Almost two months ago, I was in my car — a two-time broken down 2001 Subaru Outback, sitting in rush-hour traffic and confiding in a friend.
I told him everything in my life had just changed over the past few days, and I didn’t know what to do next. He told me, blatantly but softly, something I will never forget. Quoting the TV show Frasier, he said, “Emma, you’re not mourning the loss of your relationship so much as you’re mourning the death of what you thought your life would be.”
And in that moment, hitting me like a ton of bricks — it made sense.
At the beginning of the summer, I thought my life was going to be completely different. I had planned it a certain way, with a certain person. But yet, a month into living in a new city, I was all by myself. I hardly knew anyone, except for a few co-workers.
I looked around at the apartment we moved into together — so many dreams and future plans. I look where his clothing sat, and the kitchen where he made me breakfast every morning. I see the bed that was once “ours” and I see us intertwined together in it. I remember the mornings, where we’d both sit in silence as the sun rose, thinking this could be my life forever.
But then, just like that, it wasn’t my forever.
Now, I sit in my overly hot apartment, like Carrie Bradshaw, minus the famous curls and designer clothing, as I write this. A 21-year-old with the world as her feet. It is terrifying. After an extremely difficult year filled with hardships via work, school, mental health, just being young, etc. this was the last thing I wanted.
But for whatever reason, it’s the most uncomfortable scenarios that always seems to be best for us.
When my relationship ended, I didn’t know what I liked anymore, what made me happy, what my goals were, who I wanted to be or what kind of people I liked hanging out with. I felt like a cardboard box. Stale. Empty.
My relationship, though I gloated about it on social media, wasn’t healthy. But I never wanted to admit it. Me? A girl who always stands up for herself was in a toxic relationship? It couldn’t be. But sadly, it was. Unhealthy, one-sided, and at times, our partnership took the life out of me. But it wasn’t something I ever wanted to walk away from. I was so scared to be alone. I told myself that despite all the bad, there was some good. And wanted to hold onto it for dear life, no matter the cost.
But it ended. And to my surprise, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
This is the first time in more than a year that my life has been about me. Just me. What do I want for dinner? What am I doing this weekend? What movie do I want to watch on Netflix? And to be honest, it has been amazing to not have to compromise on anything for someone.
I began painting — I never saw myself as artistic, but somehow it’s working for me (kind of.) I started watching my favorite movies, I made new friends, I started doing everything on my own again. I danced around my apartment like no one was watching.
When he left, I felt like the weakest person in the world. I couldn’t stand any type of upset in my life — it would crush me. But now, I’m beginning to remember that person who got lost on the inside. And there is something so freeing about being young and remembering who you are.
In high school, I dreamt about who I wanted to be: 20 something, living on her own in a new city, paying all her own bills, and doing what she loved — writing.
And that’s exactly what I’m doing.
But yet, it doesn’t always feel like how you think it would when you get to the “finish line.” It kind of feels like it just happened, and you ended up here. But that’s the thing we forget in the spiral of life: It never happens how we plan it, and we tend to not be in the moment for it when we should.
Recently, since the anxiety in my life seemed to subside with the absence of a certain someone, I find myself living in the moment more. I notice the woman at the store with her young son and the joy he brings her. I converse with the cashier and exchange laughter with them. See, when you’re tangled up in a situation, you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, or at least that’s how I saw it. You don’t feel the need to connect with others, or build new relationships because you feel like you already have everything you need. But in reality, you could be missing out on so much.
And this is not me being a relationship hater or a #SingleGirlSwag activist, because hey — if you’re happy in your relationship, all the power to you. But for the rest of us, who are young, naive, and still figuring this out — let us have this moment.
I remember being 17 and feeling like I knew everything. Then again at 19 when I got my heart broken for the first time, but now at 21, I know for certain, I’ve hardly scratched the surface. And that’s the beauty in it all. There’s so much to learn, to see and to experience.
If someone told me a few months ago how my life would be in this present moment, I would have kicked and screamed, done anything I could to avoid it. Now, in hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing. There’s a reason people continue to say century after century, “everything happens for a reason.” Because it does. In the moment of being sad, stubborn, heartbroken, and angry — we don’t want to believe it. But it’s real. What happened made me find my independence again. The unthinkable, the one thing I wanted to avoid more than anything because I was in love. And at the end of the day, love is great. It’s breathtaking. But when you don’t know yourself, when you don’t love yourself and when you’re not strong on your own, it’s a vice. And it can take you down in an instant.
So be on your own. Deal with the unthinkable — or probably what is the inevitable. It’s going to happen either way. But choose how you deal with it. Because more than likely, it will be liberating.
I’ve now realized that there’s nothing more powerful than an independent, strong woman who has finally realized her worth. Be that woman.
Photos by Adriana Electra. Gifs by Jacqueline Jing Lin.