I was 22 years old when my boyfriend of a year and a half proposed to me. Fresh out of college, I was in love and ready to begin the journey into adulthood. Little did I know, the next decade was about to throw me more curveballs than I could have imagined, and the 24-year-old woman at the altar would go through many different incarnations by the time she turned 30.
At 27 years old, I started to have doubts about my relationship, but I pushed the thoughts away and chalked it up to be a common symptom of married life. At 28 years old, I started to panic about those feelings. We weren’t intimate, I was feeling closed off and cold, and I started to think that there was something wrong with me. At 29 years old, the universe hit me with the perfect storm of confidence, a peek of what life could look like if I started over, and the courage to do so. Despite being afraid of what other people would think, the rumors that would go around about me, and the guilt associated with hurting the person I loved most in the world, I did the hardest thing I’ve ever done: I said the words “I want a divorce.”
The rollercoaster of emotions, the fights, the separation of assets, the he-said-she-said, and the final goodbyes were nothing compared to learning to live alone, surviving on a single income, the loss of friendships, and the ever-present question of “when will I finally be allowed to be happy again?” But somehow, through all the mess and mayhem, the grass is greener on the lawn I’ve chosen for myself. If you are currently going through a breakup, are considering ending a relationship, supporting someone who is going through a breakup, or are simply learning to navigate the world on your own, here are a few things I’ve learned that can help.
The most important relationship you have is with yourself
Every time I tried to hide from my feelings of doubt about my marriage, I was dishonoring my intuition and, therefore, neglecting my relationship with myself. While it can be really hard to acknowledge uncomfortable feelings, like those about no longer being invested in a relationship, by truly listening to our gut, we are able to care for ourselves and give ourselves what we need. As compassionate beings, we are great at loving others and putting their needs before our own, but the only way to truly be a good partner to someone else is to ensure that we come to the table with plenty of self-love, self-care, and self-prioritization, and that includes being able to put ourselves first when necessary.
The first step toward prioritizing your relationship with yourself is to get really clear on what you want. If you struggle with listening to your instincts without the influence of others, try journaling. Don’t hold back—write down exactly what you’re feeling and what you want (without justification or explanation), then read it back the next day. If what you wrote sounds like an honest account of your desires, it’s time to start making moves to honor them.
Once I finally stopped pushing down my feelings and admitted to myself that I wanted a divorce, there was no turning back. Acceptance is the first step toward making change, and it was truly the first step in learning to honor my feelings and prioritize my own needs. From now on, I will never sacrifice what I need for someone else’s comfort, and that will only serve to make me a better person, friend, and romantic partner.
Prioritizing your own needs is far more important than the opinions of others
This was truly the hardest lesson to learn, but it’s arguably the most important: Gossip is inevitable.
Having spent nine years with the person I was separating from, I was very concerned about how my image would be represented to our families and mutual friends as the one who initiated the breakup. I didn’t want to be seen as the villain or have my relationship dissected by people who didn’t have all the facts. I toyed with ways to share my side of the story in order to save my reputation until I finally realized that what other people thought about me was completely out of my hands.
While being the topic of conversation can be very painful while it’s happening, the beautiful thing about gossip is that, because the perpetrators are uninvolved in the situation, their interest can only be held for so long. Sooner rather than later, the topic of discussion shifts and the rumors about you become far less interesting.
For months, I wanted to scream “I didn’t do anything wrong!” “I was trying to do what was best for us both!” “You couldn’t see what was happening behind closed doors!” “Instagram isn’t real!” and “I tried to do the right thing!” until I realized that no one actually cared about my breakup, why it happened, whose “fault” it was, or any of the other details that were once so interesting. The only one still thinking about my situation was me.
Gossip hurts, and it’s never fun to be the topic of discussion when you don’t feel like you can properly defend yourself, but I’d be on the front page of every newspaper in the world before I let the opinions of others trump my own feelings. The world will move on, and, before long, there’ll be other juicy drama to discuss. But you will never be able to wake up and live the life you truly want if you’re concerned with what might be said about you behind your back.
Independence is a virtue
Because I got married at such a young age, I never had the opportunity to truly be independent. Only now, at 30 years old, am I living alone for the first time, paying all my bills on my own (on a single salary), killing the bugs, making the decisions, carrying the heavy packages inside, taking out the trash, and truly taking care of myself. Every single time I handle a situation without the assistance of someone else, I think about how this experience will serve to make me a better partner in the future.
Additionally, by living alone and learning to handle life by myself, I am becoming more aware of my own likes, dislikes, habits, desires, and routines without outside influence. I’m learning more about myself, which will only help to ensure that the next person I commit to will be a better fit for me.
Whether you have the opportunity to live alone or simply get to decide what to eat for dinner without having to discuss it with someone else, lean into your independence and allow it to teach you things about yourself.
Second chances are possible
Once I was able to admit to myself that my life wasn’t unfolding the way I wanted it to, I needed to fully believe that a second chance was possible. That’s when I adopted the mantra of “nothing is permanent and everything is figure out-able.” No matter how scary each step of the process might seem, everything can be figured out. Difficult conversations? You can do it. Moving out? You’ll find a place that works for you. Balancing your budget? You can cut back on certain things and pinch pennies where necessary. Meeting someone new? Once you’re ready, it’ll happen perfectly.
Second chances don’t come around often, but when they do, they’re magical. Give yourself the opportunity to stop walking down the wrong path and go back to the fork in the road where you made the wrong turn. Each and every obstacle in your way is one you can manage. Everything is figure out-able, yes, but it’s also important to remember that you don’t have to have it all figured out today. Take it one moment at a time, one day at a time, and one challenge at a time.
Some things are sacred
If there’s one thing I have learned from this whole process, it’s that not everything needs to be shared. An enormous amount of the stress I felt from being honest with myself about my relationship had to do with what other people were going to think. My instinct said how dare they have an opinion on something that has nothing to do with them!, but the truth was that because I gave them so much access to my relationship via Instagram, they felt that they deserved an explanation. I couldn’t be mad at people for feeling that they had access to something I constantly gave them access to. If I wanted to have a private relationship, I needed to keep my relationship private. Some things, like love, are sacred.
Nowadays, I’m happier, healthier, and more secure than I’ve ever been. I’m living the life I always wanted, because I had the courage to be honest with myself, find my independence, and give myself a second chance. I’m keeping my private life private and ensuring that access to my personal life is only granted to those who deserve it.
You deserve the life you’ve always dreamed of, and if you’re currently living in a situation that isn’t aligned with your goals, dreams, or lifestyle, give yourself a second chance. It’s never too late for a redo.