I was 20 years old, and I was madly in love for the very first time with a man who couldn't love me back.
He had been recently dumped, he was failing at his job and he was in a deep depression. I believed with all my might that love would conquer all, and that as soon as he got over his issues, as soon as he got a better handle on his job, as soon as he got closure with his ex, then everything would be perfect.
My naive brain just couldn't comprehend the reality. We had chemistry, we cared about each other and we had fun together. Why was this relationship so difficult? Isn't everything supposed to be right when you meet "the one?"
Our relationship quickly devolved into codependency. He was a mess, and I was not. I became his crutch of sorts.
I made his life more manageable, and as a result, made his misery more comfortable. I cooked for him, I did his laundry and I stayed up all night when he needed to talk and a shoulder to cry on.
I was there. I was always there.
I felt desperate and depleted, and he felt unmotivated and pathetic. (Talk about a toxic tango.)
After six months of this, he found the strength to cut the cord and break up with me. It was the saddest scene you could ever imagine. He cried, I cried and he told me he loved me for the very first time.
He finally said the three little words I was dying to hear at the worst possible moment in time. How could I ever live without him? That would be like living without a vital organ; it's just not possible.
And it wasn't possible for very long. We tried to be broken up, but in a matter of weeks, he was back.
We were back to exactly where we were: miserable, unsatisfied, unable to make each other happy but unable to function without the other.
I had just finished my junior year of college, and I was heading back home for two grueling months. The relationship was on shaky ground, but I knew it would all work out. It had to.
We were long-distance over the summer and as codependent as ever. We spent every free moment on the phone with each other or texting. I found it annoying at times, but he demanded all my time and attention.
I loved him, so I obliged.
Then one night, I didn't hear from him for several hours, and this set off major alarm bells.
This kid can't breathe unless I'm on the other end of the phone. I hope he isn't dead or something.
I called him, and he didn't answer. But, he did text me, saying he was hanging out with friends and would call me later.
Friends? Since when does he have friends? Well, this is a good thing because now I can have a few hours of peace!
But as the hours ticked on, peace morphed into panic. I eventually went to bed, feeling totally confused but certain there was a rational explanation. I woke up and checked my phone at around 3 am. No missed calls.
Then, I broke, and I just knew.
He's with a girl right now. He's cheating on me.
After the tears, I somehow fell back asleep, and in the morning, I tried to pretend it was all an awful nightmare.
Things resumed as usual, only not. Something was wrong; I felt it.
Later that day, I went over to his Facebook page and saw that an incredibly attractive girl had posted what seemed like an inside joke, a reference to something that had happened.
And then, I really knew.
So, I called him and asked, and he confirmed it. I was crushed.
But even despite my devastation, I didn't quite believe it. I wrote it off as in innocent fling.
He has been struggling, and he needed to hook up with some hot girl to feel good about himself; that's understandable. I was all set to forgive him and take him back, but he never offered himself up for the taking.
I always had a nagging fear he would leave me for someone else, but again, I never thought that would actually happen.
He can't live without me! He could never share his thoughts, his pain and his inner depths with anyone like he does with me. There's no way he would ever leave, and who would ever take him, anyway?
I didn't think this was the end; it couldn't be. I figured once I was back at school, back in his vicinity, then he would snap back to his senses, but that didn't happen.
Two weeks later, I was back in town, and to my horror, he was in an all new relationship.
It took a few weeks for him to be in love and in a new relationship. It was even Facebook official, something he told me he would never, under any circumstances, do.
And then came the pictures.
It started one morning while I was killing time on Facebook before class. As I was scrolling through my Newsfeed, I saw that she tagged him in 46 pictures. I knew I shouldn't have, but I couldn't stop myself.
And there they were, the two of them kissing, her on his lap, them at his parents’ house, them in the park and them at the most romantic restaurant in town. They were everywhere, looking happy and in love.
And if the photos didn't convey that, then the almost daily declarations of love for one another hammered the point home.
I was in shock. How could this be? How could he just replace me? This didn't make any sense.
So, I called him. I called and begged him to explain, to tell me what was happening, to tell me why.
It was like talking to a distant stranger; his answers were short and cold, and all the love he once felt had evaporated. I was reduced to nothing more than a nuisance, a problem on the other end of the line he didn't want to deal with
It was a sickening feeling, but I needed to know why, how and who.
Who was she? What did she have that I didn't? How could he do this to me? I pleaded for the answers, but he was a block of ice and gave me little more than "it is what it is."
Every day, more photos appeared on my Newsfeed of the two of them looking so sickeningly happy. And what's worse is that he actually got his act together. He got a job, he broke free of his depression, he was Mr. Commitment, he took her on dates, he was social and he was all better.
In a few short weeks, this woman was able to do something I couldn't do in a year. I knew I had to stop looking, I knew I should unfriend, but I was just too much of an emotional masochist. I couldn't get enough.
After crying more tears than I could ever quantify, I just kind of turned it off. I partied my senior year away and escaped the wrenching pain in any way I could.
I tried to face it, tried to tell myself it was for the best and it would pass, but a light at the end couldn't be found. Nothing was passing. The only solution for me seemed to be endless distraction, to run from the pain before it found me.
I noticed a very peculiar thing that year as well. I had turned into an emotional robot. Any guys I met, talked to or kissed, I felt nothing. It didn't matter how great, cute and wonderful they were, nothing registered.
