It was my junior year of college. I had just been dumped by another brown-eyed brunette with commitment issues and a stamp collection. After three years of failed relationships, missed signals, and leading a one-man mission to reach the bottom of a tub of Ben & Jerry's, I was fed up. Looking in the mirror, I made eye contact with my reflection and glared. What was wrong with me? It was then, in that moment, doused in my own self-loathing, that I made the decision that every relationship expert advises against: to get back together with my ex.
OK, so maybe it didn't exactly happen like that. That night, after taking a buttload of melatonin, I was still having a stupid amount of trouble falling asleep. Instead of meditating or counting sheep, I decided to count my past partners. I tossed and turned in bed, overanalyzing every detail. I tallied up each "It's not you, it's me," and "We need to talk." The conclusion was clear: I was incapable of sustaining a storybook romance. Suddenly, a beacon of light broke through the ceiling and descended into my dorm room, and from God's lips to my ears, the whisper of a single name flooded the Febreze-soaked atmosphere: Brian.*
Brian and I had dated toward the end of my freshman year. He was a cynical aspiring film director (or was it producer?) with an affection for Golden Age cinema and expensive cigars. He was the type of person who would learn how to make really good tacos, and suddenly be convinced that it was his destiny to open up a taco restaurant. A culmination of white privilege and a woe-is-me attitude, Brian had appealed to me in a Holden Caulfield kind of way. Since I was a musician at the time, we had spent the majority of our relationship pursuing the idea of being "struggling artists" together. Our partnership fizzled out after a couple months, presumably because he could never care as much about me as he did himself.
But in the midst of my melatonin-fueled psychosis, I was rethinking everything. What if Brian had been "The One"? We never really gave our relationship a chance to flourish, to grow. When we first met, we were only 18 years old. Who has the maturity to pursue a serious relationship as a teenager? I had clearly underestimated him. He had been the only one to understand my poor, tortured soul. And then, without thinking, I unplugged my phone from its charger and typed the word that launched a thousand ships: Hey.
When I woke up the next morning and discovered what I had done in the midst of my night terrors, I — to put it gently — flipped out. But much to my surprise, Brian had already responded with an affectionate, slightly flirty, "Hey you!" I proceeded with caution. Just kidding! Who was I fooling? His text had proved it: He was totally in love with me! We continued to correspond throughout the day, briefly catching each other up on our lives. He told me that he had seen a poem that I had written for our on-campus feminist lit mag (I stay on-brand), and that it was, like, really good. Swoon. In return, I asked about the flyers I had seen taped up around the quad promoting his latest startup venture. Boom. There was no denying our everlasting chemistry.
I decided to seal the deal and ask him to marry me. Not! I asked him to coffee, and he very enthusiastically said yes. We were to meet at 11 a.m. the following day, at a cafe on my street. It was there that I'd make my proposal: a second go-around the block, if you will. I was sure he'd say yes, and could already imagine that day going down in history as the pivotal moment of our 50-year-long marriage. "How did you and Daddy meet?" my non-existent child would ask me. "The first or second time?" I'd respond, throwing my head back with a jovial laugh. Kids these days.
The morning of, I arrived early to grab my favorite table and go-to beverage. I had done my makeup the exact same way I used to my freshman year: a lot of smoke eyeliner, no foundation. My anxiety was palpable — I must have crossed and uncrossed my legs a million times. I stared at the door, watching as customers floated in and out of the cafe, waiting patiently for Brian. An hour passed. I bit off what remained of my fingernails and drank two more coffees. Another 30 minutes.
Around 3 p.m. that same day, I received a lame text from Brian explaining that he had, ahem, "just woken up." I was livid. I couldn't believe that I had convinced myself to take another chance on this selfish, immature man-child! What was I thinking? I wasn't. I was feeling — hurt, abandoned, and unwanted. I had allowed the sting of rejection talk me into attempting to make the same mistake a second time. That evening, I laid out two new ground rules for myself:
- Do not make any big decisions within 24 hours of a breakup.
- Look for validation within yourself, not from others.
It's been four years since that fateful Friday morning, and I am truly grateful that Brian never showed up to our coffee date. His presence, or lack thereof, reminded me of a valuable lesson: Just because it hurts right now, that doesn't mean it will hurt forever. Time heals most wounds, not ex boyfriends.
These days, when I'm feeling particularly apocalyptic, I make a list of everything and everyone that I'm grateful for. (Don't make fun! This actually works.) I've also learned to reach out to those who make me smile, instead of for my phone. And above all else, I've grown to trust myself. I don't need anyone to tell me that I'm worth loving, because I practice self-love every d*mn day. And that, my friends, is romantic.
*Names have been changed.