To forget the one that got away is hard & here is why

"I've seen tears well up in the eyes of women in their 50s telling tales of adolescent heartbreak."

“I’ve seen tears well up in the eyes of women in their 50s telling tales of adolescent heartbreak.” Photo: Stocksy

My friends and I have an expression: “pulling a Mike”. To “pull a Mike” is to throw yourself at someone and declare your love, only to be knocked back so completely it takes a week for the pulpy remains of your heart to resume beating again.

Mike was a guy I knew in university. He was a history major. A dark, pony-tailed type, he was just a little bit smarter than the rest of us and his slightly frayed Levi’s fitted just a little better than anyone else’s. He was partial to big words with lots of syllables and stroked his chin when he spoke. I used to gaze at him across the classroom, imagining the bright, pony-tailed children we’d have, all the while missing the finer points the professor was making about the economic implications of crop failure in Tudor-Stuart England.

Having pined for him all year, I decided, as exams approached, that I needed to make my move. I prepared myself carefully, skolling at least four cans of VB before approaching him. This made me feel bolder than I really was, not to mention more attractive; it also made me drool a little and sway from side to side as I delivered my speech.

It went something like this: “So Mike, is this attraction mutual, or is it just me?”

His response was swift, and unambiguous. “It’s just you.”

Flashback: my parent’s holiday house, the summer of 1979. Sean Lewis was nine, a year and a half older than me. He had charisma. He won the local Fonz contest; I wanted nothing more than to be his Leather Tuscadero. So I was thrilled when he came up to me down by the swimming dock and said he wanted to talk. As he spoke, I was so mesmerised by the lock of sandy hair that tumbled over his left eye that I almost missed what he said.

“Why do you keep following me around? It’s weird.”

I’ve had plenty of successful dates in my life, and several happy relationships, but for some reason it’s the rejections that stick. I can barely recall the name of my first high-school boyfriend, or the guy I lived with for two years after I finished university. But I remember specifically that Warren Black took Carol Mayfield to the first boy-girl party at primary school instead of me.

I’ve talked to a few people about this, and I know I’m not alone. I’ve seen tears well up in the eyes of women in their 50s telling tales of adolescent heartbreak; it seems there is no scar like the one inflicted by a 17-year-old boy on a 17-year-old girl when he takes someone prettier to the ball. Why do these romantic mishaps sting for so long?

For one, we just seem to be predisposed to remember bad times more clearly than good. Maybe it’s a primeval survival thing. (Wow, things went really badly when I tried to pat that sabre-toothed tiger. Next time I’ll just stay in the cave.) Rejection is traumatic and love is not; obsessing over an unrequited passion 20 years gone might be like remembering exactly where you were the day Kurt Cobain died, or on the morning of September 11.

And heartbreak hurts, literally. Science tells us so. Anxiety (and romantic knock-backs definitely cause angst) releases hormones, like adrenalin, which can stress the heart and force it to work harder.

Some scientists also equate love with other forms of chemical addiction. In this case, it’s the oxytocin withdrawal that gives you the DTs. And how about this: Dutch researchers had test subjects send in photos of themselves to be viewed by other volunteers for an experiment on “first impressions”. Weeks later, the scientists hooked each individual up to an electrocardiogram and measured their heart rate as they heard what the other people thought. When they were told another person didn’t like them, their pulses slowed. Rejection really “broke” their hearts.

Then there’s the simple fact of age. When we’re young, romance and dating weigh more heavily than in later years. Life’s true traumas are not yet apparent, and so we assign our quota of emotional turmoil to affairs of the heart. Somewhere around the age of 30, things change. Children are born, parents grow older and weaker, friends disappear or are lost. Romantic anguish takes a back seat.

And this, maybe, is the point. Looking back on the dockside rebuff of a schoolboy, or the beer-fuelled longings of my 20-something self, I actually feel nostalgic for those early heartbreaks. There is a wonderful innocence in idealising someone the way you do when you are young, of fantasising about marriage and family and love, without the foreknowledge of how nice but, well, mundane these things can become in adult life.

I’m not as brave as I used to be (or I don’t drink as much) and haven’t “pulled a Mike” in a while. I did look up the original Mike the other day. He’s a history professor, still pony-tailed, still in Levi’s. I’ve moved on and I can see now it never would have worked between us.

