“Wait, hold on,” my friend stops, in the middle of a New York street.“ OMG, she’s engaged,” she shrieks and then frustratingly sighs, “Another wedding, ugh, what am I doing with my life…” Her words trail off among the bustling New Yorkers stepping out into the first warm night since October. I’m in my mid 20s and spring has finally sprung, which means my Instagram feed is overflowing with ring shots and perfectly staged (I mean captured) proposal moments.
Don’t get me wrong — I love love. I was raised on telenovelas after all; and Fitzgerald, along with the rest of the romantics, remain some of my favorite writers. What was it he said? A sentimental person thinks things will last, a romantic person hopes against hope that they won’t. Much to my cynical adolescent surprise, I grew up to find I fall under the former category.
See, I met the man I wanted to marry when I was 21, I knew I wanted to marry him by 23, and at 24 I moved to New York City to continue to build the life we sought. One where our friends, family, and goals came together, without the red-eye flights, teary goodbyes, and American Airlines miles that never seemed to add up to much. Then a year ago this spring, shortly after our four-year anniversary, and a whole lot of ups and downs in between, I walked away. Was it only a week prior we were designing engagement rings? In the corner of a dark-lit bar, round after round of gin and tequila cocktails, there was no weight of our past, just whispers of a future, love notes left on napkins.
So we talked about a fall engagement, a hot-air balloon trip over Cappadocia, and a spring wedding in Mexico. Ready to join the millions of engaged couples and billion dollar wedding industry, both of us swept away by a fairytale of our own making.
My mother humbly reminded me I did not need any of these things, nor the bohemian garden with a taco bar and wedding cake made out of mini-pies that littered across my Pinterest board. Getting ahead of myself seems like an understatement now. Still she had joined me, as any hopeless romantic would, when seeing in me dreams to marry you, dreams of a life with you.
So what do you do when “Welcome to Our Beginning” becomes “Welcome to Your Beginning”?
Toss Out the Should Haves and the Should Wants
Having been knocked off the course I was on (well, more like jumping ship), it was easy to focus outwardly at first. After all, the superficial protects us from digging inward and facing the “whys” versus the “should-haves” and “should-wants” we’ve learned in life.
What will people think/say? Won’t it look wrong to end things after all this time? But we have all these plans? What if I never find love like this again, or never marry?
The onslaught of “Save the Dates” hitting my inbox and “I dos” I sat through, hearing before me the same promises I was ready to make, didn’t help silence all the questions. But the “I should have done this and should want this” rabbit hole doesn’t provide answers either. An engagement, a wedding, even marriage (as much as the Catholic girl in me screams, and believes, “but it’s a Sacrament!”) — these are not destinations. And they certainly aren’t measured by streams of “shoulds.”
They’re journeys, winding through life’s ups and downs, confusing yet exhilarating; just like love. And love, I learned, unlike the “shoulds” I had to leave behind, would be a lot harder to face.
It’s an odd thing to consider, letting go of a life you had yet to live. To walk away from the prospect of a life with another person, the idea of an us.
Because Letting go is HARD
See, I didn’t just walk away from an engagement, a wedding, or future marriage and prospects of a happily ever after. I walked away from a love that gave way to all those possibilities. I walked away from a person I had learned to navigate better than any of the three cities I’ve called home. Let go of a future life, blueprints that had been carefully worked and reworked (for better or worse).
It’s an odd thing to consider, letting go of a life you had yet to live. To walk away from the prospect of a life with another person, the idea of an us. I saw you leaving our home in the mornings, a relaxed, long stride making its way down the driveway, the bay in the background. I saw you walking hand in hand with our daughter, explaining the science behind street lamps, both of your eyes lighting up on a summer night.
I saw you, I saw us, but perhaps I stopped seeing myself.
And so it was, that I had to unlearn the future, in order to rediscover myself. Walking away from love in order to find oneself again is a lot harder of a reality to wake up to and recreate than tossing out the “shoulds” and expectations and explanations as to why you didn’t end up marrying the man with whom you spent half your twenties.
I saw you, I saw us, but perhaps I stopped seeing myself.
Replacing WE with ME
How do I start my new chapter, when I had been writing “our” next chapter, and the one after that, and the one after that? I was (am) young. I’m still learning to let go, to start over.
I revisit the visions I once saw for myself, before I saw you, and us, and a lifetime three times the years I have thus far known. I dream up new futures, plan for a new city, this time uncharted. Because when the future falls apart mid-flight, it’s not easy to course correct, not in careers, life, and certainly not love.
“You’ll set new goals…” my friend’s voice rings in my ear, words of comfort after every “L.”
I’ve learned to not only set new goals, but to embrace the unknown; to chase myself and discover more of me and draw the blueprints for that foundation this time around.
I know love will come again… or not, and if it does it will prosper or fail or land somewhere in between; because there are all types of love in this world. So date or don’t date again, when you’re ready or when you’re not, jump in if you can. There is no manual and there is no timeline, no matter how many more engagement or baby on board announcements (have those really begun?!) I scroll through.
Because through it all, I hold on to what I’ve known all along, a secret I carry in my bones. It’s okay to build castles in the sky with another person, and it’s okay when they come down. But I realize now, that the home I’ll be building, in the sky or on earth, through the ups and the downs, will be the one I live in within myself. And that home will see changes, and learning to let go and start over will always be part of the development process.