Hyperkaratosis of the Heart (Hello Mr)

This article was originally published in Issue 02 of Hello Mr magazine.

I have a sad confession to make. I recently declined the romantic advances of a beautiful, intellectually stimulating, modestly successful man who ticked each of my relationship boxes. And now, as a self-proclaimed 'unlucky-in-love, Bridget Jones/Lena Dunham' type -  I'm feeling like an incomparable idiot.

Weathered from years of being optimistically pinned to my sleeve and swung blindly against the gym-built torso of man after gorgeous man, it would seem that my heart is showing the inevitable signs of hardening – much like the sole of a well-trodden foot. It makes sense, really. How much wear and tear can one hollow, blood-pumping muscle take before it hits the defensive? Surely it's mere self-preservation.

I did some research and quickly discovered that the process by which the sole of a foot hardens is called Hyperkeratosis- and it involves the development of hard, thick skin due to “constant friction and excessive pressure.” It would seem that footpaths, much like men, take their hidden tolls on our bodies.

The result, of course, is that you're now able to walk alone and bare-footed to the bottle shop on any given Tuesday night with minimal risk of foot-related injury.  Hyperkeratosis, when applied to the heart, however, isn't quite so glamorous. It essentially means that any poor sucker who takes an interest in you will need to demonstrate a level of persistence not seen since Leo DiCaprio's two-decade Oscars bid. One night stands, much like the Golden Globes, don't really count.

Indeed after countless knocks and slaps, your heart is now protected within a sturdy shell of broken dreams – and it's content in it's safety.  It's a romantic limbo in which you play God and nobody, no matter how compatible, is allowed to touch you.

Alternatively, of course, we could simply be dealing with a standard case of muscle memory- the heart is, after all, as much a muscle as a bicep or calve. According to Wikipedia:

“When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.”

This is obviously a reassuring safety-net for sporadic body-builders and yo-yo dieters, but what does it mean for the perpetually misfortunate modern-day romantic? Could the heart grow so familiar with the repeated jab of unrequited love that it preemptively assumes pain at the briefest glimpse of reciprocated affection? Perhaps our hearts are running on auto-pilot, hell-bent on crashing into a ball of flames and spiralling down to Earth as we eventually lie unaccompanied on our deathbeds.

I think I find it particularly strange because, as Gay men, we're universally recognised for our meticulous personal hygiene. When our skin is blotchy, we cleanse, tone and moisturise. When a month of easy living appears on our hips, we renew our gym memberships and subscribe to Liz Hurley's watercress soup diet. We are undeniably obsessed with personal maintenance, so much so that we forget to groom our emotional selves. If we made a habit of taking regular breaks from this gruelling and seemingly endless pursuit of love, abs and affection, perhaps our hearts would have the necessary time to recuperate for the next lengthy haul.

Because after all, while a broken heart mends over time, a bruised and battered one grows defensively hard – And with alcohol the pumice stone, it'll take that extra stubborn Prince Charming to break through.

Samuel Leighton-Dore