When I was younger, I used to think that more than anything in life, I wanted to be in love. I still want, more than anything in life, to love and be loved, so I suppose I should probably clarify: when I was younger, the thing I wanted more than anything else was to be in a relationship. Being in love and being in a relationship were in my mind synonymous.
For years I felt ignored, under-cherished, watching friends get into and out of relationships while I seemed to sit on the sidelines, unwanted, rejected. When I finally got into my first relationship at the age of 26, I thought finally, this is it—this is what I’ve been waiting for. Normalcy, love, acceptance—the things I’d been holding over my own head, the gods I’d erected who unknowingly kept my growth and creativity in a chokehold while I waited for my “real life” to start—were finally within my grasp. I could breathe a little. I could relax. I had finally arrived to the fabled Promised Land, an illusory inculcation passed down to little girls before they’re old enough to brush their hair.
Of course I used to believe so strongly in the fairytale that I didn’t think the nightmare was possible—at least not for me. In my years of waiting, like a Princess locked in a tower, I had somehow become the most worthy maiden of the Promised Land. How could I be anything but? I’d waited, I’d been patient, I put in my time, I had strong values. I was willing to give up everything to make this relationship with this man be The One. A friend in graduate school once told me, after I lamented my perpetually single status, that she saw me as being a “One and Done” type of dater—meaning I would likely date and marry the first person I got serious with. This was an idea that I clung to desperately, almost voraciously, after hearing it. More than anything, I wanted to be One and Done. As a jealous way to soothe my haughty soul, my fragile ego, as a way to seem virtuous and superior to those who had dated around (I know–I cringe even writing that), I believed in my fairytale, albeit delayed. Yes, I would be one and done—my waiting would be rewarded, for the first man that came along and said yes would surely be worthy of me, and all my sorrows would just melt away along with my singleness. More than anything I just wanted to be done.
But like most times when you have a lesson to learn, The Universe had other plans. It turns out that I was not, in fact, superior to others simply because I had lived my life in a waiting room. I was just single, and so desperately wanting to find love that I accepted whatever was offered.
As some of you may know, when you approach things from this state of wanting and desperation, you are like an anchor sunk to the bottom of the ocean floor. Until you get over your fear of leaving the ocean and lift yourself up and out, you are stuck in the murky underwater; what you attract are the bottom feeders, the barnacles that attach themselves to your once-shiny anchor-self and corrode your essence, your spirit. Until you lift yourself out of the deep, what you dredge up is usually ugly and slimy.
Needless to say, in my quest for a relationship I had managed to dredge up the nightmare instead of the fairytale—a nightmare that nearly cost me my health and my sanity. Life under the stress of a terrible relationship—and I mean truly terrible, with regular, days-long fighting and tears and emotional abuse and gaslighting—can do nothing else but take a heavy toll.
Under the conditions of my no-good-very-bad relationship, I completely neglected to take care of myself. I didn’t exercise or move my body….at all. I ate takeout or frozen pizza almost every night. I basically stopped cooking – which is something I love doing – and hopped on Seamless to order a variety of Indian, Chinese, or Greek. At one point in the summer, I literally ate a half a pint of ice cream every single night, for weeks on end—probably for a couple of months. It had stopped tasting good at that point, and I had stopped caring.
I also stopped doing my hair or wearing makeup. I hated to go out to events or leave the apartment. I developed acid reflux. I started getting severe neck pain. I got mono followed by strep followed by strep again followed by an infection. I got weekly migraines so bad that I would vomit, unable to get out of bed or even open the blinds. I wore only the baggiest, most comfortable clothes I could find. I stopped writing entirely. My once-thick hair, which had significantly thinned out, went from a few stray strands of grey to almost salt-and-pepper, and the bags under my eyes seemed to be a permanent fixture along with my artfully developed resting bitch face, a new feature. Everything irritated me—loud swallowing, cars blocking the crosswalk, puddles on the sidewalk, people’s elbows touching me on the subway. All of it contributed to my rage, fueled it like throwing bits of newspaper into a wood-burning furnace that angrily diffuses its heat throughout the whole house. I hated New York City. I hated my apartment. I hated my job. I hated my relationship. I didn’t care how I looked, if I had showered, or how I showed up in the world.
In short, I was living like a depressed person, because in all honesty I was completely and devastatingly depressed, for months.
