can happen at any time, but both have peak seasons.
The common cold is most common at certain times of year: winter, or monsoon, for instance. In the winter or the monsoon, when weather conditions are cold and damp, our immune systems are vulnerable to viruses, and we’re in somewhat more confined spaces with other people.
The break-up typically peaks in late very early January and in mid-February. In early January, one has often seen a partner in the larger context of the family; under this duress, which can take several forms, the break-up is not uncommon. In mid-February, break-ups typically follow in the wake of a marked absence of offerings of chocolate.
However, as is so abundantly evident, peak seasons though there be, the break-up, the common cold, can happen at any time of year.
Two: You typically see it coming, though not always.
It begins with a tickle in the throat, or sniffly nose, or perhaps a certain leaden sensation in the head or the limbs, and you just know you’re about to get sick. But sometimes it comes out of nowhere.
It begins with a sinking sensation in the heart and a dawning realization in the head, and you just know you’re about to get single. But sometimes it comes out of nowhere.
Three: You can’t hurry the healing process. Each must run its course.
You can take medication to ease some of the symptoms of the common cold, but you cannot shorten its duration. Similarly, the healing time that a break-up requires cannot be shortened, though its pain can be eased a little with the company of good friends, and chocolate.
How a break-up is not like the common cold: one critical difference
Unlike the common cold, break-ups are not contagious.
That’s right! Study after scientific study confirms that, when your friend goes through a break-up, you do not have to avoid her, or wash your hands after you hug her. In fact, both she and you will feel better for spending time together on such timeless activities as painting nails, making business plans for start-ups, or discussing whether art can exist without politics.