My relationship with my college boyfriend lasted four years. It survived college, a long-distance separation, and some serious health issues. But after we got engaged at age 22, it crashed and burned.
Looking back, I should’ve known it wasn’t right when I saw the suspicious look in my parents’ eyes when I showed them the ring, or heard the hesitation in my sisters’ voices when they said congratulations. I should’ve known after the umpteenth fight fueled by jealousy, or the blowout argument when I demanded he pull over so I could get out and “walk” home (which was 10 miles away). I should have known by the elephant in the room—his drinking problem.
The six months following the proposal felt like an exhausting eternity. I honestly can’t remember the final good-bye—we had a million of them, which were always followed by texted promises of “just one more time.” The silver lining to all this? I learned a lot about love, after doing a a solid inventory of myself and my thoughts after that painful breakup. Here are the lessons I took with me when I gave back the ring.
1. It’s OK to wait.
Reality shows like The Bachelor make it seem totally possible to fall in love after knowing someone for just a few months. Yeahhh, no.
You can’t rush the process of finding and trusting your love for another person.
You can’t rush the process of finding and trusting your love for another person. In a world that thrives on instant gratification, it’s easy to want all the commitment and all the promises of forever right now. I’ve been a hopeless romantic drooling over rom-coms my entire life, and I’ve idolized my parents’ 34-year marriage since I was a kid. My mom got married at 25 and had me at 30. On some level, I thought it was just what you did—meet someone, get engaged, then married—all before 30. I let myself fall victim to those unrealistic standards.
2. It's OK to appreciate the good things about your ex.
The best thing about my ex was that he was there for me through my darkest hour with ulcerative colitis. I was diagnosed when I was 14 but didn’t have any major flare-ups until I was 19, about two months after we started dating. Imagine starting a new, fun relationship with someone—while having diarrhea 40-plus times a day, not eating, never leaving bed, testing various medication cocktails to figure out the sweet spot to get into remission, and vomiting on occasion.
That was my life the summer of 2006, and he was always there, often skipping classes and social engagements just to sit by my bed while I slept. The single best day of our relationship was the first day I left the house in more than three months to go to the beach. I couldn’t walk fast or far, and it was only a matter of minutes before I had to scurry to the bathroom, but he took me to see the ocean and held my hand the entire time. That’s the standard of support everyone deserves in a relationship.
3. You need to be OK being alone before you can be with another person.
I had jumped from long-term relationship to long-term relationship since I was 14. When I broke up with my fiancė, I attempted to get into another relationship right away. But I realized he was filling a void I needed to fill myself. And for the first time, I let myself truly grieve nearly two years after the engagement ended.
During that period, I ran a lot (including a few half-marathons). I drank a lot, often to the point of patchy nights. I dated casually but never commited beyond second dates. I wrote poems and letters to my ex that I would never send. I cried, often for hours through the night. I reached out to friends who would often show up to literally pull me out of the house. And I moved forward. Of course this didn’t happen overnight. It took me a solid two years to feel ready to have a boyfriend again.
4. Your relationship with your S.O.’s family really matters.
Whether it’s good, bad, or nonexistent, your relationship with their parents plays an important role. I have very fond memories with my ex’s family and some not-so-fond ones (like that time a family member told him our relationship was a bad idea because of my irritable bowel syndrome... excuse me?).
I learned to establish solid boundaries between what our parents say and what we believe to be right for our relationship.
There was also a lot of overstepping of boundaries by way of sharing opinions, excessive texting, constantly extending invitations, and placing guilt trips on us when we didn’t want to come. In the end, I learned to establish solid boundaries between what our parents say and what we believe to be right and true for our relationship.
5. Getting drunk isn't going to help you get over someone faster.
After my engagement, I was living on my own for the very first time. I went off the deep end: drinking too much, forgetting whom I shared my information with at bars, abusing drug prescriptions I had access to due to ulcerative colitis, and feeling very lucky to make it home safely some nights. I wanted to feel nothing and I wanted no one to know.
Thankfully, my boss at the time noticed. I got a call from when I failed to show up for work after a particularly rough night. He didn’t fire me; instead he listed addiction symptoms and offered an ear instead of a drinking buddy. We still talk today.
6. Talk about it.
Honesty and openness about emotions and feelings wasn’t our strong suit. Rather than being honest, we were defensive. Rather than being open, we closed ourselves off. But both honesty and openness are very present in my current relationship, and whenever I feel unsure about a choice, or a conversation we’ve had, or a decision we’ve made, we talk about it without judgment. Just having open conversation about insecurities involving finances, apartment decisions, or past loves takes a huge load off of your shoulders.
7. Playing the blame game is a waste of time.
As my engagement unraveled, I spent so much of my energy blaming other people or circumstances: His parents' divorce ruined his ability to trust. My lack of support through that rough time was why he lied. He drank because no one would listen. I yelled because I didn’t trust his new friend, whose texts and calls he hid countless times.
Now I've reached a point where I truly believe no one was to blame. It just wasn’t working because we were both too stubborn to admit our own faults and listen to the other person. It’s easy to hold onto blame and anger, but it’s so much harder to let them go. Because then there’s nowhere to turn but inward.
It’s easy to hold onto blame and anger, but it’s so much harder to let them go. Because then there’s nowhere to turn but inward.
Once I turned my focus to myself, I noticed two things: I wasn’t really as angry as I thought I was, and I wasn’t really as weak as I thought I was. I could stand on my own two feet and be happy, even if it happened gradually. I remember one day I had the best run of my life, letting a little more go with each step. When I got home, I collapsed in a puddle of tears. Not because I was sad, but because my burden of anger had been lessened a bit more.