Aya McMillan is fashion editor and digital content strategist whose work has been in Elle, WWD and Vogue Nippon. She is obsessed with shoes, home decor, reading, traveling, and looking after her fur babies. A born and bred Torontonian, she will politely wax poetic about how cool Canada is beyond just Drake, the Biebs, and Justin Trudeau — to basically to anyone that will listen.
If you think back to the first time you were heartbroken, what advice would you give to that younger version of yourself?
“This pain is not forever. So far, you’ve survived everything you thought you wouldn’t.”
What has heartbreak taught you about yourself?
“Never discount someone else’s grief or deny how devastating heartbreak can be. Without reservation, I can honestly say that dealing with my most recent breakup was and has been far more difficult than learning that I had cancer.”
What are your rituals during a breakup? What things/practices/people helped you mend?
“It had been so long since I had dealt with a breakup before this last 10-year one, so there were no rituals to be had; I was completely out of practice.
Friends and family certainly helped. So did petting my dogs, deep breathing, walking, writing, and volunteering (because, #gratitude). But travel is probably what healed me. Earlier this year I flew to London, then Tokyo and finally, Sri Lanka, where I parked myself in a small bungalow on a remote beach to rumble with the pain, heartache and bury the dreams I once had.
Even if you can’t get away, sitting with the quiet is so completely necessary. I made the mistake of not instituting NC (i.e. no contact) after the breakup and it remains, to this day, one of my biggest regrets—and takeaways. You cannot be expected to make important life decisions in your most vulnerable, shattered, desperate state.”
Thinking back to breakups you’ve had, did you have any breakup vices (checking your ex’s Insta, etc) and how do you conquer them?
“Blessedly, my ex is not big into the socials. That said, I did drink drank quite heavily following my most recent breakup. He was part of a wine club and had collected a few hundred bottles in anticipation of our new wine cellar being installed, so I took it upon myself to pilfer every white, rosé and bubbly (I’m allergic to red). It’s not something I’m proud of or would recommend but, when your life is in pieces, you’ll do whatever it takes to bear the unbearable.
I think it’s ok to fall apart a little bit. It let’s you rebuild yourself the way you wish you had been all along.”
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about love so far in your life?
“Life has a way of teaching you the lessons you need to learn. For me, that’s meant learning to be vulnerable, to show up, to dig deep, to love fiercely—and loudly. My ex and I are conflict-averse, quiet people. No one was at fault. The relationship (in his opinion, at least) had just run its natural course. But I think you lose something in that silence. When you play it calm and cool, the fire inevitably burns out. Shakespeare had it right: “My tongue will tell the anger of my heart, or else my heart, concealing it will break.”
Do you think exes can be friends? Do you stay friends with your exes on social media?
“Objectively speaking, yes. Personally speaking, no. Some have remained ‘friendly’, but never ever close friends in the true sense of the word.”
What keeps your heart open, despite the heartbreaks you’ve had in your life?
“Glennon Doyle Melton wrote, “Grief is love’s souvenir. It’s proof that we once loved.” Heartbreak hurts like hell but I’ve also learned it’s inherent in being fully human. And now, more than ever, I want to emerge alive.”
What is your favorite song about heartbreak?
“‘Save You’ by Turin Brakes was on major repeat for a long time. “Time will save you; you don’t need to save yourself” as the lyrics go, is also something I’ve said to myself on repeat.”
What is your favorite movie about heartbreak?
“I’m still searching for that one but open to recommendations!”
What projects are you currently working on, and looking forward to most?
“I’m mostly focused on my cancer treatments for the time being, while still trying to negotiate the logistics of my legal separation, putting my house on the market and finding a new place to live. I’m looking forward to decorating my new home exactly the way I want without anyone else’s consideration—and it will 100% involve pink. My priorities this year are me. That’s it, just me.”