the thing about my kind-of-ex, at the end of our non-relationship

Like most of us in our early-to-mid-twenties, I’ve become pretty comfortable with the idea that this part of life is supposed to feel like one big mess. On the upside, though, that means I’ve also found my twenties to be an enormous opportunity for personal discovery and growth. I try to write mostly about the ways in which I’ve been able to connect with myself and others, to spread this idea that learning to love yourself is the key to happiness. And while I still one hundred percent believe that, I want to be very clear that it doesn’t always come easy, and it’s not a state of mind that just sticks around without consistent work to maintain it.

Because, one of my biggest milestones in this journey of discovering myself was actually the result of a massive self-love failure. You see, I had been in one of those ridiculous

‘kinda-together-but-not-boyfriend-girlfriend’

‘I-can-meet-some-of-your-friends-but-absolutely-not-your-family’

Infuriating

‘what-the-fuck-is-this’

types of relationships for a long time. Too long. So long that I really couldn’t see my day-to-day without this person. I was trying to simultaneously find myself and find out what I wanted in a relationship and convince myself that the person I was currently sharing a bed with had all of those qualities. And I did an incredibly good job of selling myself on it. Such a good job that I really believed we were great together and fought like hell to give him everything he wanted, even when that meant changing who I was as a partner and as an individual to make him happy. I stopped caring for my own happiness and all of my focus went to maintaining this chill, cool-girl persona I thought he wanted. But, as these things do, it ended because he decided to actually get serious with someone else. What a bummer, right? All the typical questions arose. Was I just a placeholder all this time? What about me wasn’t good enough for him? And the real zinger: Was she prettier than me? Like what the actual fuck, why did that last question even pop into my head?

I went through all the normal break-up steps; drinking, rebounds, crying in public a couple times for no discernable reason, and finally, facing it. Feeling the pain, processing it, purging it, and accepting it.

About a month after we split, I was actually feeling pretty good. I had worked really hard to allow myself to heal and find the lesson that relationship was meant to bring me. I believed that I was ready to start dating again. So, I got back in the game and started seeing this new guy, and here’s where my mind kind of exploded. When this new guy, let’s call him Eric- when Eric would text me multiple times in one week, I was really thrown that he wanted to talk to me so often. He would ask to take me out every few days or so, and I didn’t understand why he would want to be around me so much. He would tell me I was smart and sexy and interesting and I legitimately thought he was lying because he just wanted to get laid. And then I realized: How fucked up is it that I assume someone is lying when they say I’m interesting? As if that couldn’t possibly be anything other than a ploy to get in my pants? And when did I stop believing that I was interesting? When did I stop believing I was sexy? Or talented, or funny, or smart? I used to know I was all of these things, and I had no problem leaving someone if they didn’t absolutely lose their shit over how awesome I was. How can a woman go from knowing she deserves the best to not even believing she’s worthy of the title ‘interesting’?  

Maybe it’s because these undefined not-quite-relationships, when they’re one-sided, are more damaging than we realize. Because they send the message, one that you start to believe and accept after so long, that you’re not worth all the work that comes with an actual partnership. That you’re only worth the easy stuff. The physical stuff. The convenient stuff. And because they make you forget what you deserve. I really forgot that I am worth being pursued. I am worth time and attention. I forgot that there are people in the world who will make a real effort to give that to me simply because I am enough as a human being, even without bending over backwards trying to be. I so thoroughly forgot that when someone tried to be giving towards me, I felt inadequate, undeserving, and, oddly, uncomfortable.

Again, let me reiterate, this isn’t supposed to be one of those empowering, uplifting, “I learned to love myself” pieces. This is an “I fucked up” piece. An “I didn’t love myself” piece. This is an “I failed myself” piece. But I think that’s another really important part of our twenties- learning to fail and still hold your head up high the next day. Look, what’s done is done. I will never be able to say, "he didn’t value me so I left." I can only say, "I stayed until I was unrecognizably weak, and then he left me." What a shitty story for empowering women, right?

Well, not entirely. Because, guess what, there is always a lesson. (I know, I’m annoyingly optimistic sometimes.) In this case, I failed because I was not honest. I did not speak my mind and I did not stand up for what I deserved. I failed because I allowed myself to shrink down to what someone else would consider a manageable woman. I failed because I was not myself. I failed because despite all of that, I stayed. And in the end I still lost the relationship. Was he a shithead? Sure. But I also have to take responsibility for being a different kind of shithead and putting up with it for so long even though it wasn’t what I wanted. So the lesson here is, ironically akin to Jim Carrey’s Maharishi University of Management commencement speech that I thought I understood before, you can still lose even if you abandon yourself to become exactly who they ask you to be. They could still leave even if you change everything they don’t like about you. They could still leave even if you sacrifice everything and they sacrifice nothing. They could always leave. And then you not only have to deal with the loss of the relationship, but you also have to face that you lost yourself.

So you might as well take a chance at genuine happiness and be honest, be yourself.  You shouldn’t be in a relationship unless it enhances who you are and truly enriches your life. Find someone who fulfills you- who gives you what you actually want. And if you don’t know what you want, take some time to figure it out before you get involved with anyone. Maybe you’ll find out you don’t want a relationship at all, or you want a non-traditional relationship, or you want something else entirely. But no matter what, be upfront about your fundamental expectations out of a partnership if you choose to enter into one. And if someone isn’t delivering, know that there is a world full of people waiting in line to give you what you want and deserve. Don’t waste time trying to morph yourself into someone else’s idea of what you should be. Because you’ll never feel at home and you’ll honestly start to miss your real self after so long. And please, please, please, don’t ever forget your own value. Be kind to yourself. Be strong for yourself. And forgive yourself when you mess up, because we all do sometimes. And, of course, always look for the lesson.

 

Taylor Byers