I was in a relationship for seven years and it abruptly came to an end out of nowhere. This isn’t something I typically talk about as it makes me uncomfortable to publicly discuss the details of such heartache. I usually dance around it by referring to it as “a difficult time” or “a season of grief” because a lot of people can’t understand the weight of what it’s like to spend that much time with someone just to lose them. It’s like your lives become woven together like a detailed tapestry only to be ripped apart, or what was once as natural as breathing now feels like a collapsed lung.
When you’re with someone for that long, you have your usual patterns: usual dinners at Chipotle, usual holiday traditions you share with each other’s families, usual texts before bed. You have your things: the thing where you always kiss at red lights, or the thing where you play with that unusually flat thumbnail when you hold his hand, and that thing where you smirk at each other when a song comes on because of an inside joke only the two of you know about.
So naturally, it’s those things you miss when the relationship ends. And from time to time, it’s easy to neglect any logic and still wish (even for just a brief moment) that you were curled up in bed, assuming your usual position of the little spoon, to watch the latest episode of Scandal like you did every week. Because those tend to be the sweet memories that haunt you when it’s over, and haunt me they did.
At least, until a recent trip I took to Cinque Terre.
We don’t always get to chose what happens to us, we do get to choose how we respond.
I honestly don’t know why my brain correlated the two: a tragic loss and a stunning vacation. But what I do know is that when I stood with my toes in the water alone for a moment in Monterosso, I started to remember something else that happened in our relationship.
I remember it was a Saturday back home in Nashville, and I woke up feeling energized and wanting to seize the day. To do something adventurous. Anything really: hike, walk, go to the park. I just wanted to feel alive. But I remember so clearly lying in my room, cuddled together and watching another TV show. And the only word I know to describe the complex feeling that started to bubble up inside of me was trapped. I felt trapped and I started to panic.
Now obviously, I don’t mean that I was literally trapped. I wasn’t kidnapped or forced there against my will. I was choosing it. It’s important to note that regardless of why the relationship came to an end, while I was in it I was really happy. I was very much in love. At the time, it wasn’t the kind of thing where everyone told me I was an idiot for being with him or where I obviously knew I was settling but couldn’t make myself leave. It was a good, real partnership that I very much believed in, fought hard for, and was committed to.
But even still, this fear started to overcome me. I wondered if I would ever try living in Europe like I always said I wanted to. If I would travel to the countless places that I wanted to see. If my life would be the series of big, beautiful adventures like I wanted it to be. I felt so anxious and far away from it all as I lay in bed—my anxious heart going crazy inside my still body.
I don’t know how the memory buried itself deep inside of me for several months before things ended and even longer after we had split. I probably shrugged it off, saying I was being dramatic and telling myself I was living a full life. But what I do know is that what I felt in Cinque Terre is exactly what I was desperately longing for that day as I laid in bed.
Cinque Terre made me feel completely alive. The energy in the streets was buzzing with excitement. Everything from the buildings to the people was bright and full of life. It was fascinating, delicious, and full of wonder and it was right where I knew I was supposed to be.
This isn’t a soliloquy about how happy I am to finally be free from such a terrible relationship, because that’s not how it ended. As much pain as it brought me, it also carried valuable lessons. And sure, sometimes I still believe things could have been different or struggle with how everything ended or wonder why I am where I am now, but my hope in sharing my story is simply to reiterate that while we don’t always get to chose what happens to us, we do get to choose how we respond.
So I’m going to keep leaning into these dreams that are in my heart and stuff my life full of wonder. And I’m going to choose to be the fullest version of myself possible—not holding anything back.
Sometimes we lose our happiness so we can gain exuberant joy. And when we get stuck on something that’s good, we shortchange ourselves from letting the absolute best come into our lives
I hope wherever you are in life, you’ll choose the same. I hope that if you feel that tug or hear those voices that you don’t shut them out. Because you weren’t meant to run and hide from who you really are and what’s deep in your heart. You were meant to embrace it and chase after it unapologetically.
As cheesy as it may sound, that day in Cinque Terre reminded me that life can be as radiant and beautiful as everything that I saw around me. That the road ahead can be exciting even when it’s unknown if we do more of the things that we were designed to do.
To put the cherry on top of the day, two backpackers sat next to me on the train as I was leaving Monterosso and headed towards Levanto. They stared at the map in their hands for a few minutes before one of them looked up at me. “We have no idea where we are right now,” he laughed. “But who knew getting lost could be this damn beautiful?”
I’m learning that our disappointments are often able to give us something that’s better than our dreams. Sometimes we lose our happiness so we can gain exuberant joy. And when we get stuck on something that’s good, we may shortchange ourselves from letting the absolute best come into our lives.
My life looks so different right now than I ever thought it would, but good things haven’t stopped happening. And I know that there’s only more where this came from.
Adventure is out there, but you won’t find it curled up in the arms of what’s comfortable. You have to get out of bed. You have to get lost in uncharted places and sometimes they’re really scary. You might even have to lose something you think is incredibly good. But take heart and know that what you’ll find is greater than anything you could have ever dreamed up on your own. Because you were created for an extraordinary life. And you shouldn’t settle for the tiniest sliver less than that.