Last month I broke up with not one, but two, boyfriends. And technically, I wasn’t actually dating either of them.
But at one point in my life I had. They were ex-boyfriends and somehow I had figured out a way to be friends—good friends—with both of them. I could move on without having to let them go, which meant I never really had to be alone.
After graduating from college and moving to New York with no idea of what I wanted to do, I was terrified. It was the first time in my life where no plans had been laid out; there were no classes, no roommates, no parents supporting me, no mandatory social events, no core requirements or success planning. I was alone to figure out my life. I didn’t know what to do.
With no friends or new male prospects, I craved attention, security and familiarity and reverted to platonic communications with my ex-boyfriends. Brian, my ex-boyfriend from high school, provided humor and advice. He made me laugh and feel safe. Kevin, my ex-boyfriend from college, was a practical shoulder to lean on, a motivating and inspirational coach to get through the day. Conveniently, he lived nearby and helped with things I thought I couldn’t do alone, like installing an air conditioner and fixing a leaky sink.
In a city as unfamiliar, intimidating and (at times) disheartening as New York, I felt talking to both of them validated my ego; I was loveable, attractive and desirable. Walking on the street at night I would call Brian, and when I wanted to talk about my new boss I sought Kevin’s advice. If I needed to feel wanted I would text them after a night out and fall asleep re-reading their messages. It was the perfect relationship, taking all the good and leaving all the bad. While it may have made no sense to get back together, I shamelessly used both of them as my human security blanket.
But unfortunately, whether I realized it or not, I began to limit myself. The uncomfortable reality of being alone overshadowed my curiosity and desire for new adventures. I wanted to see a movie but felt awkward going by myself, I wanted to grab a margarita after a long day at work but had no one to share it with. I wanted to join a club but was too nervous that everyone already knew each other. And instead of taking those risks, I resorted back to the late night phone call with my non-boyfriend boyfriends. It was just so easy, reminiscing about old times and grazing back to familiar pastures. I was re-living a dead relationship that was going absolutely nowhere, but didn’t know how to live without it.
Several months in to this pattern, Kevin and I spent an entire day together at the park. It was that afternoon that he told me that he wanted to get back together. From the amount of time we had been spending with each other I should have expected it. I should have wanted it. But I didn’t. Although I had loved Kevin, I knew what that relationship had been and I knew the reasons we had ended it. I quickly saw my future before me, the same cycle of relationship, the same players, the familiarity, the comfort and the safety. On paper it was exactly what I had been craving since I had moved to New York, but I knew I needed something more. I knew at twenty-three years old I still had a lot of things to experience and I knew this was the time to give myself that chance.
The very next day I received a Facebook message from Brian. He wrote telling me that he had cheated on me in high school twice and had felt so guilty; he just needed to let me know. He said he didn’t tell me sooner because he enjoyed our chats and really didn’t want to lose me as a friend. I was furious but also sad. I had always romanticized the idea that we one day might get back together; I was in love with a memory and the idea of marrying my high school sweetheart. But it was this message that gave me the kick I needed. I suddenly realized and actually believed that I was worth more than this. It clicked that with my entire life ahead of me, I didn’t have to settle on this relationship just because it was what I thought I had always wanted.
That week I ended things for good with both Kevin and Brian. I closed them off from my life, cut off any and all communication, stopped Facebook stalking them and finally let them go. Like running a marathon or finishing a painfully drawn out book, I was exhausted, but I was proud.
And so, I was alone.
Yet, in perhaps the most surreal, terrifying and exhilarating moment of my life I felt nothing but freedom. The fear of becoming a crazy cat lady, paled in comparison to the excitement of endless possibilities. I saw the city and my life full of new adventures and hope. I had made this choice to be alone, and I was going to embrace it.
I took a writing class, saw movies by myself, even went out to dinner and sat at a table set for one. I pushed myself to meet new people, experience and try different things. Yes, it was scary but it was exhilarating and in the process I made new friends, and realized that I really enjoyed just hanging out with myself.
In the movie “You’ve Got Mail”, there is a scene where Meg Ryan and her boyfriend amicably break up. After they both agreed to go their separate ways, he turns to her and asks, “Is there someone else?” To which she replies “No, but there is the dream of someone else.” That idea has always stuck with me, but never really truly resonated until now.
My fear of being alone compromised my future, my dream of someone else, something else. I now have no love interests in my life, no one who is there for me twenty-four-seven, but that doesn’t scare me and doesn’t mean one day I won’t have that again. And perhaps then, I will be comfortable enough with myself to know that I am with this person because I want to be, because we complement each other and not because I need them to counteract my insecurity.
Re-living my old relationships and using them as a crutch pushed me to realize that I was capable of more, that I still had so many things to discover on my own and I needed to go through that process by myself. I have finally learned to be comfortable alone without guilt or fear of scrutiny from others. It has opened so many more doors and allowed me to truly grow into the woman I always knew I was capable of becoming. I know that I will not be alone forever and look forward to the day when I can share my life with someone else. But for now, the person I most want to lean on for security, for strength and for comfort is myself. It’s the healthiest relationship I have ever had.
Thanks Bob Jagendorf, for the photo!
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Emily writes and works in New York City. She enjoys karaoke bars, flannel and going out to lunch; not necessarily in that order. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on twitter @emilyarnow.
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