But happily, there is a bright side—though it’s not the fairytale I had imagined.
In a way, it’s better.
The day after I got out of my no-good-very-bad relationship, life began to change—not in that slow, gradual way that people talk about; for me, it happened almost immediately. It was like after a night of intense, raging snowfall, I woke up to see a landscape transformed: everything covered in snow, calm and bright, a thick blanket of white perched on rooftops like stacks of freshly laundered sheets. Clean, calm, fresh, quiet and filled with potential. I remember being so ridiculously overjoyed the day after my breakup–I felt lighter and freer and happier than I had in over a YEAR AND A HALF. It was shocking, honestly, how good I felt. I never expected this amount of relief.
The first step was to admire the beauty that the storm had created, to take in the devastation and marvel at the beautiful result of nature’s fury. The second was to get out the shovel, and begin the hard work of digging myself out. None of this would have been possible without the countless hours of texting and phone calls with my closest friends and family; a trip out to Colorado that helped me see things from a new perspective; the works of Kara Loewentheil, Brene Brown, and Jen Sincero’s amazing book You Are A Badass; and therapy.
Besides that incredibly delicious feeling of relief, which still permeates even on days of loneliness, there are several other positive changes I’ve noticed since I finally woke up from the nightmare I was living.
1. My migraines have suddenly started to…disappear. It’s been about two months since I’ve had a migraine, and I used to get one nearly every week. The migraines were so bad that they would either take me out for the entire day, or require that I take a couple of sick hours in the morning, guiltily traipsing into the office at 11am. The last notable migraine I had was post-breakup but only by a week or so, the day after a very stressful conversation regarding “the splitting of the things,” including our shared apartment. Such a topic would normally put me in bed for the better half of a day, but this little baby migraine was remedied with peppermint oil, coffee, and Advil, and I went on my merry way to work.
2. I’ve started exercising regularly, and for the first time in my life, I am not exercising to lose weight or punish myself for eating pancakes, but rather to enjoy movement and to feel good. I began exercising as a way to expunge the nervous energy out of my body. Some days after the breakup I would just sit on my couch, anxious or antsy, but without an immediate reason as to why. I think my body was so used to devoting its energy to protecting my emotions, to being on high-alert, to recovering from all-night blowout fights, to trying to sustain my energy in a weakened state where I was constantly being berated and made to second guess myself, that it felt restless once this 24/7 vigil was lifted. I felt the need to get up and do something, but I didn’t know what. Exercise as an enjoyable activity to do in one’s free time had never really occurred to me, because it was something that I hated so much. I used to exercise as a system of punishment and reward, a sign of being either on or off the wagon. I would over-exercise and obsess and miss out on social events so I could squeeze in a second or third workout. I began to hate and resent exercise. If it didn’t leave me collapsed on the floor in a puddle, it didn’t count.
Lately though, it’s really nice to move and stretch and sweat, with absolutely no agenda attached. I am not trying to lose weight. I am not trying to achieve a certain aesthetic. I’m simply trying to feel good in my skin, to give the gift of movement to a body which gave me life and did its very best to protect me from the insanity of the last few years.
3. I have become more creative, in ways I never even imagined. I’ve learned how to crochet and taught myself to make an infinity scarf, something I’ve been half-heartedly attempting for several years now. I bought stuff to make homemade peppermint soap, an experiment which turned out quite lovely (but will also require some fine tuning, like how do you get the bubbles out and add color before the first layer solidifies so quickly?!). I’m hosting baking events with friends and learning how to make bagels. I found an old chair that someone in my building had discarded, so I sanded it down, primed it, and painted it a lovely mint julep green. I play the piano and write frequently. I decorated my apartment and keep filling it with new plants to water. I crushed my New Year’s Resolution of reading at least 15 books this year. I bake and cook and try new recipes and also just eat frozen veggies and rotisserie chicken and eggs and cheese on toast.
4. My general demeanor has become friendlier, more relaxed, more open. I no longer walk around with this heavy weight on my chest and a permanent case of RBF, and people seem to respond positively to the shift in countenance. I’ve had random conversations with people on the street, walking dogs, in the grocery store, in my building. My relationships with coworkers and friends have improved. The coworker that I’ve strongly disliked for over two years now has become friendly, to the point where she gave me a hug after our office Christmas party, we actually laugh and talk throughout the day, and we even exchanged little Christmas gifts this year (If you know any of my history with this woman, you know that this would have seemed like an impossibility just a year ago). I know that I’m more approachable, softer, more inviting, less harsh. Overall the positive spiritual change has resulted in more positive encounters.
