I mentioned in a previous article that I’m going through my first break-up ever. This was a two year long relationship that spanned my first everything, down to my first conscious crush on another person.
I was a late bloomer! I didn’t even experience holding hands until I was 19. Everyone has their own pace and I’m grateful to have been a late bloomer because I had more time for my brain to mature before getting myself into a relationship. That also means, however, I had more time to consume media depicting break-ups.
My experience wasn’t at all what I expected it to be, especially after watching so many young women on a screen wail into mountains of tissues. The perfect example I can think of is the first episode of New Girl where Jess discovers her partner of seven years cheating on her, moves, and spends days on the couch of her new apartment sobbing while watching Dirty Dancing on repeat.
Even when women go through a break-up and don’t react that way, there’s always another character in that TV show or movie pushing them to have a melt down! When Rory and Dean break-up in Gilmore Girls, Rory throws herself into school and volunteering to get into the best college she can while her mom, Lorelai, desperately tries to force her to “wallow” instead.
But, my experience didn’t exactly fit this melodramatic, heartbroken young woman trope and no one tried to make me, either. Instead, I cried for 3 days (the third was because of New Girl when Nick lit up the Christmas lights for Jess) and was angry for a week or two after that. Now, only 10 weeks out from my first love of two years breaking up with me because he was tired of putting in the effort that a partnership requires, I’m much better off.
Offer me absolutely no sympathy—I don’t want it. If anything, this break-up has boiled down to a minor inconvenience that makes my life too easy with too many options.
I honestly wondered if there was something wrong with me for being so okay. Literally, I came back to my roommates immediately after it happened and was crying, not because of the break-up, but because I was so overwhelmed at being able to do whatever I want without considering another person’s needs. Interestingly enough, that ended up being the exact sentiment of everyone important in my life.
My roommates, friends, parents, even my 14 year-old sisters, all had the same reaction: well, now you can do anything and go anywhere. We, myself included, are all excited to see how my life turns out with this newfound freedom.
So, while there’s nothing exactly wrong with my quick recovery, I’ve instead been saddled with an emotion that I had never seen depicted in an on-screen break-up and was not anticipating in the slightest.
Of what? Many things. Sacrificing when I didn’t want to, even though I’ve always seen myself as someone who stands their ground. Spending time with a person that would never sacrifice for me in the same way. Tolerating disrespect and expecting a different result the next time. The list goes on and only becomes more embarrassing, so I’ll stop there.
What it really comes down to is this: I’ve been set free to live my life in the way that I want, which has led to me enjoying my life way more than before, but I feel embarrassed about not seeing the red flags until looking in the rear-view mirror, and, finally, I feel pressure to now go on a great, fulfilling adventure and build my dream life.
In discussing this embarrassment with people close to me in much more detail, the reassurance I’m offered is that at least I learned from this relationship and break-up. These lessons are somewhat unconventional, definitely ones that I hadn’t heard before, so hopefully you can learn from them!
- Of course there’s the standard “you deserve better” thing, which is actually very, very true. You should never tolerate behavior and treatment that makes you feel ignored, unimportant, or disrespected. This still applies if it’s only sometimes.
- On top of that, listen when the person you’re with tells you who they are. If you build up the courage to maturely stand up for yourself and the person goes back to their old ways, even after a spell of improvement, they’ve just shown you that they aren’t worth your time.
- Moving on looks different for everyone. You don’t have to hit every step that you think you should. It’s more than okay to live your life without forgiving or forgetting. Closure and resolution are subjective, don’t let someone else define it for you.
- A woman’s intuition never lies. There are historical, structural, and institutional reasons for women to be on high alert 24/7; your mind and body will alert you that something is wrong before it’s been completely figured out so pay attention to what you have to say to yourself. For example, if you have 5 dreams about your partner cheating on you over the 2 years that you’re together, they may not be cheating per se but there is a reason why you probably shouldn’t trust them.
- Honestly, it’s really common to feel embarrassed after a break-up. Once the love-goggles come off, you might realize that the person you spent so much time with was actually ugly, selfish, boring, something else, or all of the above. Maybe you’re embarrassed about not just what you tolerated, but the way that you acted as well. It’s completely normal.
- Everyone perceives you differently—one of my roommates sees me as a #girlboss head-bitch-in-charge while another would describe me as a kind, smart woman that sacrifices too much too often. I’m most often told that I’m the former, a bossy gal that takes no shit. But, after two decades of being applauded for my independence and self-assurance as a young woman, I have to come to terms with perhaps being something in between that and self-sacrificial kindness. Don’t ignore versions of yourself that you don’t like because they are flawed—find balance and stay true to who you are, not who you think you should be.
No break-up is exactly identical. There’s no perfect science to moving on and there’s no right way to feel or act, especially when you’ve been hurt. It’s okay if it’s anticlimactic like mine, but it’s also okay if it feels like your world is ending in a way that makes you want to crawl under your bed and hide from it all.
Just don’t sacrifice too much too young. Build the life that you want and kick out anyone who doesn’t support your dreams and/or isn’t willing to be there with you as you achieve them. Your 20’s are for being selfish.