Author Q&A with Meghan Laslocky

  • February 14, 2013

In this special Valentine’s Day interview, Mandy Huckins talks with Meghan Laslocky, author of The Little Book of Heartbreak.

The Perfect Anti-Valentine: a Whirlwind Tour through Love’s Most Crushing Moments…

What’s the best way to mend a broken heart? Forget ice cream, wine and sappy movies. Writer Meghan Laslocky advises: Read through the pain. From forbidden love in twelfth-century Paris to the art of crafting the perfect “I’m over you” mix CD, The Little Book of Heartbreak is a quirky exploration of all things lovelorn, including:

How serial cheater Ernest Hemingway stole his wife’s     job just as their marriage was collapsing
Kinky spells cast by lovesick men in ancient Greece
Insights into the tricky chemistry of monogamy,    courtesy of tiny rodents
And other lessons learned from ill-fated romances,    lovers’ quarrels, and hell-hath-no-fury spats throughout the ages

The Little Book of Heartbreak shares the entertaining, empowering, and occasionally absurd things that happen when love is on its last legs.

Interview by Mandy Huckins

Experiencing heartbreak certainly isn’t fun, and I wasn’t expecting a book chronicling the experience of love gone wrong to be entertaining. Yet, I immensely enjoyed reading your book. Your light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek approach really worked. How did you decide on a topic so morbid, but treat it in such a way that it would be interesting and even fun to read?

From the beginning, my goal was to write a book that would engage readers almost in spite of themselves, a book that would sort of “trick” heartbroken readers in particular into being simultaneously informed, distracted, and entertained. I also saw heartbreak as a terrific inroad to so many different subjects, and I think my own genuine fascination with them made writing about them much easier. Plus, I have a pretty wry, off beat sense of humor myself, so I’m sure that came into play as well.

Heartbreak seems universal (or nearly so), in much the same way that the feeling of love itself is universal. Do you think it is possible for a person to never experience heartbreak?

Probably there are situations in which that can happen, though I think it’s probably rare. There are individuals who just don’t engage or have romantic relationships, for whatever reason, so in that context, maybe they don’t experience what we think of as classic romantic heartbreak. But I think that it’s important to remember that it can come in all shapes in sizes. People can be heartbroken, for example, not because of a specific romantic loss but because they’ve never been in a relationship at all, and they desperately want to be. I think that’s a state that we overlook all the time, in our very love-centered culture. We assume that everyone has romantic relationships, when really not everyone does, and that creates its own very particular brand of isolation and pain. Call it “heartbreak from not having heartbreak.”

And, a follow-on question to the above: do you feel that “happy” relationships are only relationships that haven’t lasted long enough? Is heartbreak inevitable?

I’m not quite that cynical! I think that there are plenty of relationships that are enduringly happy. There are the cases of couples who meet very young and stay together, more or less happily, for their entire lives. I don’t think it’s just a matter of time before heartbreak kicks you in the butt, but I do think that the advantage to having multiple relationships in adulthood (call it diversifying!), as we do in our culture, is that with every heartbreak, large or small, you get a bit sturdier.

The book chronicles some doozies – huge breakups and disappointments featuring infidelity, lying, and public humiliation. Hopefully, most of us only experience less public, “smaller” heartbreaks, which is not to say that the pain associated with these break-ups is any less acute. Do you feel that it is possible to experience mini-heartbreaks in the course of a relationship, due to life’s ups and downs and the imperfection of the human race, that aren’t necessarily relationship deal-breakers?

I think that there is a really big difference between disappointment and heartbreak, and certainly disappointment can be a chronic feature in a relationship and not be a deal-breaker. Those disappointments can be any number of things – a plan falls through or a partner refuses to change in a particular way that you want him or her too – but not necessarily tickets to Splitsville. I also think that in our culture we tend to assume that infidelity is a deal breaker, and the ultimate heartbreak, but that it really depends on the individual relationship.