Then I graduated from college, I moved on, moved to the Big Apple and started working as a fashion and beauty writer. I was career-obsessed and determined to make it, to succeed, to climb to the top of whatever needed to be climbed.
It was a non-stop, frenetic sort of life, but no matter how busy I was, it was still there, stuck in the recesses of my mind. I didn't want it to be there, but the thought of him, her and the way it all went down would sometimes catch me off-guard and stab me right between the ribs.
When exactly am I going to be over this already?
And a part of me thought I would never get over it. How do you bounce back from such an emotional gutting? How do you feel again after being discarded so flippantly by the person you loved and trusted more than anything?
At this point, you're probably thinking, "How the heck was this the best thing that has ever happened to her?"
Well, here are the reasons why:
1. I felt like I could get through anything.
This relationship was a defining moment in the story of my life, or rather, in a defining time span. It wasn't just a heartbreak; it was an entire body break.
I felt broken all over, from head to toe. I didn't even know it was possible to feel so much physical pain without an actual physical ailment. But once the initial avalanche of agony subsided, I was filled with a renewed gusto, a feeling of invincibility, a sense that I could make it through anything.
I almost became fearless. If I could get through that, I can make it through anything. And once I felt brave enough to get back onto the dating market, I was able to be a little more free. There wasn't so much at stake anymore, and it felt kind of nice.
2. It gave me my career.
Remember how I told you I was super career-focused? Well, I was, until I got tired of working for other people and wanted to start my own thing. And right around that time, something compelled me to reach out to the ex.
It had been two years since the infamous Facebook wall post and subsequent pleading phone calls, and it was still there. I couldn't let it go.
I went to therapy, I talked it out, I cried it out, I did it all. I just couldn't move past it. I needed answers. So, I called him.
At this point, he wasn't with the woman he left me for anymore, and my anger had mostly subsided. This wasn't about an ego fuel or validation; this was simply about wanting to know what happened and why.
And the answers came. The answers were more than anything I could have asked for, and the next day, I woke up feeling as though the shackles had been removed. I was finally free.
And during our six-hour catch-up and closure call, I mentioned wanting to start my own website. So, he offered to make it for me. Somehow, we ended up going into business together (although I didn't even know it was a business at the time), and created A New Mode.
I thought I was starting a fashion and beauty blog, something to give me a little more street cred amongst the fashion elite, but then I had Eric (yes, he has a name other than Cheating Ex) write a weekly "Ask a Guy" column. It really took off and became something else entirely.
After a few years, it was clear to both of us that the demand for quality relationship content surpassed the fashion and beauty stuff, so ANM shifted to be mostly about relationships. It morphed into an actual business, and for the last few years, it has been my full-time career.
Was it weird working with him at first? Yes. Did old feelings reemerge? Yes.
Was it hard? Yes. Awkward? Sometimes.
These are the questions I field regularly. While there were some rocky points,and it took a while to totally wash away the pain of the past, we got through it. We've been broken up for almost 10 years now, and I don't think either of us is the same person we once were.
So, is it weird working with an ex? I suppose it would be, but he doesn't even feel like an ex anymore. (If you think I'm a freak of nature, here's an article I wrote on how I'm able to work with and be friends with an ex.)
And that aside, I'm engaged and very soon to be married.
I get to work from home, I get to write about relationships, I get to help people, I get to be my own boss and honestly, I have to say the pain I endured for those few years was kind of a small sacrifice when I consider all I got in return.
3. It made me a better writer.
I believe in order to truly write in a way that makes people feel, you need to have experienced all kinds of feelings, including, and maybe especially, the depths of despair. I was hurt so badly that it felt impossible to function.
The only thing that helped, that made it subside, was writing. I really believe that going through that kind of pain put me in touch with the deepest parts of myself. And in turn, it gave me the tools needed to write about pain, relationships and love in a way that really resonates with people.
4. It gave me direction.
All I really remember about that dark period of my life was feeling not good enough and alone. I felt so lonely. I felt like the pain was mine and mine alone, like no one could possibly understand.
I remember becoming obsessed with the Brad Pitt-Jennifer Aniston-Angelina Jolie love triangle (I was obviously on team Aniston), and rooting for Jen like she was my sister because I needed to see her happy.
I needed to see that there is a light at the end of this, that being cheated on and left for someone else is okay, that it would all be okay.
I would look online, I would read books and I would even look for movies with plotlines that mirrored my life. But, I never found the comfort I really needed.
Pain can be a crushing, gutting experience. And even though there is much greater pain in the world, and even though I certainly am not the only woman to have her heart broken, it truly felt like this pain was mine and mine alone. No one on the entire planet could possibly fathom what I was going through.
With A New Mode, I really aim to create that feeling of sisterhood, of understanding, of finding answers and of realizing that it isn't your fault, that you didn't do anything wrong.
I am still stunned by the fact that women of all ages and from every corner of the world write to us with basically the exact same questions, the exact same pain. All they want are answers and understanding.
Had the situation not gone down exactly as it did, I wouldn't be able to write about relationships the way I do. I wouldn't have an arsenal of crazy dates and other relationships gone bad to write about and use as examples (usually of what not to do).
I wouldn't be as strong and capable as I am. I wouldn't have been set on the path toward self-improvement that ultimately led me to my true love.
You can't panic in the middle of the sentence. I panicked; I didn't think it would be okay. And it is completely okay.
Everything is better than I ever envisioned it could be, and that is why being cheated on by a man I thought was the love of my life was the best thing to ever happen to me.