I recently broke up with someone I love. The breakup wasn’t screaming, fights, or hatred. It was silent nods, tears, and hard decisions. If you had told me I would someday do this a few months ago, I would have thought you were lying. It goes against everything I believed in.
I always thought that if you loved your partner, everything else would just fall into place. I’ve learned (the very hard way), that that’s not always the case. You can love the person you’re with and be unhappy. You can love the person you’re with and leave. Those feelings aren’t mutually exclusive.
None of this was easy. Every moment felt like I was getting in a fight with myself, like a cartoon punching itself in the face and rolling around on the floor. How could I be so crazy to leave when the love was still there? Even if things weren’t great or they didn’t seem like they could be fixed, how could I walk away when I was still in love? But at the end of the day I realized I had to, because I wasn’t fighting for the relationship anymore. I was fighting for myself. In my breakup I didn’t choose the other person, I chose me.
Being a woman in this day and age, I feel like we’re taught from a young age to believe that love conquers all, and if you find a person that you love with all your heart and they love you too, that’s all that matters. What we’re not told is the nitty gritty of what comes after. What do you do if you can’t communicate with someone you love, or if they don’t want to put in the work to the relationship? What happens if you’re in love, but you’re more unhappy than happy? Are you supposed to stay because you’re in love, even if you’re losing yourself in the process?
After a lot of soul searching, I realized that that logic isn’t healthy. I loved my partner, but I wasn’t feeling good about my role in the relationship. I had given what I thought were honest attempts to remedy it, but I didn’t feel like I was being met half way. I was in love, but incredibly upset with how things were, and the more I tried to fix them the more it seemed like they were never going to change. I now know that is more than enough reason to leave. No one else has to understand my decision but me. It’s okay to choose myself above my partner. It’s okay to make decisions that only benefit my life.
But it’s still an incredibly hard thing to do. All relationship wisdom seems to recommend making compromises and putting ourselves second in our relationships. We’re taught to work on our partnerships relentlessly, and that love conquers all. And if love isn’t conquering all, we’re just not trying hard enough.
I realized more and more it’s not true if you’re the only one putting in the work. So after many nights of lonely anxiety, I thought of a radical idea. What if I put all the energy I was putting into the relationship into myself? What if instead of supporting someone else’s dreams, I supported my own? What if supporting someone else’s career I worked toward my own? What if I still cleaned the apartment, and bought the groceries and did the laundry, but if it was for myself, not for someone else? What if I focused on my own life for a change? What if was daring and bold and brash enough to let my life be the most important thing going on with me?
I still struggle with this decision every day. I don’t know how I came to be this way, but I’m someone who will put literally every person in the world before myself. If I don’t have someone to worry about, I’ll find someone to worry about. If it’s between me and someone else waiting our turn in line I’ll let the other person go first. I have to unlearn this behavior, and in order to fix it I have to be alone with myself, because that’s the only way I’ll allow myself to be a priority. I no longer have room for people who feed my selflessness to the point of sabotage. I can’t afford it.
I didn’t choose love, or happiness, or marriage, or kids, or any of the things we’re told women want. For the first time ever, I chose my own life. And while I’m filled with hope, I understand that doesn’t necessarily mean I get to live happily ever after. More often than not, I’m sad, scared, and lonely. I’ve been having a hard time writing this article because I don’t know what comes next. There isn’t a resolution or a neat bow to wrap up this story with. I’m starting to realize that’s okay. Sometimes it’s all right to be in flux and still be figuring things out. The most important thing is I’m finally figuring them out for myself.