I met my husband when I was 17 and had the most visceral reaction to our encounter. His name was Abie, mine was Leandra. Together, we would be Labia. I knew the moment I discovered this that we were meant for each other.
By the night after our first date, which came about 15 days following our courtship on AOL Instant Messenger (he was the kind of man who said, “haha,” not, “hehe,” or, “lol”), I told my mom that I wasn’t sure whether I should feel bad that at my tender age, I already knew with whom I would spend the rest of my life or rejoice in how simple my road to lasting matrimony would be.
Now fast forward ten months to September 2007 and join me as I walk into Abie’s new rental apartment on Mercer Street. It is the second day of my freshman year of college and I am holding an orchid (for which I paid $90 as a housewarming gift) in my left arm. Pleasantries are exchanged, etc., and bam! It happens. “I think this relationship has run its course,” he tells me.
I will never forget that night, how I felt every 30 minutes over the course of it when I woke up first calmly, like maybe it had been a dream, then remembered, every single time, that it wasn’t. How could my gut intuition have betrayed me so profoundly? Here it had effectively promised that it was okay to let down my guard — this was my person — and then just ten months later, gone.
The next three years were pathetic. I was motivated almost singularly by figuring out how to get back together with someone who made it clear not that he moved on (that much was obvious), but that I should move on “for my own sake.” Gag.
Everything I thought and did, everywhere I went, was essentially for him. Women are not “supposed” to share these details because they run the risk of being called “crazy.” But there is a difference between crazy and convicted, obsessed and ambitious, you know?
Of course, what it took for us to get back together was my deciding to fuck it. Everyone said this would be the case, but the problem with achieving this state of fuck-it is that you have to want it. To really be ready to surrender. To feel as if you can’t keep on the way you’ve been running. You’ve got to will yourself to shut the door with all your guts and reproductive parts and march forth.
So I did that. And it was awesome. I felt more like myself than I had in three years. I basically salsa danced my way through the summer of 2010.
By August, we were back together.
The following December (2011), we got engaged. That period lasted six months and the whole way through it, I kept telling myself that I wish I could have enjoyed the previous four years more. Because I was so petrified I would end up alone, I had ruined my chance to be stupid and silly and spectacularly single. Whenever someone would confide in me about heartbreak I would recall this part of my story, explaining that my greatest regret was not putting myself first sooner. When you’re in it though, it’s just so hard. You feel like you’ll never laugh again. Like a piece of you is dead, only worse because you’re still alive. But you’re not dead. You will laugh. Would I have handled the situation differently if I could replay it? This is what I would give myself.
1. If it feels like you’re going to be sad forever, that’s because you will. I say this mostly because you deserve a chance to be dramatic. Cry and yell and jump. Tell everyone it’s not fair. Act as if you have the worst flu in the history of common ailments. Let all the stuff out. Refuse to go to school. Eat as much candy corn as you want.
This won’t last forever. (I couldn’t tell you that initially! You needed to feel validated and never would have listened to what else I had to say.) Do what you need to until you’re sick of feeling bad for yourself.
2. Sick of it yet? Yeah. Run with this. Feeling bad for yourself has become your new normal, you’ve become a prisoner of your own mind and you’re experiencing slight Stockholm syndrome. It’s almost like you think if you stop thinking about it, you’ll never find another relationship at all, which is so irrational but that is what being a prisoner in there does to you. Push past it. Make a new, new normal. Divert your thoughts.
3. Ready to leave home? Don’t go there. No strolls down memory lane! F the coffee shop that was “your place.” Stay out of the restaurant where you had your first kiss. Who kisses at a restaurant anyway? Maybe if you set physical boundaries, they will become intellectual ones.
He might be dating someone.
4. It sucks, it hurts, you think you’re regressing but you’re not. It feels like you’re back at the beginning, only now it’s worse because at least you were still sharing in the experience of being newly single and therefore heartbroken together. But you’re not. You don’t give yourself any credit for how far you’ve come. You put on pants yesterday! You made a joke in class this morning! Why aren’t these small steps good enough? What even is “good enough”? ChillLLLLlllLLLL! Life doesn’t come in black and white; happy or sad. Please learn this now! It will be incredibly helpful when we meet again in 2017. And if you get really down one day (you 100% will), that’s okay. It just means you’re a complicated woman capable of experiencing the full spectrum of emotions in the flash of a second. So cool.
5. Suppress. You will take any opportunity to bring him up. Don’t do this. Lie when people ask how you’re doing. Even if you’re having a tough day, just say “great” and see if it changes your disposition. If it doesn’t, pls keep doing it because eventually it will.
6. But don’t vilify him. He’s a nice guy and he broke up with you because he didn’t want to string you along. Feel good about the respect that you demand from the people you date. You don’t have to turn him into garbage to get over him. Read this story future-you wrote. It will make some sense of this.
6a. Have some FFFFFFfun and be an asshole about it. Sleep in, eat out, make plans, break plans, spend looooooooooong nights with your friends. Make mistakes that are distinctly uncomfortable, so much so that you already know they will make for great stories when you’re an adult.
And the thing, btw, about entering legit adulthood is that you’re going to spend the rest of your g-dang life there. So take your hair out of that tight-ass ponytail and shake that self-inflicted responsibility off your shoulders.
And btw, so you know, you do get him back. But pls, Leandra, do me a favor and do not convince yourself that in order to get what you want, you must suffer. That is going to make the next ten years rly, rly hard. Blindfold yourself emotionally and somersault on.
Illustrations by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.