Learning to Walk Again
The Lessons I Learned Being on my Own for the First Time in Five Years
I’ll be the first to admit that ending a relationship is terrifying, especially one that you lived in, grew in, and adored for five years. It’s one thing to end a relationship with a big blow out that results in both of you saying it’s done, but ending a relationship that only one person wants ended is worse. I grew apart, fell out of love, and had to break the heart of someone I had been attached to for so long. As an extremely empathetic person, I often ended up putting aside what is best for me to avoid hurting someone else, making this decision one of the hardest and most selfish things I had ever done. When you spend the better part of your adolescence and early adulthood with someone, your personalities become melded together. You grow and learn to navigate the adult world together. Ending that relationship meant that I had to start all over. I needed to learn to be who I was without that other person.
Being on my own for the first time since I was 16 was like learning to walk again. I didn’t really know how to define myself outside of that relationship and I had to learn to love myself with no one there to do it for me. With my own share of insecurities and struggles, this was extremely difficult. During the relationship I had worn rose-coloured glasses. I saw my self-sacrifices over major decisions as a compromise and I saw his controlling nature as affection. I began to see all the parts of myself that I had given up once the glasses were removed. I stifled so many of my desires while planning our future and gave up opportunities to build friendships over those five years that I forgot parts of who I was and wanted to be. I fell into a dark place, mourning the person I gave up to be in a relationship that I labelled as loving and respectful. I became cynical, claiming there was no such thing as love if I could fall out of it so easily. I pushed people away and became impulsive, in my choices around intimacy and relationships. In retrospect, I was going through the impulsive teenage phase I had suppressed in an effort to find who I was.
Needless to say, this was not effective. I was becoming someone I didn’t particularly like and I was emotionally demanding to everyone around me, constantly needing validation and support. I was the most insecure I had ever been in my whole life. I knew I needed to build myself back up because I saw myself spinning. I began to do little things for myself. I chose to find positivity in all areas of my life, made time for myself, surrounded myself with things that made me happy, and spent time making positive memories with my best friends. I stopped looking for a relationship to latch onto, and instead looked for ways to love myself.
I started a job that gave me a glimpse into the career I was working towards in school and this taught me more about myself than anything else in my life ever had. There’s something about working with children and seeing the world through their eyes that really changes your perspective. They taught me to enjoy the little things life had to offer, like getting excited about making cookie dough to learn measurement. They taught me to make sure you take care of yourself first by being resilient and flexible when things went wrong. Most importantly though, they taught me that you need to forgive yourself before you can forgive other people. It was in this environment that I felt sure about the directionality of life for the first time. I recognized parts of myself in this job that I loved and chose to focus on. I saw the positivity, determination, and compassion that I had lost, and I began to rebuild that part of myself. It was at this time that I truly began to fall in love with who I was as a person.
Then I met someone that continued to highlight that optimism, drive, and compassion. To say I was hesitant would be saying the least. I was still cynical about the prospects of a relationship and resistant to the idea that I could ever be happy in an intimate relationship. But the thing about taking time to love yourself, is that the relationships that come after are built on a respect for yourself AND the other person. You learn to compromise instead of sacrifice and you can exist as a couple with lives outside of each other. And while this is all still fresh and I don’t know where this will go, I do know that I am in the healthiest relationship I have ever known. There’s something about being with someone that appreciated you for you and respects your own goals and aspirations that makes you realize your own self-worth. I am growing as a person everyday, falling in love with who I am, learning to care about myself along with the people I cherish, and expanding my knowledge to succeed in a career path I love.
So as hard as things may be now, and as cynical as you may be feeling about relationships, I would like to think that it isn’t all for nothing. As cliché as it may be, fall in love with who you are and make time to appreciate all the little things in your life. And when all else fails, it’s okay to have a meltdown and eat a tub of ice cream in your bed as long as you are willing to pick up the pieces the next day and try again. The hardest lesson I have learned in the past year is that I don’t have to tackle every decision as a part of a five year plan. You are allowed to live in the present and appreciate what you have now. Let tomorrow’s problems stay in tomorrow. I know how hard it is to appreciate and love yourself. It’s been a 22-year process to even take the first steps myself. Even with all the process I’ve made in the past year, there is still a long way to go, but I’m ready to keep working at this for the rest of my life.