So, I’m in love. This isn’t exactly unique — so many others would say the same. Love is an overused word, it’s commonplace, expected even. But to me, it couldn’t be a more novel, beautiful, fascinating thing. For most of my life, I was fiercely independent and ambivalent about relationships. My focus was on platonic friendships and tangible milestones, like my education.
So, it’s strange to think that now, I call someone “my teammate.” My boyfriend has become my refuge from the craziness of everyday life and encourages me every day to be the best I can be. He’s never too busy to make me laugh or to remind me to cut myself some slack. He tells me ridiculous stories of faraway places we’ve never been, wears the most adorable sweaters in the world, and confides in me candidly. He has taught me so much about myself and what I’m capable of.
The crazy thing is that he and I almost never happened. What we have now was one wayward text message and an ounce of pride away from never happening.In some alternate reality, there is another me, who didn’t give him a second chance. What is this other me doing? What kind of things has she missed out on?
When we first met one evening on a downtown Manhattan street, we talked late into the night. I had more fun with him than I’d had in months, and as we started to spend more time together, I was hesitant to take things to a more serious place. I was so focused on school and my own life, and I wasn’t so sure getting attached to someone was a good thing. I’m a person who tends to have a lot of feelings,and I was afraid to risk the damage if we were to come to a rough end. He must have sensed that, because as the weeks went by, he worked harder and harder to romance me and I slowly let my guard down. Before I knew it, I was in love, and there was no going back.
Ours was one of the strongest connections I’d ever had. That said, we both had a lot of emotional growing left to do. At the time, we each had a very different view of what we thought love was supposed to look like. To him, it was defined by butterflies and anxiety and the rush that comes from a first date or high drama. Our relationship was steady, even-keeled, and definitely not full of anxiety or high drama. To me…well, I thought the perfect relationship should take up a small portion of my being –a couple of hours on the weekend and a tiny piece of my heart. He wanted more from me than that.
A few months into our love, winter rolled around, and his quarter-life existential woes clashed with my winter blues and we didn’t have a strong enough foundation to get through it. He thought it would always be like this, that our rough patch would never go away and we’d stay vanilla and glum forever. I tried to reassure him it wouldn’t. But it was too late. Just as I’d been learning to let go and trust and give more of myself, he was ready to move on. We broke up abruptly and painfully. Just as surprise parties are not my thing, surprise breakups are definitely not my thing. He thought that dragging out break-ups only hurt everyone more, so he opted for the “ambush” approach and dropped a break-up bomb on me. Not necessarily much wiser. What started in the corner booth of a chain restaurant and ended hours later with me exiting the E train without looking back, him still sitting on the subway watching me walk away, was the kind of breakup scene you’d see in a movie.
As someone with an independent spirit, this relationship had been a big foray into vulnerability for me and in trusting love not to leave me hanging. Instead, that’s exactly what happened, and it was as if the world stopped turning while I was left to make sense of how the rug had been pulled out from under me by a person I had such faith in. I’d always been such a great judge of people’s behavior, how could I have gotten this one wrong?
To say that our breakup sucked would be an understatement. My mind wasn’t used to such a massive amount of conflicting painful feelings, and as a result I had no idea what to do with them. I’d always been so good at shrugging off interpersonal drama and relying on myself to do my own thing. When I wasn’t able to do that, I was terrified that I’d lost my emotional strength. What was actually happening (which I didn’t realize at the time) was that I was gaining more emotional strength the tougher it got. I was learning that even though things felt like they were at their absolute worst, I wasn’t actually dead yet. Cliche as it may sound, through this painful process, I ended up learning a lot about myself and what I wanted, threw myself into my passions, and became a million times more awesome.
I moved on with my life, and so did he. My writing and photography started to get published, I delved into my education head-on, and most importantly, I spent a lot of time exploring who I was and what I wanted. Life and school took me back and forth to Europe and across the country, even temporarily relocating me to another state. Right around then was when we reappeared on one another’s radar.
One September morning, I was in a film class when a New York number popped up on my phone. The movie we were screening was in the middle of an indulgent scene with the main characters taking a joyride through the desert on their motorcycles, and The Band was playing in the background while the camera panned over all these gorgeous mountains and canyons. It looked pretty dreamy to me, and all I could think was, The world is so beautiful. I’m happy to be alive.
I knew immediately who it was, and I was in too good a mood to be anything but cheerful about his text. We’d communicated here and there in the past few months, never more than a few sentences, but this time was different. I was truly happy. As as we started to speak more over several weeks it was clear that we both were feeling something.
When we started to slowly resurface in each another’s lives, it felt strangely surreal. It was immediately clear that we were talking to a different version of one another, a slightly more weathered version. We were our same old selves, but with redefined senses of what we wanted and who we were. I remember the first time we saw each other after we’d broken up, almost a year after the fact. It was autumn, and I remember that as we were walking through Central Park, golden leaves were floating off of the tree branches behind him. Life looked like a postcard. A postcard full of apologies and honest admissions of what we’d learned from our past.
I knew what I felt, and I knew I had a choice to make. I could stay in the life I’d created for myself, free from any potential risk. I could allow my pride and my fears to win and punish him for the way he hurt me and refuse to let him back in. I could ignore the feeling in my gut that told me something wasn’t finished between us and try to stifle it in favor of the loud noise of conventional wisdom blasting in my ears, telling me that people who hurt you don’t deserve second chances. Or I could listen to me.
Lots of things were muddy, but the one thing that was clear to me after months apart was that I loved him. As complicated as some of the logistics were, the love I felt wasn’t complicated at all. In fact, that was what made everything else fall by the wayside and simplified it all.
In our time apart, I’d learned that life was too short to be proud or to hold onto long-dead grudges and that carrying around anger hurts me more than anyone else. I knew that my only choice, if I ever wanted to learn anything from our experience, was to open my heart to him again. I knew whatever gain or lesson that was meant to come from our story wasn’t going to materialize unless we gave that story a second chance to continue.
I went out on a limb. I went against advice. I risked it. I knew that no matter what happened, I wouldn’t have to live with a what-if. We were scared, but we made the choice together to start fresh and throw our fears out the window.
It’s a damn good thing we did. A year later, I couldn’t be happier. While I don’t know where things will go in the future, I know that in this moment, I am where I’m supposed to be.
[Photo from Shutterstock]