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Whenever people compliment me on my white high-heeled court shoes, I always say the same thing. ‘Thanks, they’re my anger heels.’ By that I mean they are the shoes I bought the last time I was furious at a man. It’s a habit of mine. In the aftermath of romantic rejection, I buy shoes. And not just any old shoes.

Anger heels are chosen for their aesthetic appeal first and foremost. They are pretty, towering, and not remotely practical. You don’t need them, but by God do you want them. They will slice your feet to ribbons if worn for any significant amount of time, but they will look incredible while they’re doing it.

My newest pair of anger heels is almost five years old, just a few months older than my relationship. So why do I still feel the need to tell people about the context in which I bought them? Why is this my way of dealing with rejection, and what does my choice of shoe say about me? After years of pondering, I think I may have figured it out.

The heels in question were bought as a pick-me-up, a treat to myself after I discovered that the guy I’d been involved with for six months was in a serious relationship with someone else. I chose them because they were unusual. Their pristine whiteness made them stand out, as did their platform and their crossover straps. These were not run-of-the-mill heels, and I am not a run-of-the-mill girl. It was important to remind myself of that at a time when my instinct was to beat myself up.

Retail therapy cannot cure a broken heart, but it can take the edge off slightly. Taking the time to pick out something nice for yourself is a simple and effective way to practise self-care, which is incredibly important in times of emotional turmoil. That shopping trip was a welcome distraction, an opportunity to reinvent myself in the wake of what had happened.

My post-rejection purchases tend to be much more daring than normal. The dresses are shorter, the heels higher, and these heels are no exception. Many women I know would baulk at the height of them, at the slimness of the tapering heel. They would profess themselves unable to walk in them without even trying. Not me. I have known for a long time that heels are like horses: you have to walk as if you aren’t scared of them. It’s 10% balance and 90% willpower. If you want to walk in them, you will.

That being said, there’s no denying these heels are towards the braver end of the scale. I wasn’t feeling brave when I picked them out, quite the opposite. I therefore chose a pair of shoes that required the bravery I felt I was lacking. The right pair of shoes can do that: help you channel a particular quality when you need it most. They allow you to masquerade as one thing while feeling like another. Putting on a pair of heels is like putting on a show, even if the show is only for yourself.

This show wasn’t just for me, however. The night after the revelation, I went out partying with one of my friends from my Teacher Training course. I wanted to look my best, so I donned my new heels, a short black skirt and a glitzy yellow chiffon top. This was partly to make myself feel better, but it was also my way of ensuring people noticed me. I had no interest in the people themselves-no intention of hooking up with anyone-I just wanted to be noticed. I wanted the attention, and the validation that comes from it. I got it too, before I’d even arrived at my friend’s place for pre-drinks.

When a guy stopped me in the street to ask for my number, I can’t pretend I wasn’t delighted. Barely twenty-four hours had passed since my suspicions were confirmed, and already I’d had my first show of interest. Seeking external validation is not something I would normally advocate for, but craving it is human, and we all need it from time to time in varying degrees. The compliments I received that night were proof that I had options, and that was all I needed.

As much as they were a cry for validation, those heels were also a symbol of independence. A fierce pair of shoes for a fiercely independent girl, determined to prove that she would be just fine on her own. I didn’t need anyone to steady me or hold me up; I could march up hills in them without tottering once. My feet were bleeding afterwards, but I didn’t care. I needed to prove that I could withstand pain, and the heels were just another way of doing that.

There is a duality to my anger heels. On the one hand they are a show of strength, but the circumstances in which I bought them mean they are also a symbol of vulnerability. They embody happiness and hurt, serving as both a pick-me-up and a punishment. They are a contradiction, a beautiful reminder of a time when I didn’t feel beautiful. But most importantly, they are a symbol of afterwards. Of recovery. Of picking myself up and getting on with my life, albeit after much drama and sulking.

It’s fine to buy yourself nice shoes after suffering a rejection. It’s fine to buy skyscraper heels that look pretty but rarely see the light of day. But do you know what’s even better? Wearing those heels for the benefit and appreciation of whoever comes along next. I should know. I’ve done it often enough.

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