When people think about love, they often imagine whirlwind romances, soul mates, and high school sweethearts who are each other’s first (and last) everything.
They don’t usually usually think about rebound relationships.
After six years, a long-distance stint, a few break-ups, and one dog later, I can tell you with certainty not to count the possibility out, because my rebound became the love of my life. It wasn’t exactly the fairy tale I had always imagined (or, rather, the Cinderella story I had been taught to expect), but it turned into something I never thought I would find: Real, true, lasting love.
And it all started with a breakup.
I was 19 years old when I got engaged to my college boyfriend.
I said yes when my then-boyfriend of a year asked me to marry him with a cheap, too-small ring on the side of the road during an argument — I was young, hopeful, naive, and swept up in the romance of it all. I should have known then that a proposal during a fight wouldn’t end well — or when I didn’t call my family and tell them for nearly a month, that I wasn’t sure about the decision. But I jammed the trinket around my ring finger and pretended like I was the happiest girl in the world.
And for a minute, maybe I was. But a little over sixth months later, I broke things off and entered one of the messiest periods of my youth — days and weeks of emotional fights with my ex, bad decisions with other guys in my life, excessive drinking, and a lot of second guessing and self doubt.
Through it all, though, there was one solace, one saving grace: The roommate who had lived with me and my ex-fiance (wow, that sounds weird) — a man that I would one day realize was my soulmate, if such things exist.
After my breakup, I turned to this person, J, for a friendly shoulder to lean on, someone to watch movies and study with, a healthy distraction from the otherwise unhealthy shit storm that was my life. It didn’t take long, though, for it to become something so much more than that.
We gradually grew from roommates who sat on opposite sides of the couch from one another, to friends who sheepishly held hands when no one was looking, to a full-blown couple who wasn’t afraid to share the appropriate level of affection in public.
But as we grew less shy about our feelings for each other, my friends grew less shy about sharing their opinions. They questioned my decision to “stick with my rebound,” and my own internal voice started to question our laid-back relationship, too. Could this relationship really be something, or was it just a pit stop on my way to finding the real happy ending?
Popular culture and mainstream women’s media often portray rebound relationships as a combination of availability and vulnerability, a placeholder on your way to the real thing, a tool that temporarily numbs the pain of your last break up.
These are all things I’ve bought into and believed for most of my young adult life. When I found my own “rebound” in J, my friends never ceased reminding me that this person, this relationship, was only meant to be a detour, a distraction from my true pain, and a growth experience that would help me become the woman I was meant to be for the man I was meant to be with.
Turns out, everyone else was wrong, because as the song goes, my rebound and I found love in a hopeless place.
I can’t remember the exact moment when I decided — labels be damned — that my rebound was just a relationship, not something that needed to be classified, picked apart, and examined by onlookers who had certain expectations for my future. I don’t know if it was a smile he gave me, or a particularly romantic evening out, or one of our favorite lazy Sunday mornings over hot coffee and an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. All I know is that, eventually, I saw our relationship for what it was: A partnership built by trust and friendship, and nurtured by love.
Our relationship hasn’t always been rainbows and puppies — we’ve had plenty of fights, lived apart for over two years, and even broke up a few times (or, as Rachel and Ross so delightfully describe it, “went on a break”). But now, after six years together, I can say with certainty that labels don’t mean a thing. Timing is weird, and things rarely happen when you want them to, but life has a funny way of working itself out in the end (that is, if you work your ass off to make it work out). Having a partner at your side doesn’t hurt, either.
I don’t believe things happen for a reason. I don’t think I broke up with my fiance so I could find my true love, and I don’t think he was my rebound because he was meant to be my rebound. I think we made a connection, and not knowing where it could take us, we decided to explore it together, eventually creating a loving, supportive, and lasting relationship — despite what everyone said about our origin story.
So maybe my rebound is the love of my life, but if this experience has taught me anything, it’s this: It doesn’t matter where your story starts, all that matters is how you choose to end it.