Letters From A Stranger
Letters From A Stranger
How many times can one heart break?

How many times can one heart break?

Photo by Nneka Julia: A bouquet of pink carnations and red roses from Valentine’s Day 2020 on 35mm film.

Dear Nneka,

How many times can one heart break? I hope you don’t think this is a dumb question, Nneka. It’s one I’ve been asking myself, so, I thought maybe I’d ask you too. 

I’m in a committed on and off relationship, that’s more committed to being off than on. It’s been almost 4 years of intense passion, pleasure, and pain. He knows what hurts me. I know what hurts him. My friends have told me to try dating other people, and I’ve tried. I really have. But, I always go back. Now, I’ve just learned to hide things, and I’ve stopped talking to my friends about this situation altogether. When I’m with someone else, they don’t come close to how this person makes me feel. I know it’s not “good,” but why is it so hard to leave the things that we know aren’t “good” for us? I find myself selfishly wishing that real life was like the movies. I wish he’d come back and be back for good. I wish it were easy, but our entire relationship has been hard. I should know better. I know. 

PS. It’s right around Valentine’s Day and I’m left with my heart in my hands, again. 


Long Beach, CA

Dear Nia,

“How many times can one heart break,” is far from a dumb question.

Our hearts will break many more times. Love and loss are eternally intertwined, rising and setting at different points on life’s horizon, making who we love and who we know we’ll inevitably “lose” incredibly important. This bitter fact begs the question, what and who is worthy of your time and your courage to love? 

You deserve a level of ease in your relationships that sits in exact opposition to the addictive, never-ending cycle of passion, pleasure, and pain.

A relationship that thrives on extremes will convince you that love isn’t being “done properly” if it isn’t hard. But, it’s merely the contrast that makes the dysfunction so delicious, so intoxicating. The break-ups that throw you into a tailspin, the make-ups that send you soaring back into the other person’s arms. I’ve lived it, and I lied to my friends too, only to realize, three years later, that loving someone doesn’t have to be hard. 

On this day, a decade ago, my high-school boyfriend was waiting in the driveway of my parents’ house. I ran outside and slid into the passenger seat, giddy about our first Valentine’s Day together. He reached towards the trunks and handed me a bouquet of blood-red roses with tiny slips of paper poking out the petals. Each strip had something he liked about me scribbled in blue. I blushed as I read each one aloud, rubbing his neck on the way to the restaurant. 

The night ended with him calling me ungrateful as I slammed the car door outside an Italian spot downtown. I was crying about a text I saw from a girl he’d eventually cheat with. That night was only a small prelude to a relationship that was never worthy of my time or my courage to love.

“Allow it to be easy.” I read this line in an article I was skimming last week. 

Allow it to be easy. Such a small but mighty sentence. What if we stopped resisting peace? What if we allowed relationships to be light and deep? What if we stopped trying to pry open the palms of people who are ill-equipped to hold our hearts? 

Allow love to be easy, Nia.

Nneka Julia

Submit A Letter

1 Comment
Letters From A Stranger
Letters From A Stranger
Writer, photographer, and host, Nneka Julia, reads and responds to weekly letters written by strangers.
Listen on
Substack App
RSS Feed
Appears in episode
Nneka Julia