5. For the first time in a long time, I have felt lucky to live in New York City. The other day while I was at home in my apartment, with white Christmas lights strung around the window, my big beautiful tree in the corner and colored lights framing my bedroom door, I felt so content and cozy. As candles burned and Christmas music played in the background, I went into my bedroom and looked out the window at the Triboro Bridge, red and white lights twinkling in the distance. Off to the left, if you got at the right angle, was the Midtown skyline, with the Empire State and Chrysler buildings lit up like Manhattan’s own version of a Nativity scene. Beneath my building and trailing out to the water was a smattering of twinkling apartment buildings. The whole scene felt just like a movie, like how I pictured New York would look and feel to someone who lived here before I actually lived here. I hadn’t felt this way in forever about New York—lucky and excited to be here. It’s like the ice is thawing on an entire area of my life and personality.
6. There’s nothing more glorious, more freeing, than being able to do what you want in any given moment. Before, my life was a series of “let’s just get through this fill-in-the-blank event, outing, movie, weekend activity, etc.” I didn’t often find myself excited about any of my plans, and even when I was looking forward to one-on-one plans with a girlfriend, I was wearing shit-colored glasses. Everything was brown and dismal. There was a humdrum depression and sadness to everything I did, a background noise I couldn’t quite tune out, an unwelcome companion poking me in the side during every fun interaction and going “Hey, I know you’re having fun now and trying to forget what’s going on at home, but remember how you and X got into a huge fight until 3AM last night, and how he’s still pissed and mad at you and you slept in separate beds and haven’t spoken since? Yeah, don’t talk to your friend about that. It’s too shameful to share and you shouldn’t badmouth your boyfriend anyways. And also you’re gonna have to deal with that when you get home, so keep thinking about it! But don’t say anything.”
Despite the fact that I was still ensconced in a melancholic ennui, these outings with friends were the highlight of my week. I started planning social activities without my boyfriend two to three times a week, just to be out of the house. That’s mostly because it got to the point where we could no longer attend fun outings or even be alone together without fighting. I remember spending Electric Zoo together two months into our new relationship; it was a magical and fun experience, unlike anything I’d ever done before. Three years later, X storms off in the middle of a set leaving me standing by an overflowing trash can, holding a half-melted ice cream topped waffle, while a bunch of strung out kids on molly lay together, half-naked, in the garbage. At a certain point, you stop caring, stop wanting to go out or plan things, because it’s not worth it. If you’re going to fight while you’re out or fight while you’re in, you might as well do it from the comfort of PJs and a couch and pint of ice cream waiting in the freezer. Half the time I didn’t even want to go to the event in the first place, having been exhausted after a long week at work and from trying to hold it together at home. The last thing I wanted to do was schlep around from Manhattan to Queens to Brooklyn, back to Queens to bed to do it all over again the next day. Now, my free time is exactly that – MY. FREE. TIME. I have the luxury of doing absolutely nothing when I want to, and only filling up my time with things that I genuinely want to enrich my life with.
As I rebuild my fairytale, I’m finding that the blueprint in my hand looks less like Rapunzel and more like Frozen. I’ve been dissecting the patriarchal cultural narrative that was built around me before I was born and which I’ve helped propagate as an unwitting but faithful disciple of boy-meets-girl.
What can we expect in the future? Lots more writing, as I now have the time and newfound joy to take on my own interesting projects. There will likely be some changes around here, so stay tuned for some developments on that end as I refocus my projects and regroup for 2020. I’ve also been off of social media for two months, and have been really enjoying all of the extra time that it frees up. It was only supposed to be a temporary but I now find myself contemplating not when, but if I’ll return. I haven’t felt this alive or this strong or this in control of my own destiny since I lived in Italy, and I am so excited to reclaim that amazing lady that I was before this whole no-good-very-bad relationship even started. Lady Liberty has loosed my shackles, and thought the marks around my wrists and feet are sore and tender, it feels so good to stretch out my arms and legs, take a deep breath, and savor the freedom. My freedom. I am bound to no one but myself. I am One and Done with settling.