Learning to Move On in English

I’m Italian. I was born and raised in Italy, and learned to make sense of the world in Italian. Nothing like your language informs the way you understand life. That’s something I discovered a few years ago, when I moved to India and my life was suddenly forced to happen in English — a language that I knew, but was not my own. My new translated life meant that often, even though I could understand what I was told, I wasn't truly able to grasp its deeper meaning — logically or emotionally.

I was in a mild, but chronic, state of being lost in translation — an expression, this, that took me a while to get, because it doesn’t exist in Italian. Getting lost trying to make sense of foreign meanings is just one of the things we don’t need an expression for.

Something else my language, my self, struggles to translate is: falling in love. In Italian, love is not about falling. Innamorarsi, the word we use for that, indicates a change of state, not place — for us, love is a metamorphosis that transforms the being, not somewhere one lands after tripping.

That is perhaps why Italian allows for a much — I'm sorry — clearer handling of the entire business of love. For instance, we use different verbs to love a sister and love a boyfriend. And we never need to decode tongue twisters, such as: "I have a lot of love for you, but I don't love you — do you know what I mean?"

No. No, I don't.

Language quietly reflects what matters to a culture. Italian has more words for “love” than English, and more for “blue.” On the other hand, it only seems to need one word for both “job” and “work,” and you are free to draw your own conclusions on why that is.

But, while the Italian love vocabulary is quite articulate, when it comes to breaking up — and dealing with it — English is a much better equipped language.

Living, loving and dreaming in English, I witnessed a surprisingly rich linguistic breakup expertise, a detailed common knowledge of what is to be said to someone after the relationship ended. This shared wisdom, I learned, expresses itself through a variety of breakup idioms and deep philosophical considerations like:

“Shit happens.”

It does, doesn't it?

Shockingly, acknowledging that doesn't seem to make anyone feel better, which explains the need for rather cryptic supporting statements — not all specifically created for the purpose of healing heartache, but unfailingly used to try.

First comes the damage assessment.

“It is what it is.”

No way! After this unfathomable realization usually come the words of advice. Unsolicited and abundant.

“Hang in there.”

Right here in this café? Can I order some food?

“You should put yourself out there.”

Shame, I just committed to hanging in here. Rain check? (And while we are at it, where in the world does the expression rain check come from? It certainly didn’t come out of the blue skies and sea of Italy.)

“Things happen for a reason.”

I know, they usually do, but I'm seriously struggling to figure this one out. It's driving me insane to try to understand it.

“Don't try to understand everything.” (Alternatively: “Everything doesn't happen for a reason.”)


“One day it'll all make sense.”

Oh (take two).

“Some things will never make sense.”

But I thought one day… Never mind.

This cloud of English language sagacity lingers in the breakup air for — you guessed it — “as long as it takes,” and for a non-native speaker, never fully ceases to verge on nonsense. While waiting for it to dissipate and until you finally “move on” (Where? Where is that?), I've learned there is only one thing left to do, the thing everyone says is the most important — “be true to yourself."

Whatever that's supposed to mean.