I remember being in 10th grade and getting a text from my first boyfriend saying, “I’m sorry but I don’t want to be with you anymore.” I curled up on my bedroom floor and cried my eyes out. Looking back, it seems ridiculous that I could have ever been so upset about a guy who would break up with me via text message, but these things always seem so much worse in the moment. When it comes to breakups, the cliche “time heals all wounds” is really quite true, at least in most cases.
I’ve had multiple failed relationships, and my breakups have been all over the map. I’ve been cheated on, left because I just wasn’t right for him, or we fell out of love over time. Through it all, I’ve realized there is really no such thing as an easy breakup. But as I’ve gotten older and more self-assured, I’ve handled them a lot differently. Here are the lessons I’ve learned after the different breakups I’ve had.
1. I focused on what I could control
When I was cheated on, I was, of course, incredibly upset. My trust had been abused and there was no way of repairing it. When I fell out of love with my next boyfriend, I was angry and baffled: How could such a thing happen? They just do. It wasn’t until I went to counseling that I realized these things were and are completely out of my control. What I could control was taking care of myself and moving on with my life. I could not stop an ex from going out partying every weekend. But I could stop following him on social media so I didn’t have to see such things. It was time for me to start thinking about myself and not my ex. So, I read like a fanatic; I volunteered at the local animal shelter and adopted a dog; I went for long walks and beautiful hikes with my dog; and I spent a lot of time with friends. I built a life that made me happy, which really helped me to move on.
2. I stopped blaming myself
My third breakup was particularly difficult. I truly thought I had found “the one,” and because of that, I got a bit lazy. I thought it didn’t matter that we fought all the time because we would always be together. When he broke up with me, I felt completely shocked and blindsided. I blamed myself because I thought that if I hadn’t gotten upset over so many silly things, we would still be together.
I wound up going to counseling. One of the very first things my counselor asked me was: “Do you love yourself?” Even though my automatic response was, “Yes,” when she began to pry deeper as to what I loved about myself, I had a hard time coming up with answers that weren’t generic, like “I’m a nice person.” So, she tasked me with an exercise: write down three things every day that I like about myself. At first it felt a bit silly, but I soon began to notice small, quirky things about myself that made me really happy. I was a nerd who loved re-reading “Harry Potter,” watching “Lord of the Rings,” and devouring all things superhero. These things showed me that I was imaginative and had a real sense of adventure.
After a couple of months of counseling, I really began to embrace being on my own. In the past, I had a habit of blaming myself for all of my failed relationships. I had always been so focused on what I could have done better, how I failed as a girlfriend, and how I was going to miss out on the rest of their life. It didn’t occur to me that they would also miss out on mine. When I got to know myself and appreciated just how unique, special, and worthy I was, my focus switched to just how much I had to offer.
3. I started recognizing opportunities for growth.
I had been to counseling before my next relationship began, which allowed me to enter into it much more strong and independent. The relationship eventually ended because he wasn’t over his ex, and although I was sad, I didn’t feel as broken as I had been in previous relationships. For the first time in my life, I had walked into a relationship with confidence in who I was and what I had to offer. I also felt I had a much better understanding of what I needed from a partner. I was grateful that he, along with my other exes, had allowed me to discover the things that really mattered to me, like trust, kindness, independence, and understanding. I wanted a partner I could laugh and travel with; someone I could share a life with while still being my own unique self.
I took these lessons with me as I entered into my current relationship. I am two years in, still in love (with him and myself), and know that what will be, will be. If some time from now it doesn’t work out, it will be disappointing, and I will be sad. But I will still have spent a wonderful couple of years with a great guy, and I’ll walk away with my head held high.
Originally published on April 30, 2018.