Why a devastating college breakup was necessary to find my own identity

I met him in the summertime when I was 17. I didn’t fall head over heels for him immediately. There were no fireworks, and I didn’t feel like my life had changed. Slowly but surely, though, it did. Subtly, then all at once. Soon, I was his and he was mine, and that first year of us being together was a dream. We lived in a world that consisted solely of each other and we were more than fine with that. But, of course, that initial high doesn’t last forever. He moved out of the country a year after we first started dating, and eventually, our relationship began to crack. A breakup was inevitable.

The first year of our long-distance journey was hard, to put it mildly. I was in my first year of college, and instead of meeting new people and exploring my new home, I was calling my boyfriend every night. I barely had a social life—or a life outside of him, at all. I was miserable, depressed, and I drank far too much alcohol to try to numb the pain of our separation. I saw him every three to four months, and that time together was the only time I truly felt happy.

Then, in my sophomore year of college, he suddenly broke up with me. When broken up with by someone we still love, we remember so much about the relationship: the way they kissed us for the first time, the first dramatic fight, the heartbreaking goodbye right before the definite end. We remember it all so well that moving on after a breakup can seem impossible. I thought it would be impossible for me.

"I knew that I didn’t have an identity besides being his girlfriend. But it hurt too much to admit."

When we broke up over the phone, he told me that we didn’t have individual lives. He told me that he didn’t know who he was without me, and he wanted to find that out. I begged him not to break it off. I told him I couldn’t live without him, which I deeply believed at the time. I sobbed to him, hoping my pain would make him change his mind. It didn’t. Before he ended the phone call, I asked him if he knew that he was breaking my heart. With deep sadness in his voice, he sighed, said “Yes,” and ended the call.

Deep down, I knew he was right. I knew that I didn’t have an identity besides being his girlfriend. But it hurt too much to admit.

I turned into a shell of my former, happy go lucky self. I cried myself to sleep for weeks, and upon waking, I’d wish I was dreaming. My friends say they sent me care packages, cards, and flowers, but I have no memory of this; I blocked out so much of the painful aftermath. To be honest, I’m grateful my brain decided to do so.

That’s why I also can’t recall how many classes I missed that semester. I do remember that, at some point, my roommate was done with the pity party I kept throwing for myself. One morning, when I was trying to sleep instead of study, she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Lauren, don’t ever let a boy ruin your career.” And in that moment, it hit me. What the hell was I doing?

A bright light had turned on in my brain. The next day, I started attending classes—and turning up on time for them, too. I started playing guitar again, a hobby I’d let fall by the wayside. I started relishing in numerous hobbies that I’d let go untouched. Most importantly, I started developing an identity in which my ex didn’t have a role. I started living for me, instead of for somebody else.

"You don’t have to be in a relationship to be in love with your life."

Of course, I wasn’t over my ex. To this day, I still love him and think of him often. The difference is that now I know who I am, and that a man can never take me away from myself again. I know that friendships are just as important, if not more important, than romantic relationships. I know that I can live a full life without being in a relationship. I am stronger now because I have learned how to deal with pain, rejection, failure, and loss all on my own. I learned to love myself fully, which I couldn’t have said five years ago. You don’t have to be in a relationship to be in love with your life.

I wouldn’t wish heartache on my own worst enemy, but without it, I couldn’t have gotten to where I am now. I love myself, regardless of my relationship status. And sure, I have bad days where I feel lonely or scared, but I know that clinging onto someone else won’t fix that. I finally know now that, in order to be truly happy, I need to have an identity outside of my relationship. Because I have that, I’m better off now than I ever was with him, and it can’t be taken away.

Lauren Jarvis-Gibson
Lauren Jarvis-Gibson is an Associate Editor at Best Life. Her work has been published in Teen Vogue, Allure, HuffPost, and more. Read more
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