I still have the diary entry I wrote the day I used my fake ID to buy drinks for me and my high school boyfriend at a bar in Silver Lake, Los Angeles to celebrate our high SAT scores. "Can my life get any better than this? I’m in love and CLEARLY a genius!" We both confidently applied Early Decision to Columbia University, and I was certain that we would shop at the Morningside Park Farmers' Market together on Saturdays, and only argue at museums. It would be perfect.
When December 1st came around, our responses from Columbia were packaged differently. After opening up his FedEx shipment filled with congratulations, confetti, and grants, I drove my Prius very quickly back to my home to find a tiny envelope awaiting my arrival. My mother had gently placed it on my bed, and I opened it tenderly in front of her. It read, "You’ve been waitlisted. Warm regards." In my journal, I recounted, "My life is officially over." Although I would then spend the last few months of high school mourning the dream I had long envisioned for myself, I did eventually accept a scholarship to Sarah Lawrence College.
When September rolled around, my boyfriend left Los Angeles two weeks before me for orientation and said, "We are not even going to have to do long distance. We’ll be fine." Columbia and Sarah Lawrence are less than a half hour apart by train. Fine.
"Definitely, definitely," I said under my breath. We shared pancakes in Echo Park the night before his departure. I stuffed my entire mouth with fluffy pancakes immersed in syrup, while simultaneously tasting nothing. "Definitely, definitely," I repeated.
All of Columbia orientation happened before we spoke again. I called three days in a row. I texted him twice. Then started to assume that things were over between us. After two weeks of no communication, on the night before my official first day, I gave him one last call.
"Hey," he said.
"Hi. It’s been a while. How are you? I start school tomorrow."
"Do you? Well, good luck. College is crazy."
"I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself," I lied.
"Hey, so, I was waiting for you to get situated and stuff, but college isn’t really a time for relationships. It’s busy and I don’t think I’d be able to visit you ever. Sarah Lawrence is far from me."
"Ah. Definitely, definitely. I understand. Cool. Glad that is settled. See you when we’re both home for Thanksgiving!"
I was angry, withdrawn, then just sad. I cried all night until my mother made me get out of bed for my own very first day of college. I had to pretend to be excited. I had to learn how to appear confident and meet new people as my stomach felt like it couldn’t digest even baby food. Luckily for me, I was also about to meet 700 new people and attend more parties in a week than I did all of high school, and it became easy to start dating again. I went on a date with a sweet boy from Massachusetts. Then, a few dates with a boy from the city. I kissed a girl for the very first time, and by the morning of my 19th birthday later that month, I was fully immersed in a new relationship and rarely thought about sunny Los Angeles or my high school boyfriend.
Then, my roommate texted me:
Hey, hbd babe, just wanted to let you know that when I got home this morning one of your boy toys was sitting here... I think he’s from high school but he came to surprise you for your birthday...
I responded to his 'surprise visit' with naiveté, and within a week we were back together. In the weeks that followed, he missed both my winter dance shows. He didn’t really "understand how I could just take a poetry class" when I was studying journalism, and claimed "it was too exhausting visiting me at Sarah Lawrence because so many girls hit on him there." My parents hated him. My friends refused to hang out with me when I was with him. And yet, somehow, I still wrote about him in my journal lovingly. I wrote, "This is love. I can’t wait to tell our kids the story about when we 'tried' to breakup and then couldn’t live without each other. Ugh. JUST like The Notebook."
By the time we were both in Los Angeles again for Thanksgiving, we had hung out a total of three times. After loading up on Thanksgiving food, I drove to his house, parked outside, and dumped him. I had been so full of disappointment, but somehow felt absolutely nothing as I drove away from his teary eyes that November evening.
Being single in college was the best motivation to discover who I was and who I wanted to be.
When I returned back to New York for my first-ever East Coast winter, I was completely alone. I didn't even know what cuffing season was until I heard my new school friends joking about it at a party. I laughed, then tried to secretly Google the term, which everyone seemed to somehow already know. My service was faulty, so I escaped to the bathroom to give it another try. I reloaded Google as I simultaneously peed out five cans of PBR. Finally, the definition appeared under my fingertips, and my ex-boyfriend’s face immediately bombarded my thoughts. I grabbed another PBR from the bathtub and devoured half of the can while trying to ignore the repulsive lingering taste.
That winter felt cold and empty at first, but the perpetuating loneliness somehow propelled me into a new life of growth. My new independence created space that hadn’t been there before, and I started to actually embrace the beautiful campus life and vast opportunities available to me. I danced, read, and wrote incessantly now that I had more emotional energy. Being single in college was the best motivation to discover who I was and who I wanted to be. I learned more about my identity that year than I ever could have while in a consuming relationship with someone who didn’t make me feel seen or heard.
Two weeks before Thanksgiving this year, I rolled up to a bar in the East Village in a navy-blue suit, exhausted after a long day at work. He was the first person I saw, also wearing navy blue. We talked about our matching outfits to fill the vacant silence. It had been years. I giggled a lot.
He spoke first. "Hey, I hear you live here now and write stuff on the internet and hang out with hot girls."
Naturally, we made out.
I pulled away, smirked, then walked away. I swallowed his spit, and somehow still tasted nothing. He texted me five times in the weeks that followed. Then he called. I did not respond.
According to my friends, it’s officially cuffing season in New York again. While there may always be something about the November sky that brings him and I together, I confidently know that doesn’t mean we should actually be together. Five Thanksgivings later, I don’t need to drink seven PBRs to internalize that. If I hadn’t dumped him, I would have never found fulfillment in times of great loneliness. Just because winter on the East Coast is easier when you have someone to hold, it does not mean that you should hold just anybody.
And I am genuinely thankful that I know that now.
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