I was slightly stunned last week when I realized that it’s been nearly three years since the end of my most serious relationship. That breakup ripped me up in the worst possible way. I’ve never felt quite so adrift as I did in the weeks and months that followed. But as horrible life events often are, my breakup was a learning experience. At the risk of sounding trite, I learned about myself and about love from its aftermath. Here's what I've taken away:
"The One" does not exist.
For years I hung onto the idea that there was a single person out there for everyone. I think it comes from being raised in a family with two happily-married parents, with happily married grandparents and aunts and uncles. In addition, pop culture was also a guiding force in my firm belief in The One. For a very long time, I believed that my then-boyfriend was The One. And when that relationship ended, I felt utterly shattered because that’s not what’s supposed to happen. I worried whether I was wrong about him being my person, or that I may never find another one.
After a lot of reflection and dating, I’ve realized that The One is a myth. There will always be people who are so compatible that you believe that the two of you were made for one another. And for some people, that feeling comes only once in a lifetime. Some people find it multiple times. Some people never find it, or perhaps aren’t interested in romance. I truly believe that my ex-boyfriend was The One for me from the ages 17 through 27. But after that, we were no longer compatible. I now believe I’ll get to experience love again.
Sometimes the best thing to do is tear down everything and start fresh.
After our final fight, I left and found a flat for me and my two cats. I had almost no furniture because I’d sold most of my shitty second-hand stuff when I’d moved in with my boyfriend. So I spent many, many nights in an empty flat feeling alone, bereft and sorry for myself.
After some wallowing, I started filling my flat and my life. I took a full-time job, which ultimately led to work that I really enjoy. I bought the furniture and household items that I actually liked. I spent time with my friends and made new mates. I started exploring new interests. I did some online dating and had a series of incredible experiences there.
I would never have done those things if my relationship hadn't derailed. I never would have needed to buy new things or meet new people. Although it sucked at the time, stripping that floundering relationship from my life made room and space for things that have made me feel happier and more “me” than ever before.
Fear of failure is worse than actual failure.
I’m a very anxious person. For years one of my biggest fears was that my relationship with my partner would end. Even when our relationship was good, I would sometimes lie awake at night picturing how awful it would be if we broke up. When we eventually did, it was like a nightmare had come true. Only it wasn’t as awful as I’d imagined it would be.
Don’t get me wrong - it was pretty fucking brutal. But it wasn’t as all-consuming as the scenario my very active imagination had created. I managed to deal with it, survive, and thrive.
When I’m about to take a risk or I feel scared about something, I reassure myself that fear is worse than actually failing. This realization has helped dramatically with my anxiety, and it's not just a cliche that I placate myself with. I know it to be true because I survived a breakup that was once my worst fear.
A partner is not a financial plan.
I did a very dumb thing during the course of my relationship. There were many moments when I should have been planning for my future, and I’d brush away those scary thoughts about superannuation and mortgages and let Future Vanessa deal with them. I thought that my relationship would last forever, and I thought that meant I’d be set for life. My partner worked hard and had a well-paying job. He knew what he wanted from his career and I was happy to just go along with that, getting away with working part-time because he earned enough to take care of the bigger, scarier expenses.
Then we broke up and I realized I was screwed financially. I’d always been good with my money, but I’d never earned much. I’d saved some cash, but I never thought to put anything into my superannuation or worry about my financial future. My plan for the future was to let my boyfriend take care of it. I’m ashamed to admit it, but that's the truth.
I paid dearly for that error. But after some panicking and nervous crying, I got my butt into gear. I took on a full-time job to better support myself. I opened a dedicated savings account. I put money into superannuation. I started researching investments and cutting my discretionary spending, and now I’m in a much more comfortable financial position.
If I wind up on my own for good, I’ll be set up to take care of myself. And if I do end up getting married down the track, I’m coming into that union with a solid foundation and the knowledge that I’ve got my own back.
A relationship's success isn't measured in its duration.
For a long time, I nursed a deep wound caused by the feeling that I’d failed. I felt that because we’d broken up, my relationship with my boyfriend was all terrible and all wrong. I tortured myself thinking about all our happy memories and tainting them with the idea that they were somehow flawed because we had broken up.
I had an epiphany while watching How I Met Your Mother. In the final episode, where Barney and Robin reveal that they are getting divorced after a few years of marriage, Robin mentions that their marriage hadn’t failed, but rather that it was a successful marriage that only lasted three years. That hit me so hard because it’s really true. Not all wonderful, successful, and important relationships last forever. And not all long-term relationships are successful. For so much of our time together, my relationship with my ex was awesomely fun, romantic, and nurturing. I felt supported and truly happy. And that isn’t tainted by the fact that our relationship didn’t last. It was what was right for us for a portion of our lives, but after that, we were no longer compatible. It happens, and it doesn’t make me or my ex a failure.