What you view as a tragedy can very well be an opportunity.
When I was 18, I met a boy in college. He was everything I was not — extroverted, outgoing, full of ideas he was ready to share with the world. I, on the other hand, was quiet and shy. I’d instead prefer to be invisible than speak up and share what was on my mind with strangers.
I found his company fascinating. And before I knew it, our lives were intertwined. I was young and naive, and having a boyfriend felt so much better than being single. I didn’t understand the concept of compatibility and went along with whatever new adventure he brought into our lives.
As I grew older, I realized I didn’t quite like the man he had become. He was used to speaking on my behalf, and I didn’t want a knight in shining armor to always protect me. He was used to making decisions for me because I was too indecisive, but now, his help felt more like interference.
He hadn’t changed much. I did. And in the new identity, I’d carved, there was no place for him.
This shouldn’t have made me feel as guilty as it did, but somehow, I felt like I was responsible for his happiness. I should have told him and gotten it over with, but I stayed. This soured things further, and I started looking for faults in whatever he did — blaming my unhappiness on his character traits. This was toxic and unfair, and I’m so glad I won’t do the same if I’m in a similar situation now.
In the end, I parted ways with the boy after spending four years together. It wasn’t a mutual decision because he still wanted to be together. But I was no longer the woman he’d fallen in love with.
I have many regrets from my first relationship, but there are a lot of lessons too. This article is about all of them. I’ve refrained from writing this for so many months now because of the memories it might evoke and how honest I’d have to be. But sometimes, feeling pain and living to tell the story can make you stronger.
I usually write all my articles for you. But this one’s for me.
I hope it gives you some strength and solace no matter where you are in your relationship right now.
Love People for Who They Are. Not Who You Think They Should Be
The boy continued to love me despite the cracks in our relationship because he believed the Anangsha he’d fallen in love with all those years ago was still there somewhere beneath the layers.
I chose to stay with him because I believed if I continued painting him promises of the future, he would one day grow to fit into my definition of an ideal partner.
Both of us were wrong. And both of us ended up hurting.
Sometimes, it gets difficult to distinguish what’s real and what you wish were real. But having that clarity is important.
Wishing for something to return to how it used to be is as harmful as wishing for a future that hasn’t come yet, especially when the circumstances and people aren’t in your control.
Psychologist Margaret Wehrenberg explains the difference between hoping and wishing in Psychology Today, “Wishing is often unrealistic and does not have a foundation in what is possible. Hope is much more about what is possible under the right circumstances. We cannot always control circumstances, but we can influence them. The positive emotions stemming from hope build the strength, and give us the desire to continue working toward a future, even when we may feel it is hard to do.”
Reciprocity Should Be a Non-Negotiable
No matter how unrealistic your wants are, if you’re willing to give your hundred percent, your partner should do the same too.
I attended mindless parties, sang in karaokes when I was extremely uncomfortable, and socialized with people I had nothing in common with — just because I wanted to keep my boy happy. And yet, when I asked him to listen to my stories or swap crazy ideas with me, he never had the mental space or energy to do so.
I’m a writer, a dreamer. I love talking about abstract ideas. He avoided such topics like the plague because, according to him, there was nothing productive in such discussions. I shouldn’t have settled for less, but I did.
In the same way, he dedicated all his free time to me, but I wanted several hours each day so I could be just by myself. As an introvert, this “me time” is what helps me recharge my batteries and unwind. He needed a partner who spent all her waking hours with him. He wasn’t happy with my insistence to leave me alone, but he adjusted. He shouldn’t have settled for this, but he did.
Looking back, I realize how every person should insist on reciprocity, even if that means their partner might leave. Of course, it’s impossible to find someone who agrees with everything you say, but you need to define your deal-breakers and be strict with them. Otherwise, you’ll end up living a lie — unhappy for a reason you can’t fathom, wasting your energy on a person who doesn’t even understand why you’re blaming them.
There’s Failure in Staying, Not Leaving
I knew I wanted to leave my boy, but I thought staying would hurt us less. In the end, I ended up hurting him even more.
One reason why I did this was that all our friends in college looked to us as the “ideal couple” — the one that would stick together when everyone else would eventually break up. I was so obsessed with the idea of being the “ideal girlfriend” that I didn’t want the tag of “failure” to be attached to my name.
But parting ways with him helped me rewire my brain that leaving a relationship doesn’t have to mean you failed. Sometimes, a break up can simply mean things no longer work, and two people choose to walk their separate paths to try their luck. There’s no reason to stigmatize leaving to such an extent that people actually start measuring their self-worth based on it.
“I wasn’t heartbroken when Don left me. I simply felt like my marriage had failed. And those are very different things. Sometimes divorce isn’t an earth-shattering loss. Sometimes it’s just two people waking up out of a fog.”
— Taylor Jenkins Reid, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
I’m not proud of how far I let things go sour before finally taking a step in the right direction. If I had a way to turn back time, I’d leave when I spotted the first red flags.
But leaving early wouldn’t have lessened the pain. In fact, I doubt there’s anything like a “good” breakup. No matter how much damage control you try to do, in the end, it hurts like a bitch.
But, isn’t that what life is all about? Rushing straight into the fire, screaming with pain, crying until the wounds heal, and walking on? The scars will never go away, for they are a reminder of what you’d been through.
Every failed relationship is like a scar you carry — a mark of all the lessons you learned and a reminder of who you’re not. The memories remain with you like a talisman, shielding you from making the same mistakes in the future.
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