I stared down at my phone, tears already beginning to pool in my eyes. “I don’t love you,” he wrote. “And I’m sorry I told you I thought I could.”
And there it was.
That heart-sinking feeling none of us are able to grasp until it hits us for the first time: heartbreak. I sat trying to process what was just said to me; sure that an emotional outburst was moments away.
I was crushed. But what I didn’t know – what I couldn’t have known yet –was that this moment would serve a crucial purpose.
Heartbreak is the exact type of moment that can change you into a newer, better version of yourself. When I look back on this exchange, more resilient and self-assured, the first thought that enters my mind is what I am sure is being echoed by those of you reading it. What an asshole.
The aforementioned blow to my ego was my greatest heartbreak to date. I had been strung along, kept on the hook, “benched,” and any other adjective that describes how selfishly people choose to date in this generation. And, yes, it is remarkably cliché to say that things happen for some predestined reason. But perhaps clichés are cliché for a reason, too (a new cliché in the making?).
Being punched in the proverbial gut by someone no longer wanting to date you can set so many things in motion. Might you find it had put you on a much brighter path? At some point, “woe is me” miraculously transforms into “in what universe am I not enough?”
It is not until you are long out from under the thumb of your oppressor that you can see what a service they’ve done for you. And that is heartbreak’s strongest defense.
By the time my ex was saying these things to me, he had already been manipulating me for some time. From our first date, I was smitten. He was blue-eyed, very tall (an admitted weakness of mine) and had seen more of the world than I thought I ever would. “But isn’t he dreamy?” I can hear myself purring these exact words to my friends as I showed them his picture over drinks. Naïveté, and total bullshit. If I could reach into that memory and yank myself by my espresso-colored curls, I would. He was simply a very, very talented charmer (during my bitterness, “charmer” morphed into “sociopath”). And I, being the doe-eyed, suburban version of Bambi, ate it all up.
At first, the nature of our relationship made sense to me. His profession called for working exceedingly long hours, with days off few and far between. He simply couldn’t give me as much time as I deserved. And, as previously mentioned, Bambi did not care.
But eventually I got the intuitive feeling that something was amiss. Exactly how busy can one person be? Surely, hanging out with me once a week was not too grand of a request. The simplest solution was to ask what the deal was, so I did. And I was rewarded for my question with the evasive response some men love to give. He was not looking to get involved in anything too serious.
Translation: he wanted to sleep with as many women as possible, while keeping me in the mix.
Feeling duped and dejected, I parted with him for the first time. I went about my business (i.e, obsessive social media stalking) for about two months, until his birthday. I wished him a happy birthday, and the floodgates opened. “I thought about you all day,” he said (I know, I know). “I remember how we spent your birthday together, and I wish we could spend mine together too,” he continued, “I see myself loving you.” It was everything my sweet, defenseless self wanted to hear.
Easier than I’m sure he thought it would be, I was right back on the hook. Time passed, and the knot in my stomach began to reappear. He had bought a helmet in my favorite color for his motorcycle (he was good). He had told me what a keeper he thought I was, and how his friends thought the same. More than that, he was so damn loving when he was with me, I could not understand why nothing was changing. Naturally, I focused the blame inward. Perhaps I was too logical an individual. I assumed that if you explain you want something to change, the other person would not offer the same circumstance a second time? I knew this much: Bambi was pissed.
Cue the introductory exchange. He couldn’t explain why he was claiming to not love me now, when I threw his previous words back at him. He hopped from one excuse to another, only proving that he was the undeserving, not the other way around.
Worst was my own realization that someone could make me feel loved and just take the feeling right back. He could no longer keep up the charade in order to get what he wanted from me. And I could no longer keep the part of my mind labeled “trust” afloat.
When my ex and I finally got off the mind play merry-go-round, the thought of being without him – or watching him be with someone else – seemed like the worst thing that could happen to me. But I watched as things that began as negative side effects suddenly took on a rosy hue. I lost 10 pounds during a period where my main form of nutrition was a good cry. As a result, I used the opportunity to revamp my diet and keep making healthier food choices.
It took anxiety-induced loss of appetite to realize that I never lost much weight because I was simply eating too much. I didn’t need to surf a wave of carb-heavy snacks all day long. I could just eat when my body needed it, and not so much after that – leading to a thinner, albeit, more depressed, version of myself.
Even though the weight loss wasn’t intended, it could now become an advantage and a platform for moving forward. “I can’t eat as much” turned into making sure what I was eating was of real nutritional value. And if nothing else could make me feel better, guys, I looked good.
The heartbreak continued to act as a launching pad, and it started to feel great. Suddenly the motivation to make meaningful change to my life was profound. Because it is also true that if you want something different, you have to act differently. And I wanted something else, something more.
I finally took a leap of faith and moved into my first apartment in Manhattan at age 26. I wanted to get out there, meet new people, and grow. I can happily tell you that I haven’t looked back since.
Sure, there are many, many things I wish I would’ve said to him back when I was groveling and asking him to love me (none of which can be printed here). Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20 (another cliché!). Can I give him all of the credit for the changes I made? Certainly not, and he doesn’t deserve that.
Heartbreak is an inescapable part of life, but we can allow it to be a catalyst instead of a setback. What was once touched by darkness becomes touched by light, and the light spreads. If I think back to the girl I was when I let some underwhelming man play me like a violin, I don’t recognize her anymore. She is not here, and I’ll never see her again. And I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for that.
These days, when thoughts of my ex creep into my mind, the most delicious smirk spreads across my face. “I don’t love you,” I think. “And I’m sorry I ever thought I could.”