How Losing A Man I Thought Was 'The One' Changed Me, But Didn't Break Me

I had a romance they could make movies about.

All my life, anyone who identified as a realist, an "adult" or an intellectual claimed it was impossible to fall in love in just a few days -- and especially with a stranger.

I did.

Two summers ago, in a restaurant on the Upper West Side, my waiter spent the course of my dinner shyly and humbly flirting with me. He was graceful in his sincere attempts at getting my attention and clumsy because he seemed nervous.

He was kind to me and kind to my friend whom I was eating with. We stole glances at each other throughout dinner. When he brought the check, I wrote him a thank you — and left my number and name on the receipt.

He called me the next day. Our first date came two days later. Our second came less than a week after we first met. Without being overly conscious of it, we spent every day together that summer and we continued into the fall. It only seemed natural.

We read books and poetry to each other. We completed thousand-piece puzzles together. We went to shows and movies and even flew down to the South for a trip together. We discussed and performed social activism together. We talked about our dreams, our jobs, the trips we'd take together... and marriage.

We cried openly in front of each other.

I can't think of any parts of me I didn't reveal to him; for the first time in my life, I felt entirely bonded to another human being, like we were made of the same thing and like we saw something in each other no one else had ever recognized.

Dating him felt like being discovered and affirmed. It felt like I could do or say anything I ever wanted to without fear because I knew, no matter what, he would be there when I got home, and he'd make it better.

It didn't work out. It didn't even last a year.

I wish I could talk about the dissolution of the relationship and point to one reason it ended — but I can't. I have my inclinations. I know the moments I began to feel uncomfortable. I know the moments he began to feel trapped.

Something wasn't sitting right, and the longer I stayed, the less comfortable I was with myself.

It was naive of me to assume breaking up would happen at once. It took me a year and some months to realize falling out of love takes much longer than falling into it.

It was bad in the beginning — bad in the kind of way I couldn't sleep, but didn't want to get out of bed either; bad like my chest hurt as if my heart had actually been physically damaged; bad as in something as simple as someone asking me how my day was could have elicited a flurry of tears.

Something beautiful had happened — and something beautiful turned ugly. I grieved intensely for the beauty that was lost, and I missed him.

I missed him so badly for so long that all of time seemed to focus singularly on the day I suggested we take a break and the time he suggested he didn't want the break to end. Time passing seemed irrelevant; my mind was only fixated on the moments I felt my entire self being compromised and changed irrevocably.

I learned you can't fall in love without being changed. How can you stay the same after having such an intense, emotional experience?

After breaking up with my ex, I seemed to lose a tolerance for pretending. I was miserable and I had no patience for putting up facades, acting like I was enjoying myself when I wasn't. As a result, I let go of toxic friendships from high school that lasted years longer than they should have.

I booked a vacation alone to Amsterdam, a place I always wanted to go to. I started exercising. After years of not being in shape, I toned up and started to jog regularly. I went to therapy. I started hanging out with different people and recommitting time to my long-established close friends. I journal-ed more.

Ideally, I would still be friends with my ex, but I'm not.

I haven't spoken to him in months. I used to be devastated by the idea of not speaking to someone I had once been so close with. I see him in coffee shops and pass by without saying hello. It's bizarre to say the least, that a man I discussed marriage with has become a stranger on the street.

Sometimes, our coldness and distance make me wonder if anything I'd ever experienced with that man was real.

But it was — because I'm better now.

I'm not only better in a sense that I feel better, but I'm evolved. I'm more beautiful: physically because I exercise now and mentally because all the self-care I committed myself to in the height of my heartbreak unleashed a new wave of confidence I'd have never discovered if I didn't go scrambling for an ounce of it when I needed it most.

I've reevaluated my goals and what I want for my life. Such discoveries don't come from vain experiences — they come from meaningful, true, human connections.

I think of that summer with fond memory: I was in love. It was exciting. It opened a new part of me. It showed me things I never thought possible could happen, like the plot of a film could play out in my life.

But still, I can't underestimate the pain of the heartbreak.

Every true love that ends leaves an irreparable scar. It'll fade, but it won't leave, and you might forget about it -- until you see a photo or hear a song or smell a smell — and the dark lines of your bad memories and hurt become visible again.

Still, I like to look at my scar now as a symbol of a change: It's the difference between a woman before and after she knew love, and how she came to be all of her.