On one November morning, I learned that you are never too old to cry on your mother's shoulder.
I was 29, and the reason of course, was heartbreak. My boyfriend had cheated on me for the second time in a span of eight months. This time, with a married woman. So instead of the romantic week in London, which we had planned for months, I found myself back in Manila at a restaurant across my Mom’s office, surrounded by two large paper bags filled with books, a Crock Pot, and other random personal things I had just finished collecting from his flat.
The mood in the restaurant was annoyingly merry. Christmas carols provided ambient music to the steady stream of diners out to grab a quick meal before starting their 9 to 5.
“You look really tired. And sick,” my Mom commented as soon as she sat down. I was her Aries baby, and she said the fire had always shown in my eyes. Today, they were swollen and lifeless.
I told her the story. The soap-opera details of how our relationship ended, and the recurring nightmares I was now having because of it. How I had walked in on him five months ago, while in bed with someone else. After the newest affair came to light, that first scene was now on constant loop in my head—the faces of his different women all mashed up into one superhuman villain I could never live up to. The good cook. The public policy expert. The artsy photographer from his MINI Cooper Club.
I was hoping for a furious, profanity-laden reaction from my Mom. Something that would help articulate the anger and betrayal I felt. Instead, she ordered pancakes for us to celebrate. “If I were you, I would email that woman to thank her for taking him off your hands.”
As a child, I feared my Mom—the ultimate disciplinarian. When I was eight, my sister and I snuck out at noon to play and eat crispy pata at our neighbor’s. We came home at 4pm to a locked house, and my Mom refusing to open the doors despite our loud, hysterical cries at the gate. When my Dad finally arrived and let us inside two hours later, my Mom told us calmly and unapologetically: “I hope you learned your lesson.”
Her Captain Von Trapp approach surprisingly evolved into relaxed parenting as we got older. She would always say that she formed us well so she trusted our decision-making skills. She is generous with dishing out fair advice, but is careful not to fight any of our battles. She may express disagreement with some of our choices, but in the end, she still encourages us to take a chance.
Even if it means falling flat on our tear-stained faces.
While waiting for our order, my Mom began to share her own major heartbreak. How her boyfriend had gone home to the province, not to be heard from for months. She had feared that he might have had some sort of an accident, until a common friend told her that the only accident he had gotten into was getting someone else pregnant. She cried for days, but had the common sense to ignore him when he eventually reached out to her. She moved on by learning to forgive him, even if she never heard him apologize. Hatred, after all, is forging your own chains to the past.
“Being an adult means you accept defeat gracefully," she told me as she poured syrup on her banana-crusted pancakes. “That’s life. Unconditional love isn’t always reciprocated. Maybe he just wasn’t the person for you.”
This was difficult for me to hear. Despite the infidelity, I still loved him for everything he was, flaws and brokenness included. Never have I tried so hard to give someone the space he needed, to be his best self. Maybe he just needs some time to get it out of his system, I reasoned. We already planned our future together, right down to our shared reading list for when we were old. What would happen now to our three-story house, our farm, and our dogs?
My Mom quietly handed me a napkin and waited for me to calm down. “You can insist on staying with this man. But there’s a big chance that he’ll just continue to take you for granted.”
“I know,” I whispered, too drained to say anything else.
“Besides, the best revenge is happiness,” she continued. “For him to realize he missed out on a good thing.” And then giving me a devious smile, she said, “You need to be unforgettable in bed.”
This is the same woman who insisted Mother Mary should be my role model while I was growing up. I burst into nervous laughter.
“Obviously, these sex tips are for when you’re married,” she added hurriedly.
For the next 20 minutes, my Mom gave me her ‘tried and tested’ secrets, “You need practice and some acting skills!” Several involved role-playing, while one required a prop. She described each technique in detail with the same excitement she gets when sharing her dinner recipes.
I was now crying from laughing so hard. I had not had a good laugh in eight months and was on the verge of getting muscle spasms. The phrase, “I got it from my Momma” took on a whole new different meaning in my head.
Even after we had moved on to non X-rated topics, I couldn’t stop smiling. The pain from the loss was still present, but it was overshadowed by the profound gratitude I felt towards my Mom. Before heading back to the office, she offered me one last piece of advice: “Your love and kindness were not lost on him. Don’t regret it.”
They say that to truly heal from the past, one must focus on the beautiful things that the experience brought your life. As devastating as it was, that relationship taught me many valuable lessons. The breakup, even more so.
I learned the importance of being complete on my own, and of knowing my self-worth regardless of my life’s current season. I discovered that though I was not invincible, I was surely resilient. I found the courage to confront the darkest parts of myself—insecurities, shortcomings, past mistakes—and the determination to start conquering them, little by little. I learned how to forgive someone without condition, and in the process, also learned how to forgive myself.
Best of all, it gave me that surreal experience in the restaurant: Me, hopeless and broken, my Mom giving me sex tips to cheer me up. The intimacy of that morning would tie us to each other more strongly, in ways I think we both did not expect. After that day, we started exchanging stories and secrets regularly, in a manner more befitting two sorority sisters. Whenever my nightmares came back, she let me sleep in her room, no questions asked. Though I did not magically heal that morning, it did remind me that hope finds us, the moment we begin to seek it.
A year after our breakfast date, I would find myself crying in my Mom’s arms again. This time, out of joy, right before I walked down the aisle to marry the most amazing human being.
“Don’t forget my tips!,” she called out jokingly right before my new husband and I left for our honeymoon.
Her work was done.
Eleanor is a multi-awarded social entrepreneur from the Philippines, focused on Education, Peace-building & Women Empowerment. She considers her Mom as the best person on this planet.