An Open Thank You to My Ex Who Gave Me the Opportunity to Love Again

It takes courage to love. It doesn’t matter if it is your music, your art, your writing, or a person. Loving requires you to open yourself up to vulnerability, which includes the possibility of criticism, rejection, heartache, and a myriad of other emotions that humans have a hard time grappling with. You know the phrase “it is better to have loved than to not have loved at all”? Yeah, I thought that was complete bullshit too when I was in college. But my last relationship made me realize it isn’t bullshit. It’s true.

I’ve always thought of myself as a strong independent woman and I’ve never wanted to be any other variation of that. My parents divorce was really messy growing up. I haven’t talked to my dad in eight years to this day. My mom was a stay at home mom and we were pretty poor the year my dad wanted to end things. I thought we were going to have to move and I thought I was going to have to say goodbye to all of my friends. And as a freshman in high school, I had this rather intense epiphany that I didn’t want to end up like my mom. I love her to pieces and she will always be the strongest woman that I know. But I didn’t want to be a stay at home mom who relied on the man to be the breadwinner in our relationship until the relationship came tumbling down (and I don’t think that’s what my mom wanted either – it just happened). That’s why I made a pledge to myself in high school that I would always have a career to help me remain independent. That’s why I busted my butt in high school and college to ensure I received a college degree and found a sense of purpose in my life  and to find a form of validation for my existence. I guess you could say, I wanted the cliche opportunity to “throw myself into my career” if need be. That purpose turned out to be teaching.

I knew I didn’t want to sit at an office desk and wear a pantsuit for the rest of my life. No, the right brained voice in me screamed to create, to invent, to write, to dream, to travel, and to love. As a passionate individual, when I engage in a relationship of any sort, I fall hard, never slowly. My first relationship, though not meant to be, was definitely a relationship I felt deeply about. All of my emotions were intertwined in that relationship as a timid, curious, and wide-eyed freshman. But like many relationships, it grew unloving and toxic. At the time, he seemed like the love of my life and I was completely and utterly devastated when it didn’t work out. I hardly left my empty college dorm and I barely ate. I watched reruns of 500 Days of Summer wishing that my love life could just be an unrealistic romantic comedy, where everything seems to work out perfectly in the end. But that’s the problem with movies. They aren’t realistic. That’s why they are called “feel good romantic comedies”. At the end, you always get this picture perfect image of the couple after they have gone through all of their hardships and woes. As if, couples always work things out no matter how ridiculous the misadventures of their relationship turned out. There is no glimpse into their future of having the same fights over again, not being able to communicate, or any of the typical issues that plague relationships today. We are given this idea that after a few fights and misunderstandings, relationships are supposed to be easy.

After a month or two of what you could call moping around, I picked up a pencil and started to draw. I picked up a brush and started to paint. And I picked up the pieces of my heart and I started to live again. Now, I am able to look back on the relationship with the ability to determine that, although we weren’t meant to be, it was a relationship I was meant to have. For the next three years, I found myself in and out of flings during college, still feeling fairly intense emotions about each one. None of them manifested into a relationship, but I found myself continuously mending my fragile heart, that had once been broken, but had now just endured a series of cracks. The reason they never grew into anything more boiled down to one reason: they weren’t ready to be in a relationship and thought the modern trick of “ghosting me” would be the best way to extinguish any spark we had. And I kept blaming myself for not doing enough, while also reprimanding them for taking everything I gave them without much in return.

Soon, I let the memories of my short flings turn to ash and I focused on my career and my purpose in life. I graduated from college and I had received a teaching job in the southern part of the state. I was to teach 9th grade English and I couldn’t have been more excited about it. After saving up all of my money from my summer job, I relocated and looked forward to my own adventure of self-exploration. A few weeks later, that’s when I met my recently determined ex.

Our first date was fun and he was easy to talk to. When I went back to my new home that night, I found myself retreating back to the same feeling that I often felt upon the first initial spark: fear. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see him again. Not because I didn’t feel like we connected, but because I was afraid of getting hurt. I thought it was better to just always be on my own and to never let anyone in. He asked me out again and I said to myself as I slipped my turquoise summer top on, “What the hell! Another date can’t hurt, right?” The moment we started talking at the restaurant, I knew this was someone I could date and be happy with. However, it wasn’t until he invited to take me on a motorcycle ride under stars and under the city lights that I was smitten; that I was hooked. I had never been on a motorcycle ride in my life. I was always scared to. But he reached his hand out to me and I took that leap of faith because I immediately knew that I could trust him. I knew he wasn’t just going to up and leave and run away with my heart like every other guy. That second date and that “what the hell” is ultimately what led to our 17 month relationship.

I look back on our two year relationship and can happily say we had a lot of good times together. From hiking, motorcycle rides, to getting frozen yogurt at the mall, we enjoyed the other’s company and we were totally in love with each other. Once we were going into the second year of our relationship and had moved in together, things slowly started to change. We stopped feeling the love and the communication from the other and our efforts to communicate slowly fizzled out to distance and unspoken feelings and issues. The stress of our jobs, our financial situations, and the daily routine of our own lives matched with the inability to communicate with each other was ultimately the recipe for our mutual breakup.

I had also been finding myself frustrated with my own inabilities to handle issues independently in a way that wasn’t toxic to me or to other people. I have always struggled with anxiety and my mental demons of perfectionism, insecurity, and irrationality began to seep their way into my relationship with him. I also found myself constantly saying I would do things, but then I never actually did them (like traveling anywhere beyond New York). I felt like I was losing myself a little bit and that the fun, enthusiastic, curious, and creative girl he had fallen in love with just wasn’t there anymore. He missed her and I missed her too. We finally sat on the couch together and communicated how we didn’t think the relationship was meant to survive. It’s ironic how things turned out. We struggled to communicate in our relationship, but our ability to communicate about breaking up was so clear and non-convoluted. And unlike all of the other times it didn’t work out, I found myself both crying and laughing through the breakup with him. And I had never been able to laugh during a breakup. The fact that we were able to feel sad about the end of our relationship, while still making sarcastic comments about things we were going to miss, made me realize that this was a good relationship for the while that it had lasted.

Breaking up with someone is always going to feel sad, messy, and horrible, I found that I wasn’t mad at him. I wasn’t angry at him. I didn’t resent him. And most of all, I didn’t regret the time we did spend together. Maybe we weren’t meant to be, but he was a relationship I was meant to have. As much as we found it difficult to work through our own issues and our own emotions with each other, I was able to love someone again in a way I hadn’t been able to in several years. Sure, it hurts, it stings, and it is hard to imagine my life without him now, but I know that this relationship has made me a stronger individual because it has given me the opportunity to take the leap of faith that I had always hesitated to do before. I found the courage to love someone again and you need to be courageous enough to let people into your life or you will miss out on the opportunity to meet and know a lot of wonderful people. And I want to truly thank my ex for being one of those wonderful people I got to share 17 months of my life with.

Everything feels shaky in my own life at the moment, just like it does in any breakup. But I know that I will pick up the pieces again. I will likely throw myself into my career (which includes looking for a new job and relocating back home), my art, my writing (I might actually finish my damn novel now), cuddling with my dog, actually traveling (maybe I’ll go to Europe this summer), acquiring more tattoos, hanging out with my family and friends, and hopefully finding a happier place full of self-love, self-worth, and self-acceptance. I’m glad I had the courage to love again. Just as I’m glad that I had the courage to pour my heart out and write this.

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