What about heartbreak in relationships that aren’t romantic ones? I think we experience very strong love with individuals (family members, friends), that is not classified as romantic. So, then, isn’t it possible (and even probable) that we would experience heartbreak in those relationships as well? Why do you think that the word heartbreak is used so exclusively for romantic disappointments?

Great question. I think that we tend to use the term “heartbreak” with respect to romantic partners and, less so, family members, but yes, it’s interesting that we don’t tend to use it with respect to friends. As I discuss in my book, metaphors operate in very complicated ways in our brains and actually shape the way we think. One linguist I cite in my book, Zoltán Kövecses, wrote that “Our metaphors of emotion can be considered, to an extent, veiled instructions on how to behave when emotional.” Now I’m totally hypothesizing here, but perhaps we use the term “heartbreak” more with respect to romantic partners because the attachment, from a biochemical perspective, is different, and that somehow influences how the metaphor operates. I think it’s possible that language and particularly metaphor reflect things that are actually happening in our bodies.

The section, “Debunking Monogamy” peaked my interest. I agree that looking to the animal kingdom to justify monogamy as “normal” is fruitless, but what about the attraction of monogamy as a choice? Monogamy is a choice that requires dedication and perhaps goes against our “normal” animalistic tendencies, but isn’t that what makes it valuable? Or is it truly just about expectations (i.e. expectations in our modern culture that adults will pair off in monogamous matches)?

Monogamy and non-monogamy are very, very complex and involve so many things – brain wiring, culture, and personal history – and all of these factors vary in each individual and influence how inclined they are to monogamy. Also, I think that people need to be very conscious of what you might call the shades of monogamy as well as the differences between being socially monogamous and sexually monogamous. I’d hate to say that it is just about expectations, but I do think that in our culture we’re unrealistically fixated on monogamy. People live a long, long time now, and to expect all individuals to be, once they’re married, sexually monogamous for decades on end is pretty unrealistic.

What about the distinction between love and lust? You don’t address this directly in the book. I believe these two are mutually exclusive, but when they occur in tandem, they create the “romantic love” you reference. In some of the relationship examples, don’t you think it is possible that one or both members were simply “in lust” rather than “in love” with each other?

Sure. I think a good example of that is probably the affair between Lord Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb, since their relationship lasted less than a year. They did have a lot in common intellectually, and that can complicate lust and make it feel like love, but they weren’t compatible emotionally over the long term. Another good example might have been the relationship between the artist Edvard Munch and his mistress, Tulla Larsen. He tried to get rid of her for years and kept getting involved with her again, and once they had the final blowout, she moved on quickly, which suggests that perhaps they a strong physical connection but didn’t have what it takes to love each other over the long haul.

Your book and movie suggestions and references to songs and works of art sent me running to Google. I have added several works to my overcrowded “To Be Read” list. If you had to narrow down your list to one amazing read, which one would it be? (Personally, I highly recommend that anyone who hasn’t read The Little Book of Heartbreak bump that to the top of their list.)

“White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in 19th Century India,” by William Dalyrmple, the book about the relationship between the young aristocrat Khair un-Nissa and Colonel James Kirkpatrick, is a simply astonishing read – wonderfully researched and beautifully written. I loved it because I learned SO much about so many different things – Indian history, Mughal culture, daily life in India during that period, geopolitics around the turn of the 19th century, the Napoleonic wars, the individuals orchestrating British imperial policies, interracial and intercultural relationships, the list goes on and on. There are so many delightful moments in it, and I really felt like with every page of that book I got smarter and better informed. Plus while it’s never smutty, there is some pretty salacious content that’s hard to resist.

Mandy Huckins holds a Master of Arts Degree in English from the University of Charleston in South Carolina. She recently moved to the Washington, D.C. area with her husband, an Air Force officer. When not reading, Mandy works for the Combined Federal Campaign-Overseas, which provides uniformed service members and DoD civilians serving overseas the opportunity to make charitable contributions to one or more of over 2,500 different organizations.


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