When friends can’t seem to find the right words: Notes on Heartbreak by Annie Lord

ANNIKA THORBORG reflects on an evening with Vogue’s dating columnist, Annie Lord, and reviews her recent book, Notes on Heartbreak. 


Walking into my favourite bookstore in Hampstead, I wasn’t sure what to expect – Daunt Books was hosting a talk with Annie Lord, author of Notes on Heartbreak, and dating columnist for Vogue. Honestly, we might as well just call her Carrie Bradshaw with a cuter accent. I was looking forward to hearing about Annie’s experiences – if she was as witty in real life as she was in her book, then this was chalking up to be a fun evening. Lord’s writing is usually lighthearted and intimate, just like a FaceTime call with your best friend. Recently, however, she had taken up the difficult task of writing on something more serious and cumbersome: heartbreak. I was intrigued to see where the conversation was going to lead, for discussing a topic as dreaded and painful can so easily bring upon a sullen energy. Those were my original thoughts, but having read both the book and Lord’s hilariously conversational pieces for Vogue, I somehow couldn’t imagine the night being permeated with a heavy post-break-up-crisis feeling. “I was infatuated with men” – the talk starts, and we quickly find out that Lord went to extremes for her ex:


‘He would DM me on Instagram: `r u out´, and even when I wasn’t, I would get dressed up, go out alone, and pretend to have lost my friends just so I could join him.’


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Annie Lord by Sam Wilson. Image source: Vogue

When it comes to someone whose career revolves around dating and relationships, I shouldn’t have been so surprised by her confession, especially after being almost too familiar with the series Sex and the City, which proves that the best stories come from the most extreme-for-the-plot behaviour. My surprise shifted into amusement, and, although I don’t think I would have gone that far, I made a mental note that Annie Lord would be an excellent dinner party guest. The rest of the audience, the crowd of women, morphed into an improvised support group as they nodded their heads and an agreeable hum swept through the room – apparently Lord wasn’t the only one living out her Carrie Bradshaw fantasies. Their desire for recognition and solidarity had been answered. As for myself, I couldn’t help but wonder how, in a room bathed in all-too bright light, romance, which once was a natural-go-with-the-flow experience, had become similar to a scientific experiment. Push different buttons, record the response, and adjust accordingly –  all in order to try and avoid the loneliness that we have all experienced once or twice, and that Lord so eloquently manages to capture in writing. 


Elle Woods post-breakup. Image source: Odyssey

Although a captivating writer, Lord is not the most confident speaker, but honestly, who would be when talking about a topic as vulnerable and personal as heartbreak. Yet as her command over the room would err slightly, and eyes wandered from Notes on Heartbreak to notes on exotic travel on the wall behind, she continuously roped us back in with her confessions. My favourite insight was learning that the book was born from a rather deranged love letter the author had written immediately after the breakup, which definitely attested to its authenticity because who hasn’t been there? Personally, I take a page from the Legally Blonde star Elle Woods and combine it with the treadmill.


Regardless of how clinical and analytical love and heartbreak felt at the event, I found the book itself anything but impersonal. Rather, it is incredibly inviting and relatable, giving off a comforting energy thanks to its conversational tone. Lord’s exploration of heartbreak is achieved in such a beautiful way that it almost makes you want to experience it, just so you can relate to the beauty that inevitably comes with it. As cliché as it may sound, it’s the beauty of friendships that strikes the most powerfully. Bonds are tried, tested, and broken, but on the other side, according to the author, you find out who is with you through thick and thin. What makes Lord a great writer is that she manages to capture the disjunction between inner and outer worlds in grief, as captured in my favourite line from the book: ‘just because you know the name of the flower, doesn’t mean you know what it feels like’, herby managing to put into words one of the main difficulties of grief: the loneliness that still exists in recognition. From an outside perspective, certain feelings are expected in situations of heartbreak, but although friends and family try to relate, grief is not a linear process trodden by everyone who experiences it, but wholly individual and tailor-made for the person going through it.

While the talk had its highs and lows, Lord’s Notes on Heartbreak is ultimately worth a read – especially if you’re in the midst of a breakup. Although it is sold in the self-help section of Waterstones, the book isn’t a `how to´ guide on working through grief. Instead, it carries the reader through it, and lets them find the support and solidarity between pages when friends can’t seem to find the right words.


Featured image source: The Guardian