I spent the summer in a state of flux. My 7-year relationship was struggling, and I was desperately trying to find a way to fix it. In early September, a month after we renewed the lease on our apartment, he ended it.
I was devastated and lost, but buried under all that pain, and hurt, lay a small comforting sense of relief. I knew couldn’t hold our relationship together on my own, and having that pressure removed broke my heart, but also freed it.
These past two months, my first as a single adult, have been transformative. I’ve done things I never thought I would and I’ve met people who have opened my eyes to the person I can be on my own. The future I thought I was going to have has changed, and the things that I have learned so far will guide wherever my new future leads.
Every day my list of lessons grows longer, but here are the five that I hope will stick with me, after the sting of this time in my life has faded.
1. My Worth Is Not Defined By A Partner
It’s embarrassing to admit now, but I never felt good enough for my ex. When we met, I was an awkward, chubby, theater-loving 16-year-old, and he was good looking and moderately popular athlete. The second we started dating, my high school “stock” rose.
I felt so lucky to have him, and I couldn’t believe that he loved me. As we made it through high school and college, I grew up, I began to like myself, I gained confidence and I stopped thinking so much that “I was lucky,” and more that “we were lucky.”
Despite that, deep in my gut, lay that old insecurity. When we fought or someone made a joke about how different we were in high school, that twinge of “he’s dating down” would flair up, and I would shove it back down.
In the days after the break-up, a chorus of whispers echoed and repeated in my mind: “Of course he left you,” “You never deserved him in the first place,” “You we’re never worthy.” It was easy to listen, to confirm the worst parts of me. They were hard to push away because they were right, he was gone and I was on my own.
Day by day, though, I proved myself wrong. I got stronger. I kept moving. I started a new job that I love and I’m good at. I surrounded myself with amazing people who I would do anything for and who would do anything for me. I planned trips. Slowly, I am learning how worthy I am all on my own.
Never again will I let a relationship define who I am. Never again will I let myself feel less than anyone. I like who I am, or at least who I am becoming, and I never want to forget that.
2. There Is No Way Out, Only Through
This phrase has become my mantra. There are days where I feel sticky with grief. When memories of us pull at my arms, my hair, trying to drag me down into the abyss of the “perfect” relationship that was.
I remember a road trip to Niagara Falls in the middle of night. I see him play piano in living room, tease my little brother during a game of basketball and lie in the grass taking selfies over a waterfall in Iceland. At first I tried to push the flood of memories away, to turn them off and stem the flow, but it made it worse. I would cry and remember all of the good, all of the happy. And then I started going to yoga.
At the end of every yoga class, we enter a pose called savasana. It’s the easiest and hardest pose of the class. You lie completely still on your back, and calm your mind. You stay completely aware, but unattached in the present moment, and keep all other thoughts at bay. My instructors always say before we take this pose, if a stray thought enters your mind, welcome it and then let it go. And that’s how I’ve started handling the hard moments.
I’m with a few friends in Seattle, sitting in the back seat as we drive through the mountains. Suddenly I’m in Rockies, sitting next to him, and fiddling with the radio. I welcome the memory, let it come easy and then let it fade. I place myself back in this moment, in this car, with these friends.
It’s hard, but I can’t escape the pain, I can only get through it. I can only dream of the days that will come, where I feel at peace with what was, and can find joy when there is now sadness. There is no quick escape from what I feel, no easy out, and that’s a good thing.
3. Female Friendships Are Vital.
In Lena Dunham’s new podcast “Women of the Hour” — which is currently my obsession — Lena says “I love loving men, but I love knowing women” and that’s something I’ve really come to understand in these past few months.
My childhood friends are still the most important women in my life. Girls I choose before I could even make a choice, Girls who knew me before braces, and boyfriends. Girls who know me sometimes better than I know myself.
They know that when I’m crying, I just want to watch Gilmore Girls and not speak. They know when I need a hug, or a push out the door. If I make a mistake, they don’t judge. If I need to talk, they always listen. They drink with me, laugh with me, and always remind me that I am doing everything right, because everything I am feeling is right.
I always called my ex my best friend, and for along time I thought he was, but boyfriends don’t last forever. My female friends are forever, through thick and thin, through fights and tears. They are my chosen sisters and they are best friends I need. (Thank you for being there, you know who are.)
4. Forgiveness & Healing Go Hand in Hand
Outwardly, I’ve tried to handle my break-up with an aggressive kind of Zen. No blame, no anger, but a radical acceptance of what was, and what’s next. I refused to say anything negative about him or our relationship, and when anyone asked I would just say, “We been together a long time, and people grow apart.”
Over and over again I heard “You seem to be in a really good place” and I’m glad that’s what they see, because inwardly, it hasn’t felt that way. I’ve not a Zen person, I’m an extremely emotional one, and it’s so easy to be angry at a person who moved out with no notice. It’s easy to blame him for giving up, when I was willing to fight.
I wrote pages and pages in a journal I titled “Things I’ll Never Tell You.” I cried raging tears into my pillow, in the shower, and any other place my roommates wouldn’t hear. I didn’t want anyone to know my anger, because it felt weak, and I wanted them all to think I was strong. I didn’t even want to write this lesson down, but I know I have to if I am going to heal.
Anger is natural, anger is necessary, but I can’t hold on to it anymore. So here we go. Hey ex, I forgive you. I forgive you for leaving; I forgive you for not telling me how unhappy you’d become until it was too late; I forgive you for needing to forge a new path. I forgive you, so I can start again.
5. I am My Own Best Friend & Biggest Support
I’ve always needed people. I grew up in a large family. I’ve only ever lived with roommates. I do my best work in coffee shops and sleep best with music. Being surrounded is easy for me. Being alone isn’t. And so much of going through a break-up is learning to be alone.
It was easy to use my ex as my support system for the past 7 years. It was easy to tell him all my thoughts and feelings, to use him as a sounding board and journal. Now though, I have to spend a lot of time in my own brain and I’m not comfortable there.
I come home to an empty house a lot these days, my roommates busy with relationships, school and work, and I don’t know how to just be. I clean, I turn on Netflix, I call people, all to avoid the silence and space that now seems to be everywhere.
But it’s changing. I’m learning to relish my alone time. I am learning to turn off the TV, to shut down my phone, and just be with me. I’m learning how valuable it is to really take time to just be still. I will always be my biggest support, my best friend. When no one else is in my corner, I will be.
Friends, relationships, family, they make life better, but I am enough for me, I am all I need. And if that is the only thing I take from this time in my life, then all this pain, all this hurt, all this learning is worth it.