After four years together, I honestly stopped thinking of a life without him; it just wasn’t possible. Sure, we often argued and he always made it clear that he’d rather be single than deal with my “issues”, but it was in the heat of the moment and so I deluded myself into believing we’d “make it”; we had already made it far longer than anyone we knew. I have always been one to go against the current: all our friends are happily throwing themselves into drinking all night and hooking up, I’ll stay home and he’ll cook dinner. While everyone breaks up at the first sign of trouble, we’ll stay together. We had been together for so long that we had become one of THOSE couples; we did everything together and if anyone ever saw one of us without the other they’d immediately ask where our other half was…because that was what we’d become; two halves of a whole, so much so that we stopped being who we actually were. Before I was with him I was my own person with my own friends and my own likes and dislikes, I had my own dreams and aspirations, my own sense of humor, my own way of doing things. I had insecurities, but I had learned to embrace them as a quirky part of what made up who I was. Either way, when he left, truly left and no amount of effort on my part to change the outcome worked, I was faced with a decision: it was a week before finals began and I could either fall apart (drop out of the semester, take a leave of absence from my job, and hide out in my room with movies, TV series, and junk food) OR keep going. Somehow, I kept going. I got out of bed the next day and went to work, given after spending the night crying with friends over the phone and continuing for an additional hour in the morning. I went to class afterwards, even though I hadn’t completed the readings and couldn’t focus on the lecture.
Of all the things I’ve been through, nothing was harder than making the decision, every minute of every day, to NOT fall apart. Everyone expected me to, HE expected me to, and I think that was how I also pushed myself to keep going. That and those friends who I thought I’d lost coming to my rescue. And it wasn’t that I didn’t cry (I did, a lot), but I didn’t indulge myself in crying. I lived my day ten minutes at a time, knowing that if I kept going ten minutes at a time then at some point I wouldn’t feel this burning sharp pain in my chest all the time. Whenever my mind started to turn over the memories and wonder what he was doing (lots of Facebook stalking was involved) I stopped it (closed the window) and started making plans. Ok, so now that I WOULDN’T be finishing an MA at the same time as him and going to an internship in the same place and same semester as him and looking for PhD programs in the same cities as him, what was I going to do? Now that I had left the company we had co-founded together and where I saw myself growing as I built our client-base, how was I going to pay rent? Well, now I could do anything because I no longer had to limit my dreams to him, also my cost of utilities and groceries went way down with one less mouth to feed. For the first time in four years I thought about what I wanted and I made new goals.
Suddenly, I realized that for four years I had been holding myself back; passed up internship opportunities that were too far away, work opportunities that meant relocating, and PhD programs that I’d been accepted into while he was rejected. I was alone now and there was no reason to slow down, like I’d been forced to so he could keep up. Instead of graduating in three semesters, I could in two. Instead of applying to internships and programs close to him or where he was going (always making sure that they were not more ambitious than his), I could now look at programs throughout the nation and the world. I needed a new job, so I asked myself what it was I really wanted to do and it became clear: the one thing I’d had to give up because I never had time to while he was around. So I set about making a plan: pass my graduate exam, apply to PhD programs a year earlier than I would have if I were still with him (because he cannot deal with the same course-load as me), look at internships in companies I really want to work in and in places I am actually interested in living. Most surprising of all, now that he was gone, I found myself feeling less alone. I found myself less afraid and less anxious because I didn’t have to worry about how he’d react to the way I dressed, the way I talked, the way I socialized, and my general personality. In the words of one of my closest friends: “You are a little ball of sunshine, again!”
Throughout our relationship I was desperately terrified of us breaking up because so much of my life had come to be defined by being an “us”. Yes, I spoke in “we” and constantly mentioned his likes, his dislikes, his accomplishments, and his dreams. I was one of those annoying girls. I had, essentially, lost my identity. Yes, in the 21st century there are still women, like me, who too easily forget that they are individuals and they do not have to dedicate themselves to their S.O. but can stand on their own. After it was over my friends promptly reminded me of this and of how much better I was before him and will be after him. While I was with him I felt achingly alone and cut off; he was the only person I had to talk to and hang out with because he didn’t like any of my friends. I didn’t have a car and had no way to go to parties and events I was actually interested in. Because he didn’t like my family, I barely got to spend time with them, but was constantly dedicating my days to helping him and his family. I always had to go where he was going because when I refused he made me feel guilty or like I was anti-social. When he left, all those friends I’d been neglecting rushed in and I remembered that before him I had never felt alone. Quite the opposite, I had felt like I had too many friends and too many things to do. During finals, I found myself accomplishing more work in a day than I would have if we were together because now I didn’t have to constantly fetch him snacks, drinks, and clean up after him. There was no one interrupting me to ask for my feedback on something they wrote.
So, having my boyfriend of four years who I saw myself marrying one day leave me a week before finals without even considering fixing our problems or taking the blame for anything wrong with our relationship, taught me how to be stronger by teaching me that I CAN truly accomplish what I set my minds to. It taught me that I am happier and better alone, even when I miss him terribly (which I do because FOUR YEARS!). It also taught me that friends are more important than an S.O. because I honestly did not think I would make it through finals, but my friends sat with me every single day and made me study with them. Ten minutes at a time, one page at a time, I wrote three research papers that I had not even started, because I was too involved in my relationship drama, in two weeks. My parting words are these: love is the most beautiful thing we can find in life, but it should never make us feel afraid, it should never limit our growth, and even if the guy was perfect sometimes being dumped at the worst possible time is exactly what you need because you are strong enough to make on your own and your friends will be there to help you. I am stronger now because I am finally me again and I love me.