Shot through the heart: a tale of naïve first love

When Noemi Bocardo first moved to the United States to study at Santa Monica College, she soon found herself in the arms of her first boyfriend.

But an enflamed heart is blind. For six months, while lost in the revelry of young love, Bocardo was unaware that her boyfriend already had a girlfriend who was attending the University of California, Irvine.

Having grown up in the United Arab Emirates, Bocardo had attended school in a gender-segregated environment where girls and boys were kept apart. She had never attended a coed party until she turned 16.

Upon arriving at SMC at the age of 18, a new landscape opened where men and women openly attended class and some were openly attracted to each other.

"I saw couples, love everywhere and I think that would be nice to share that with someone," she said.

During her first semester at SMC, Bocardo caught the eye of a classmate in her history class. He was charming with a permanent smile that was always ready to greet her.

"He would invite me over to his house. We hung out and got to know each other," she said.

Until then, Bocardo had only known men as friends, she had never experienced the kind of deeper intimacy that began to develop.

"It was fun, but I had never been that intimate with a guy before," she said. "I think I put him on a pedestal. I wanted to, I didn't want a reason not to."

One afternoon while at his home, Bocardo put inhibitions aside and timidly, while dismissing her inexperience, she kissed him. He lifted her in his arms and so began an emotional adventure that transformed her daily life.

"There was music, I'd smile. I'd say hi to strangers. I was really happy. How could I describe it?" said Bocardo.

The young couple would walk through the maze of humanity at the Third Street Promenade or watch the vastness of the sea at the Santa Monica Pier. He would wrap her in his jacket and embrace her.

"My favorite time with him was when we were at his place, sitting on the couch and talking," she said.

Radiohead provided the score to their time together. "Creep" was the song they would both sing to each other. But underneath, Bocardo had the sense of going too fast in the rush of excitement.

"We just went into it. It was so natural," she said. "We never set our boundaries. We never defined our relationship. We never communicated anything regarding us. We never discussed anything regarding us in the future, it was all in the moment."

During this time, Bocardo's family was unaware of the relationship. In the kind of home she comes from, parents do not get interested in boyfriends unless they have serious intentions, which are not expected until after a woman has attained her degree anyway.

But like unwanted vines growing in a garden, signs began to appear that started turning the relationship sour. Frustrations manifested when Bocardo refused to let the relationship become sexual.

"He knew where I was coming from, but I got the feeling he was just hearing me out, he wasn't listening," she said. "I told him I want to take things slow. I told him I don't want to have sex with you now because I want to get to know you more."

His warm, complimentary words were replaced by disrespectful comments.

"He wouldn't look me in the eye anymore," she said. "He wasn't engaging with me when all I wanted was for him to look at me. He wouldn't look at me again the same way he would in the beginning. He always thought I would give in."

One day Bocardo confronted him, demanding to know why everything was suddenly changing. He responded with words refined in cruelty.

"He said 'well I like another girl. It was fun with you but it wasn't anything. It was nothing'," she said.

A few days later Bocardo noticed a curious post on his Facebook page. Another girl had posted a revealingly intimate message. When she followed the message to the girl's Twitter account, she discovered another deeply cutting thorn in the story. Her boyfriend had all along been in another relationship with a student at UC Irvine.

"When I found out he had a girlfriend all along I felt a deep pain in my stomach, like something churning." she said.

Despite the emotional hurricane pushing her to expose him and call the other girl, Bocardo decided to retreat and turn the page. Already emotionally drained and with the relationship severed, she faced the challenge of overcoming heartbreak and disappointment.

According to Dr. Valerie Dy, a Post Doctoral Intern at SMC's Psychological Services, the aftermath of a break up can lead to a mixture of emotions.

"Feelings of sadness, anger, and hurt related to the loss of a romantic relationship may cause some people to lose motivation to attend classes or engage in academic or work responsibilities," said Dy. "There is also a tendency within some people to hook up with someone as a way to feel better or distract themselves from the heartbreak."

Despite the ache and hurt, Bocardo decided to remain focused on school and her social life. She distracted herself by going to museums and embracing the arts or going out with friends and even taking dance classes.

"I would run for exercise, just run to let the energy burn itself out," she said.

While a crucible of the heart can be searing, Bocardo is now in a new relationship that's going well and her experience has provided a keen sense of what to look out for.

Dr. Sandra Lyons Rowe, Coordinator of SMC's Psychological Services said there are healthy options students could seek when getting over the emotional injury of a broken heart.

"Share your feelings with friends, family, and even a therapist to help you get through this period. Develop new friendships," said Rowe. "Explore new interests and one’s identity outside of this relationship and allow yourself to grieve."

For those who may find themselves enduring a disappointed or bruised heart, Bocardo has little advice.

"Invest all that energy and anger into a hobby and kill it. Get out of your comfort zone," she said. "Do something you've never done before and see that as a new relationship."