A regular party of one.
My boyfriend and I broke up after four years together in the middle of the summer. We’d met in university, a few days after I turned 21. I wasn’t looking for a relationship, but he was a keeper and reminded me of my father. And I fell so deep in love, I was scared to admit it to myself. We built a life together, this keeper and I, made up of a patchwork of Caribbean adventures, summers in New York, and consecutive graduations from a rigorous and beautiful institution that guaranteed us a place at the table, no matter where in the world we chose to live.
But there I was, on the eve of my 25th birthday, heartbroken, angry, and quite honestly, terrified. I couldn’t quite believe it. I thought I would have it completely figured out by the time I was in my mid-twenties. After all, for what did I plan so meticulously in my late teens, if not to guarantee minimal shocks to the concentric circles of higher education, job success and the search for a life partner? At the very least, in my carefully calculated twenties, I was sure that I would not suffer from the agony of heartbreak; that I had securely and certainly avoided the chance my life would unravel before my eyes.
And yet, there I was, sobbing pathetically into my wine. A year later, the wine is still being poured, but instead of tears, there have come about several hard truths that are worth exploring.
CHANGE IS NOT ALWAYS HOSTILE.
As the years progress, chances are you’ll feel like you’ve missed out on your one shot at a happy ending…but that’s not necessarily true. Sure, the stakes are higher the older you get, but so is your self-knowledge. You evolved in your twenties and that’s normal – expected, even. Now, you owe it to yourself to look for someone with the same priorities, however revised they may be.
LOSS IS NOT ONLY CRUSHING, IT IS ALSO REVEALING.
You thought he’d be putting a ring on it any day now, or at least thinking about it, but apparently four years does not an engagement make. A part of you will always wonder how and why, but to learn from the loss, you need to flesh it out. Contrary to good business sense, cutting out deadweight doesn’t ensure you’ll grow at a faster rate. Sometimes, you have to live with the loss to figure it out. The pieces will eventually fall into place.
SELF-WORTH IS NOT DETERMINED BY EVENTS OUT OF YOUR CONTROL.
You need to let it go if the chips don’t fall into place exactly the way you desired. It’s nothing to do with fate, destiny or karma — but shit happens, and you’re not any less of a valued person because of it. Fight for what you believe in, but know when to let go of the strings. Self-preservation is not a luxury — it’s an all-out necessity.
LIFE MERCILESSLY GOES ON.
Your car will run out of petrol; your pets will fall sick; your credit card bill will always seem unaffordable; and your ex will move on. While everybody is speeding up, you seem to be slowing down. Instead of beginning to hate yourself, realize that time moving forward means you will eventually move forward too. You’ll feel more vulnerable than ever before, but years later, you’ll look at your scars with pride. You survived that crap all by yourself.
BEING A BIGGER PERSON ALSO BENEFITS YOU.
I couldn’t stand hearing about a friend’s romantic date or how she was falling in love. It didn’t help that there were the eternal and insufferable questions of why I wasn’t interested in dating someone. Shut up, I wanted to yell. Mind your own damn business. Eventually, you learn to grin and bear it; you may even laugh along at the happy stories. And in some meandering way, there will come about a sense of catharsis when you hear a proposal story and stop yourself from falling apart at the seams…because you’ll fake it till you make it.
GETTING COMFORTABLE WITH UNCOMFORTABLE DECISIONS CAN PROPEL YOU FORWARD.
I stopped defending my need to vegetate on weekend afternoons; to exercise unequivocally by myself; and my decision to take a step back from the people around me because I thought if I had one more unsolicited opinion on why I should be grateful, I would burst. I wanted to be completely alone. And as terrifying as that was, it also gave me room to explore my fears. Once I had gone through every “worst case scenario” by myself, I wasn’t so scared anymore. You are allowed to set boundaries as you cope, but remember that the point is not to inflict self-harm. It’s to allow yourself to live through the snags.
A DO-OVER IS A CHANCE TO GET TO KNOW YOURSELF AGAIN.
I started to figure out the person that was buried under those unread manuscripts and weekly bathroom cleaning sessions. Prune away the parts you think divert from who you truly are – for instance, I stopped convincing myself that I could be okay with an open ended situation – and take a look at the revised you, ready for a new relationship on your own, hard-won terms.
In the same vein, Pepper Schwartz, professor of sociology at the University of Washington, writes in her article, Why Women Choose Not To Marry, about the “voluntarily single woman”: the woman who wants a husband and children, but recognizes that having it forced upon her in the interests of age is inherently worse than being single. It reminded me of something I had spat out to my mother in a moment of frustration: It’s not like I don’t want to get married, but I also don’t want to be pushed into a corner where marriage is the only escape.
Indeed, Ms. Schwartz writes that women want to “craft a life instead of having it pressed upon them.” What this can mean is that women should be prepared to be single for longer than ever before, because crafting a life is no easy task. If this hypothesis is true, then being alone in your twenties – self-imposed or otherwise – may perhaps be the best gift you can give yourself. It’s a chance for you to see how far you’ve come, and how much further you’d like to go. There aren’t many times in life you can toast to yourself. This is definitely one of them.
This article was originally published as ‘Party of One’ in the August 2016 issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka. For more on-point relationship tips, subscribe now!
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