But he’s left me with some useful words. A younger friend came over the other evening, regretful and teary after propositioning a guy by text and getting the following reply: sry not in2 U.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “you’ve only pulled a Mike. Enjoy it while you can.”

Sunday Life

Henry Sapiecha


When Sarah* was 20 weeks pregnant she looked as through she was nearing her due date. “I was so big, I looked as if I was 40 weeks pregnant,” she says. Sarah put her large belly size down to carrying twins; her 20-week scan, however, revealed something worrying was happening with her babies.

sad-woman on bed image

“There was a complication called twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, which ended up with me in hospital at 21 weeks having three litres of fluid drained,” Sarah says. Twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome is when blood moves from one twin to the other, often resulting in one baby having too little blood, and the other, too much. Left untreated, it can lead to the death of one or both babies.


Thirty ultrasounds, a plane trip to Sydney to have laser surgery, and another three litres of fluid drained later, Sarah was told that she was going to have perfectly healthy identical twin girls. “That was the best thing I had heard in a long time,” she says.


When the big day arrived, Sarah, her husband and their son were so excited to meet the new additions to their family. “After everything we had been through with the pregnancy, we just couldn’t wait for this moment to meet our healthy girls,” she says. But Sarah’s excitement didn’t last long.




“When the girls were born they seemed to look different,” Sarah says. “They had deformed ears and deformed facial bones.” Sarah and her husband weren’t concerned at the time; they put the girls’ unusual looks down to being born at 36 weeks.


The twins were immediately taken to the special care nursery while Sarah recovered. “We had doctors coming in and out saying that they thought the girls had a syndrome,” Sarah recalls.


Three days after the twins were born, Sarah’s small hospital room was filled with doctors, paediatricians, craniofacial doctors, and counsellors who explained that Sarah’s twins had Treacher Collins Syndrome, a rare condition where the skull, cheek and jawbones don’t develop properly, causing facial defects and hearing loss. It affects about one child in every 50,000.


Sarah was overwhelmed with the news. “My first thought was ‘Why me? What have I done to deserve this?’” she says. “I’ve had such a hard life. I’ve lost my Mum, Dad, Nanna and Pop. I’ve done nothing wrong to deserve this.” So she coped the best way she knew how.


“I went straight into shut down and blocked everyone out of my life,” she says. “Everyone was trying so hard to be supportive, but at that stage whatever anyone said to me would come out negative. I had people say, ‘God has given them to you as he knows you will cope,’ and my response was, ‘Well, I wish he had asked me first’. Others would say, ‘You’re strong, Sarah,’ but there comes a time in your life when you just can’t be strong anymore.”


Sarah’s memories of that time are filled with darkness. “I wanted this to be a dream, but each day it was still there and it got the better of me,” she says. “The doctors told me there was no quick fix for this syndrome. I was heart-broken. All I could think about was my girls being picked on and questioning how I would cope without any support from my extended family.”


When the twins were two weeks old Sarah uttered a sentence that would change her life forever. “I suggested to a counsellor at the hospital that maybe the girls needed to go into foster care,” she says. “Before I knew it, the counsellor had contacted a foster care agency and the ball was rolling.”


The twins were placed in foster care shortly after that conversation. Sarah felt conflicted about visiting her girls once they were in the care of others. “I really didn’t want to visit, but something inside me said I had to,” she says. “I think it came down to the way my parents brought me up, that family is everything. I knew my parents would want me to bring my girls home.”


Sarah was determined to be reunited with her twins, but she needed to get help. She began seeing a psychologist. “I went through six psychologists before I found the right one, and this psychologist helped me tremendously,” she says.


Life was difficult at home without the girls, but Sarah says she knew they were in the right place until she got the help and support she needed.


After a year in foster care, the twins came in through Sarah’s front door – for good. “I finally felt strong enough, and had the support I needed to bring my girls home to where they belonged,” she says. Sarah says life at home with the twins felt “complete”.


Sarah believes things would have turned out very differently if she’d had different support at the hospital. “I look back and think that counsellor really should have said, ‘Hang on, you have severe depression, let’s get that sorted, then we can think about foster care’. But that’s not how it went, unfortunately.”


The twins have now been at home for seven years, and despite the bumpy start, Sarah says she now sees her girls as any other child, adding, “It’s really only when an appointment pops up for them that I think, ‘Oh, that’s right, my girls have a syndrome’. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t go through that,” she says.


“There is definitely light at the end of the tunnel.”


*Name has been changed


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