This is by far the hardest lesson I’ve ever learned. I didn’t know I was learning it at the time (as is the case with most lessons we learn) but it is the most important thing I’ve taken with me from my years of dating. It’s a lesson I spoke about on national television, to a person I’d very recently met and held in very high esteem. It’s a lesson that spread not only across my entire life, but across the lives of my friends and families. It’s a lesson that hurt- that tore me apart, but that put me back together in the better way than I could’ve ever imagined. It’s difficult to put everything I learned from my biggest relationship into this one prescriptive sentence, but: love him, let him be, & still be me. It’s the most crucial of the lessons. It’s the thing I’ll always have to remember.
My second real relationship was my only ever love. And it wasn’t just a “hey, love ya <3” kind of relationship. It was a “I love you more than I love myself” type of love. When I think back to what it felt like to fall in love with him it still makes me emotional after so many years. It was like diving deeply into a pool of gooey love molasses. We were both just stuck in this amazing head-over-heels love that made the entire world better. I remember the night we both said “I love you” for the first time, and we just sat there and cried because we were so happy. I remember talking with him about the fact that there’s NO WAY this is what other people feel when they fall in love. People would never stop talking about it. People would never leave each other alone. We felt like what we had was one in a million. We felt so, so lucky.
We started dating at the end of our freshman year of college. We were so head over heels in love that we were inseparable. Even when we went back to school the following year, we did nothing without each other. But then.. as I’m sure most of you reading this can imagine.. things got more difficult. He had a team full of guys to spend his time with, we were in college- we wanted to go and have fun. But then on the other hand, we had this insane love for one another that trumped everything. Eventually the strain of a few years in college started to take it’s toll, but we still tried to save the relationship. We honestly felt like we were obligated. Like we were so lucky to have someone who loved us so much that we couldn’t give it up.
After senior year, and a few months of long distance, I moved away to be with him. We were so excited to live together. I swear is was like having a sleepover with your very best friend who you loved more than anything and who you just enjoyed every second with. “Netflix and Chill” became our go to, why go out when we had our best friend right there to do nothing with? It was fun. But there was something about what our relationship had evolved into that never seemed like enough. I think we both felt like nothing we ever did could sustain that initial head-over-heels crazy in love feeling- like we couldn’t get it back. I think we both thought that “honeymoon phase” is how love is supposed to be forever, and that our relationship was broken. We would have moments where we felt so in love again, but then when it faded it was almost too much to take.
It’s like we were always trying to hang on to something that isn’t meant to be grasped or contrived, it’s just supposed to be there.
I think deep down I knew it wasn’t going to work out. That it wasn’t meant to be a forever love- it was honestly just too much. We were SO young when we fell in love that we didn’t know what to do with it. We consumed each other. We weren’t our own people, I had never grown into the person I was supposed to be. We just were. I didn’t love myself the most- I loved him, and I didn’t know me.
One day… after a few random weeks of arguing and tension- he broke up with me. We were laying on the couch watching The Bachelorette (no I’m not kidding- maybe that’s why he dumped me.. ha!) and he just said he wasn’t happy. He said he didn’t feel like he knew who he was, like he needed to be alone. I acted surprised, like I had no idea what he was talking about, but deep down I think I felt the same way. We were on and off for a week or so, until it officially ended. I moved out, quit my job, and moved back to Michigan- devastated. I actually didn’t see it coming, even though we’d been having a rough patch I never imagined it to be over for real. I think I knew deep down that we weren’t meant to last forever, but it was the most excruciating feeling I’d ever felt in my entire life. I was literally sick. I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know where I was headed. I felt like it was all my fault. Maybe I was too controlling, maybe I didn’t let him have his space, maybe we did spend too much time together. I just beat myself up for months…
How could I have let the man I loved more than anything else slip away? How could I have not treasured the love we had for each other? How could we have not made it work? What if I never fall in love again…
Those thoughts consumed me. A break up that came out of no-where was somehow my responsibility, my fault. I felt blindsided but at the same time I felt like I saw it coming like a slow motion crash, one that we didn’t want to happen. I felt like I was in a snow globe that someone had picked up and shaken with all of their might- I didn’t know my surroundings anymore. But.. I still knew I wouldn’t come off of the bottom. I still had to keep it together- to stay grounded. That very metaphor is what kept me going.
It was months after moving home that I found out he had been cheating on me… & I was SO ANGRY! I was furious. I felt like I had spent over four years of my life with a complete stranger. I felt sick. Even my friends and family were stunned, they never thought he was capable of that. & if I had to pick one negative thing that’s stuck with me since the breakup, it’s the very idea that maybe we never really fully know anyone.
I kept thinking: who was the person I had moved in with? Who was the person I had fallen in love with? I just wanted to curl up in a ball and never look at anyone ever again. I didn’t understand how someone who loved me SO much, who had planned a life with me… could do that to me.
Well, I never got any answers from him. I never got an apology. I never got an explanation. And it killed me for so long. I was so, so angry- but in retrospect- It was better than being sad and feeling like it was my fault our relationship ended. Living with that amount of anger and emotion wasn’t healthy though, it was eating me alive. Until, one day (and you might remember me telling Ben on the show about this) I woke up. It was my birthday, almost a year after I found out about the cheating and I said to myself… WTF?! Who cares if I never got an explanation, is there really anything he could say that would make up for what he did? No…
And I knew, I just knew- that I could be the victim, I could let myself be guarded, I could be afraid to fall in love again. Or- I could get the F* over it. And that’s just what I did.
It’s been years now.. since the day we broke up and since I found out the real “why” behind the goodbye. And I’m so at peace with it. I needed that anger to get over him. And to be honest, he was obviously so distraught over the issues in our relationship that he felt he had to betray it. It’s cowardly- what he did- but I get it. He was so used to us being “us” that he didn’t know how to be alone. He had to end it and have someone else to be with after the break up. Even though his reasoning behind breaking up with me was to “find himself” clearly he couldn’t handle it. To this day, he’s still with one of the girls he cheated on me with. And I feel sorry for him. He has to live his life knowing he never got what he so desired and wanted. He’s never been alone. And even though I’m still single now, I’m happier because I’ve learned the greatest lesson there is: that you have to love yourself first.
I know what I want, and that’s not someone “who completes me”… because I’m already complete. I want someone who will complement my life- without consuming it.
Now, I know who I am. I love myself so much that I’m so so picky. I know, this post is super long… But it’s the longest relationship I’ve had. It’s such a huge part of what has made me ME. And I’m happy to share my story with all of you <3
Be brave, be strong… Love him, let him be his own person, respect the person he is.. AND never let yourself be anything other than the person you’ve grown to love.