I’ve only ever been in one serious relationship. I was nineteen when we got together, and twenty-two when I ended it. In the three years since the breakup, I’ve learned that the most important relationship I will ever have is the one I have with myself. Something I’ve had to consciously work on is my ability — or inability — to express my feelings when I don’t like what’s happening. I hate conflict and would often avoid it at the cost of my own feelings and well-being.
My ex and I met at a party through a mutual friend. We went on our first date two days before Valentine’s Day. After that, we spent almost everyday together until the school year ended in June. We weren’t shy about showing how into each other we were; it just came naturally. When the spring quarter ended, I moved home (to a suburb just under an hour outside of Chicago) to work over the summer and save money for an apartment in the fall. We were happy, fell in love, and had a great summer together, but the dynamics of our relationship quickly changed when the new school year started in September.
My parents made the joint decision that it would be best for me to stay home and take classes at the community college. My ex vilified my mom for this, while my dad remained free of flaws. One night, while hanging out at his friend’s apartment, my ex went so far as to say that my mom was the bane of his existence… in front of me! I didn’t stick up for her in that moment and felt ashamed for it. Every once in a while, he would put me down in front of his friends, usually for something I said, and I would feel embarrassed for even saying a word. The more it happened, the more I felt silenced. I couldn’t be myself anymore. For my birthday in October, he took me to see Andrew McMahon’s solo acoustic show. I was thrilled; I’ve loved Andrew McMahon since I was fourteen. I felt pure joy when he sang my favorite Something Corporate songs, and I even felt the sadness he injected into the words — we spent the entire show in silence. There was something about the way Andrew sang the lines, “soon I’ll be leaving you, but you won’t be leaving me” in “As You Sleep” that made the sadness within me grow even more. It was an omen, though I couldn’t see it at the time.
We broke up a few weeks later. The months that followed were pretty rough. I lost my appetite, along with 15 pounds. It was around March or April when I finally became comfortable being single again. Of course, this was when my ex decided he wanted to start hanging out with me again. In the back of my mind I knew that I wanted this, but I still tried to be cautious. It started slowly, and things fell into place once I moved back to Chicago in June. We were happy for a while — we even went camping for my twenty-first birthday in October — but then he graduated in November and almost immediately moved to Colorado.
I’ll admit that I didn’t think he’d end up moving so soon after finishing school, so it seemed very abrupt when he did. I didn’t really process my feelings about it until I helped him pack, which was also the day he left. I was sad that he was leaving, for sure, but at the same time, I was happy for him because he was doing something he was really excited about. I didn’t even consider the fact that he’d just picked up and left without thinking about what kind of plans we’d had for our future. At his going away party, he introduced me to his coworkers by saying, “She’s really quiet, but I think that’s just because I give her shit for everything she says.” So he was actually aware of the anguish he was causing me and continued to do it? Awesome! We’d been together for almost two years, yet I rarely felt good about myself when I was with him. Still, at that point in our relationship, it didn’t even occur to me that breaking up was an option.
We spent the following year in a long-distance relationship. I thought it was going to be hard, but it ended up being kind of easy. I could go on with my daily life and responsibilities without feeling guilty about not having free time to hang out with him. At first, we texted everyday and talked on the phone or videochatted probably once or twice a week, but at one point in February, he stopped talking to me. He didn’t answer my phone calls or texts; all forms of my attempts at communication went unnoticed for weeks at a time. When he’d finally call and apologize, then pretend everything was fine, I’d just burst into tears instead of expressing my feelings in a more composed manner. I felt pathetic. This lack of communication happened so frequently that I started to think he was cheating on me. I never found out if he was, but I could tell that he had checked out of the relationship. My self-confidence was almost nonexistent and I had no idea how to fix it. I spent the summer living alone in my studio, with no job and no one to talk to for support.
It’s no coincidence, then, that my confidence returned when I started a new job the first week of November, almost a full year after he’d moved away. I quickly became friends with my coworkers and could feel myself opening up and becoming my old self again: outgoing, talkative, humorous, fun. They eventually started asking if I had a guy in my life — I’d never volunteered the information, so they had to ask. After telling them what I’d been dealing with, the girls kept saying I needed to dump him. They were right. I didn’t want to think about it, but deep, deep, way deep down, I knew I had to do it.
At one point, he’d been without a phone for an entire month. Communication was non-existent, and that didn’t change when he finally got a phone for Christmas. He still didn’t answer my calls and rarely responded to texts. One morning, before work, I texted him to ask if he could please call me that day… so I could break up with him. He never answered, or called, but when I finally said, “I can’t do this anymore if you’re not going to talk to me. I’m done,” he responded promptly. He said, “I was at work all day with no reception.” What the fuck kind of excuse was that? Sure, it may have been a legitimate reason for not responding all of that day, but what about every other time he ignored my requests for communication? Of course, I didn’t say that to him. I asked if I could call him and he said, “No, not right now.” That was how it ended. It took me almost a month to accept the fact that I had to break up with him, but by the time I had the courage to actually do it, he wouldn’t give me the time of day. I was fuming.
The breakup happened the week between Christmas and New Year’s 2011. It was almost June when I got a Facebook message from him. Even though he said, “I want to apologize,” re-reading it now, I realize he never actually said the words, “I’m sorry.” Since then, there have been “likes” on my Facebook statuses and “happy birthday” texts, but nothing that amounts to closure.
It’s been two and a half years since the relationship ended and I’m still learning things about myself, having — as Oprah calls them — Aha! moments. I’ve had, like, three Aha! moments this week alone. I got so wrapped up in our relationship that I lost who I was. I lost my voice. I’ve always been one to avoid conflict and bury my feelings, rather than confront them. At times it’s still hard for me to recognize that I deserve more than what I’m getting if it’s less than what I really want. A friend said recently about me, “She has great self control, but she won’t tell you no.” I “go with the flow,” but if I don’t like what’s happening, I’m unable to speak up, and that is something I still struggle with.
I need to find ways to make myself happy, instead of putting that responsibility on someone else. It may seem cynical to say that if I can’t make myself happy, no one can, but it really is true. Part of making myself happy is speaking my mind when something isn’t right, rather than keeping quiet to keep the peace. I have to remember that if I don’t let my voice be heard, then no one will hear it.
Don’t challenge Chelsea to Disney trivia unless you are prepared to lose.