I Suddenly Understood the Work I Must Do, I Must Do Alone


Gabrielle White

It had been over 2 years since it happened – 2 years, 6 months and 20 days, to be exact. In all those trips around the Sun, we’d both moved continents, been with other partners and presumably sunk our teeth back into the meat of loving and living. I didn’t get teary when I thought of you, and I wasn’t obsessing over what you were doing. I couldn’t remember the last time I had looked at a photo of us together. I took all this to mean I was over it.

But then, nearly 1,000 days later, I found myself sobbing in the office of a benevolent, bespectacled therapist. I introduced myself and sat in his chair for exactly 30 seconds before I found myself squeaking through the snot and saltwater suddenly leaking from my face that I was unhappy and didn’t know why. I offered some possible reasons: being a little bit miserable at the university I’d transferred to, the heartbreak of watching my parents’ marriage fall apart, the anxiety that grips me by the throat every day because I don’t know what I want to do with my life.

And then you came up, surprising me as your name fell out of my mouth. I had thought you were the furthest thing from my mind, and yet there you were, showing up less than 3 minutes into my first-ever session with a therapist, years later.  Not thinking about you was apparently not the same as being over you. I stared blankly as your name hung in the room, shocked that this was still a problem on my emotional radar.

With you, I had been a broken compass, lacking the inner conviction to keep me pointing north. At 18, I didn’t have the courage to break both of our hearts when I knew I needed to. So I forced an exit, and I made you have the courage for both of us. Cheating on you reduced me to the smallest version of myself I’ve ever been. I let myself stay withered, feeling unworthy of my own forgiveness or yours, until another more powerful love knocked me out of that pathetic little orbit and into another galaxy of blissful distraction. It was there that I learned a constellation of lessons about beautiful partnership and the crazy ways love makes us shine brighter as more generous, more interesting humans.

Thanks to those lessons, I’ve been able to allow the gravitational pull of courage to make its way back into my life. Recently, when I felt myself waver and question in that other relationship, I knew I needed to leave. I suddenly understood that the work I must do on myself, I must do alone. So I gathered every thread of courage in my being and left that love the right way: honestly and compassionately. I finally understood that compassion does not mean delaying the other person’s pain.

Not thinking about you wasn’t the same as being over you. It may have taken me 2 years, 6 months and 20 days to figure that out, but I’m so happy I did.

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