A Toothbrush Rabbit Hole

Not long ago, I heard a duet on the radio, in which country stars Dierks Bentley and Elle King tenderly croon,

“It’s different for girls when their hearts get broke

They can’t tape it back together with a whiskey and Coke

They don’t take someone home and act like it’s nothing

They can’t just switch it off every time they feel something

A guy gets drunk with his friends and he might hook up

Fast forward through the pain, pushing back when the tears come on

But it’s different for girls.”

My response was one of cavalier and effusive self-satisfaction, roughly along the lines of:  “What a crock. You’d never fall for the notion that men and women each have such uniformly one-dimensional responses to a breakup, probably because you’re evolved as fuck, self.”

Thereafter, I never thought about that song again, until a day when I opened my medicine cabinet. I was in search of a bobby pin, but instead found the toothbrush I had given to a guy I had been dating until about a week prior.

I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I didn’t miss Jack. I wasn’t reminiscing about our time together. It wasn’t the pang of wistful sorrow. The source of my hurt was, annoyingly, the fact that Jack’s absence was making waste of an otherwise perfectly good toothbrush.

The toothbrush I’d given to Jack was aesthetically pleasing — rare in a toothbrush — and, in my opinion, its bristles represented the ideal compromise between hard and soft. Let me tell you, as a lifelong manual toothbrush user, this kind of toothbrush is hard to come by and now, after so little use, it was going in the trash – an utter injustice.

For five miserable seconds, I was reeling. Next, I found myself amused by my own melodrama. Then, a feeling that stuck around for a while — guilt.

I should miss Jack, I thought. I should reminisce about our time together. I should feel a pang of wistful sorrow. And yet, here I am, bothered only about a toothbrush. As Bentley and King sung it, I’m supposed to be heartbroken, unable to move forward.

I knew better, but this wasn’t coming from a place of knowing or logic. This was coming from years of internalized societal pressure to express myself and my womanhood in the “appropriate” manner.

I tried to convince myself that, actually, I was torn up about Jack and was using the toothbrush as a distraction from my true emotions, as any good armchair psychologist would posit. I even tried to muster up melancholy from deep within me, the kind I had felt when I watched an elderly lady singing “Tomorrow” to her Basset Hound on a commercial for Entresto. (Tangentially speaking, advertising prescription medications to the general public, as we do in the United States, is reprehensible, but that’s another article entirely, and plus — dogs get me every time).

I’ve since climbed myself out of the rabbit hole the toothbrush sent me down, and now I’m here to remind myself and you of something that, at once, seems obvious and yet is so often not expressed in our popular culture.

Your emotional processes are valid. You are no less of a man, woman, or person based on your emotions. I am not callous. I am empathetic and thoughtful and whole, and free to be sad — or not. And you are, too.

Published by

Emily Litvack

Emily Litvack is a senior in microbiology and journalism at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. She's a daughter, sister, friend, Jew, scientist, journalist, and feminist (not always in that order, and sometimes all at once).

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