Three months ago I got a phone call that would forever alter the trajectory of my story. I was days away from being engaged to someone who I thought was going to be my forever, only to have that future shattered in an instant.
Fast-forward to today and I can honestly say that the pain that would ensue in the days and weeks following that call was one of the best things to ever happen to me.
All it took was a two hour phone call to realize that I was no longer in love with the boy I had met five years ago on a street corner who was too shy to give me a handshake or a hug on our first date, so he did both. We would joke about that ‘hugshake’ for years to come.
After all that’s been said and done, I know that I spent the first half of my twenties in love with a boy’s potential. When I met him, he was hopelessly floundering in community college. He’d been there for five years prior to meeting me and didn’t have any immediate plans to transfer; he said that he wanted to, but just couldn’t figure out how to make that happen.
Fast-forward so many sleepless nights of laughing until our sides and cheeks hurt.
Fast-forward all the coordinating we had to do with my law school classes during the day and his late-night college classes, both at a CC and eventually at the four-year school of his dreams.
Despite everything, we made it work.
To me, that that was the most important thing. I would have done anything for him. Stand up and defend him to my family, you fucking bet ya. Say the wrong thing and apologize for it a thousand times, hell yes. Move heaven and earth (helped him write resumes, reach out for side job opportunities, encourage him to reconnect with his friends and family he hadn’t or never had any relationships of substance with), you better believe it.
He was my everything and to be dropped without notice cut deeper than any of the other major “life changing” things I’ve gone through. For weeks, I couldn’t shake that so many years could be unraveled by a single pow-wow with his family that made him “realize” that he’d been blind as to how wrong I was for him.
If being unapologetically honest and having a penchant for heavy sarcasm is a crime, then I’m guilty… so, so guilty.
Immediately after the breakup, I thought I’d never recover. I had become a bystander in my own life and it was a terrifying experience to just sit back and watch everything fall apart. After everything though, the truth is I’ve rebounded a thousand times stronger than I was even a few months ago. Twelve weeks ago I wrote this note in my phone:
“I will find a man who loves me so fiercely, he will not care if his parents approve or not of his relationship with me-because if they don’t initially (or five years later), they’ll come around because I am a good person and I’ve never gone out of my way to harm a soul, ever.”
Albeit very new, the relationship I’m in now gives me hope that there are men in this world who are capable of this.
My last relationship didn’t end because I cheated, or got bored, or found someone better (whatever that means). It ended because the guy I thought was going to promise to love me forever jumped ship at the first sight of distress.
That’s not a ride or die partner to commit forever to. That’s a “I’ll hangout until things get difficult and then I’m out” kinda person.
Right after the breakup, I spent hours googling everything under the sun: “how long until you and your ex realize you were meant to be,” “when will your ex realize what he lost,” “how long do breakups hurt,” the list went on and on. During all this “research,” I learned that the loss of a relationship mimics the stages of grief others experience during other stages of life, like the loss of a loved one or what happens when someone has a messy divorce. Who knew there were stages to a breakup to…so without further adieu, my seven steps:
STAGE 1: DESPERATE FOR ANSWERS. Hell yes, I was. I wanted to know how we went from amazing shenanigans and Netflix that morning to mad hangups, screaming, and “it’s over” that afternoon. It took almost two weeks to get answers, and I’ll give him credit for talking to me (albeit I was the one to reach out), but I did get insight into why it was over…and I can’t fix petty and easily offended negative Nancys). I’m never going to apologize for who I am. I’m sarcastic and honest and extremely broken. I was upfront about this with him and he said that he loved me in spite of my flaws; clearly, his family did not, could not, and apparently never would. What’s a girl to do? Pick up her shit, move out, and move on.
STAGE 2: DENIAL. Ugh, this one was tough. Like, how the hell can it be over? We were designing an engagement ring. He was going to ask the following week. What did I do wrong? Of course we can fix this, right? Apparently not, but that’s okay. I deserve a love that wants to love me back; it can’t be a one-way street.
STAGE 3: BARGAINING. I tried it all – I’ll change. I’ll be a better person. I’ll bite my tongue more. I-I-I. The issue was he wasn’t the one making any effort; telling me his parents could undo the last five years hurt worse than any spinal tap without anesthesia (yep, I’ve had a few of those). It didn’t matter that he wasn’t making any effort…I just didn’t want to lose him. But for my amazing friends and family who literally kept me busy every single night for the weeks that’d follow, I probably would’ve gone to our apartment to grovel for him to take me back, whatever the conditions. My lack of self-worth was embarrassing, but present-me appreciates the fact that I didn’t stoop to this.
STAGE 4: RELAPSE. I was moving in a positive direction. After a week of not eating, I started to eat, then HOT MESS CENTRAL. It’s crazy how freaking accurate these stages were, but I would be okay-okay-okay one day, then FUCKING NOT OKAY in an instant. The tears rushed down my cheeks faster than I could catch them in a tissue and then I was back to steps one, two, and three. The relapses came in waves and were probably some of the most difficult, because I thought I was over it, and then I was back at stage one in utter disbelief that it even happened.
STAGE 5: ANGER. Out of all the steps, this was the most logical to me. My “angry” stage was one of the shortest stages. I spent one evening methodically calculating every (major) thing he owed me…all the rent I’d been subsidizing on his behalf; all the money I’d given him for school that he was supposed to pay back over time, but never got around to. If I learned anything, it’s that not only does love make you blind, but it makes you broke.
Anger was the easiest stage for me to understand because at the end of the day, all I wanted was him – no rings, no house, no fancy dinners, just him. I thought that the love we’d cultivated was something to fight for, but after all was said and done, he didn’t feel the same way.
STAGE 6: INITIAL ACCEPTANCE. Ugh, I never thought I’d get to any kind of acceptance, but before I knew it, probably three weeks in, I was finally coming to terms with everything that had happened. In the days that followed the breakup, he told me over and over that he didn’t want me to hate him…and hate is all I felt for his family for the role they played in everything. I couldn’t hate a boy who couldn’t muster the strength to be a man and fight for someone who’d proven time and time again she’d do anything for him…but when you get to acceptance, you realize someone playing catch and release with your heart is a reckless kind of love that won’t stand the test of time.
STAGE 7: REDIRECTED HOPE. I think it’s taken all of this time to get here/I may not completely be all the way there, but I know I will. I hope the best for him.
I don’t wish I never loved him.
I don’t wish I’d never met him.
I do wish he would’ve told his family I was important enough to never let go…but that’s neither here nor there.
I was in love with his potential, but he saw my encouragement as nagging and my perseverance to work on our relationship as holding onto something I should’ve let go years ago.
As tumultuous as this cyclone of emotions was, I’m eternally grateful that I went through it all. It allowed me to walk away from this with a better understanding about how I wanted to be treated in future relationships. It helped me find peace in knowing that we found each other at times in our lives when we both needed someone to lean on, but once those hurdles passed, we were better off parting ways to love (and be loved by) other people.
It’s still jarring to know that after all the time we spent together, we’re now back to the strangers we were before we met…but that’s okay. It took listening to endless hours of achey breaky country music and angsty pop club ballads to be okay with everything. The stages of grief were actually very real, even when I couldn’t see the progress myself.
If you’re reading this and going through something, know whatever it is isn’t forever. You’ll get through it, even if it’s not today, tomorrow, or next week. I did, and going through it has put so much in perspective…like these last few law school finals and eventually taking the bar exam. It’s all a matter of perspective and it’s okay if you only love someone’s potential, because that means you could see good in them that others, and perhaps even that person, could not see for themselves.