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When I was 23, I found myself in my hotel room in NYC, crying so hard into my pillow that it was turning into a scream and that scream turned into a hyperventilating kind of cry that I couldn't quite stop. It was all because my boyfriend of a year and a half had ended our relationship with a text message a few hours before. I had tried to keep my composure when I got the text, figuring it was not real or just a usual fight that we'd settle. Something harsh, cold, and too extreme that he would take back. But, it wasn't. And he was serious. I'll never forget the way I typed: Are you breaking up with me? And all he wrote was: Yes. We just are on different paths. So simple, yet who would know that it would make my 23rd year the most difficult year of my life.
I met this boy, let's call him Anthony, a few summers before, and we fell into a friends-with-benefits situation. Looking back, I didn't even like him too much. He was cute, but he was too young and I remember feeling like I had much more important men in my life at the time. He was a fling and not much more. However, we kept in contact and stayed friends and talked while we were at school. We had a connection that was small but grew and grew. We FaceTimed while we did homework and called each other drunk. When we finally both came back for summer break again, the flame was a full-on forest fire. We met up and then continued to hang out everyday for the entire summer. I still think it was the best summer of my life.
I won't go into our year and half long relationship much. I will say that I've never fallen in love that quickly. He was strangely everything I never knew I wanted in a person. He was hysterical, leaving me in tears when we joked around. He would say the right thing, kiss me when I wanted a kiss, even when I hadn't asked for one. He was the life of the party, sarcastic, the smartest person I'd ever met, and the type of person who could go back and forth with me all day long, with a smirk on his face and his hand on my hips. A month into us actually dating, we were talking about getting married and having kids. I know how childish it all sounds but I was fully convinced that he was it for me—that he was my future. And I was so happy with that idea. He was all I'd ever wanted in anyone. He was, in so many ways, the first real great love of my life.
However, he was still younger and as I got a job and threw myself into my first job as a videographer, he went back to school, where he was the president of a fraternity. He was concerned with parties, his studies, his frat, and it left little room for his older girlfriend back home. In the classic way that relationships fall apart, ours did. He didn't want to put in the effort that he once did. And I think he just found that he wanted to be single whereas I wanted the serious relationship I thought we were on the road to. I talked about moving in with him after graduation—something he once brought up all the time—to only hear grumbles of agreements. He stopped texting me as much and stopped calling me altogether. Getting him to FaceTime was like pulling teeth, whereas a year before we would take naps together using the very same feature.
I was always comfortable enough with Anthony to tell him when I was feeling like I wasn't getting what I deserved. With past relationships, I had always held back and it didn't feel like something that I wanted to do anymore. Or that I had to do. So, I would begin to tell him every time it felt like he was different or our relationship felt strained. At a distance, it all feels painfully obvious but in the midst of it, I felt confused and angry and hoping he'd become who I thought he was.
Our second summer together, I realized we weren't going to go back to that magical summer again. He stopped inviting me over altogether and I felt neglected. He talked about going away for two months to California for an internship and it got so bad that I even kissed another boy at a party even though I knew for a fact I was madly in love with Anthony. After months of almost-breakups and so, so many tears, we were apart like cars passing each other on the highway, getting further by the second.
Here is what I learned in the next 10 months:
- You should never, ever have to convince someone to love you. Let's say this louder for the people in the back. NEVER. After we broke up, I tried to convince Anthony to be with me again on multiple occasions. I remember when he came over to drop off my clothes, I began kissing him, hugging him, tearing up, and begging him to give us another chance. He looked at me and said, "This is so sad." And he wasn't talking about me being pathetic, although YIKES, he was talking about how truly sad it was to have to try to talk someone into being with you. I knew in that moment that if I had enough strength I would've told him that I didn't want to be with anyone who didn't want to be with me and that the door was right over there. But, I knew deep down I wasn't strong anymore. I was past my pride.
- Actions speak so much louder than words. Anthony used to text me pages before he went to bed reciting how much he loved me, how he never wanted to live without me, how I was his entire world. But then he'd ignore me, wouldn't put the same amount of effort into our relationship, and continued to show signs that he didn't want to commit to the relationship like I did. I now know that no matter how much people can claim to love you, respect you, want to be with you, or want to make an effort—what they actually do counts a lot more.
- Stop making excuses for your significant other. In the depths of my heartbreak, Anthony was all I could think about. Anything from a passing car to a song to a color could remind me of him. He was the first thing I thought of when I woke up and the last thing I thought of when I cried myself to sleep. I kept thinking of the relationship like a tragic love story, not unlike Romeo and Juliet. That if only this or if only that, we'd still be together. I looked at him and us through rose colored glasses. It wasn't until I was many months out that I realized if he wanted to be with me, he would be. If he wanted to make it work, he would've. If he wanted to try and not give up, he could've. But he didn't.
- Don't reach out. Coming from someone who did not obey my own rule, trust me. I reached out to Anthony so many times. I asked him to meet up, poured my heart out in texts, lied to him about being okay and moving on and ultimately prolonged my healing process by four months. It wasn't until I decided to block him on everything and cut off all contact, that I finally began to heal. I realized that he was going to lead me on and I was never going to be satisfied. I was always going to want us to go back to what we were. And I knew it could never be that way again. I had lost all my trust for him. This one person who had claimed he would always protect me had finally broken me. I knew I needed to move on.
- Don't sleep with everyone you've ever met. We all heal in different ways. For some of us (like a good friend of mine, you know who you are) it means closing yourself off and being by yourself. But for me, it meant getting on every dating app and trying to replace my ego, self-worth, and a monumental hole in my heart with strangers who either didn't care too much about me or just simply wanted to get laid. I doubled my body-count in a few months (I was being safe!) but I felt disgusting, used, and worse than ever before when they all left. Worse, after each "relationship" with these men ended, I missed Anthony even more. You alone can fill the void you're missing, not other people.
- Know your worth. These past few months, if I've learned one thing that I will carry to my next relationship, it is to know my own worth. I am worth someone who makes an effort, who calls me because they miss my voice, who surprises me with dates, who challenges me intellectually, who I connect with and love passionately. I am worth someone who doesn't give up on me or decide they don't value me in their life anymore. I am worth SO much more than I was treated. Especially because I was always willing to give Anthony what I felt he deserved and then some. You deserve the moon. Do not ever settle for anything less.
- Learn how to be happy alone. The main thing to take from this long story and the biggest thing I've taken from my breakup and my healing process is that I have to learn to be happy alone. I made Anthony my entire world, my reason for happiness. I wasn't really happy unless I was with him. I stopped wanting to hangout with my friends or family and just wanted him around me, always. But the truth is, being happy just with yourself is the most important thing you can do. You are the person you wake up with and listen to and hear throughout the day. You are the only person that you are around 24/7 for your entire life. Learn what you like to do that makes you feel fulfilled. Surround yourself with people who are gentle to you, who raise you up and support you. Find how you can be content simply being alone. Because I promise you, this will make you stronger than anything else can. It will show the world that you don't need anyone but you. And when you do finally find that person you're supposed to be with, you'll still be able to come home to yourself. Because you can't love anyone without loving yourself first.