Friday, April 26, 2013

The Big Break-up that Changed the Course of My Life

Over on YA Outside the Lines, we're blogging about Moments of Growth--in our characters and in ourselves. Here's a pivotal moment in my own life, that might serve as a cautionary/inspirational tale for a teen...

Confession: I once dated the same boy for nine years. 

The romance started innocently enough when the boy asked me to a middle school dance. We were both eleven years old. He passed me a note in class: Will you go to the dance with me? Circle yes or no. I circled yes.

Our relationship ended over the phone when we were twenty. In between was lots of soap opera-y drama--teary break-ups followed by desperate attempts at reunions. Everyone, including our parents, thought we belonged together and would eventually get married.

There were a variety of contributing factors that led to my falling into and sticking with a long-term teen relationship. Here are a few: 

  • I didn't have the most stable home-life, and this relationship--rocky and ridiculous as it was for most of the time--was one sure thing I could count on
  • My father died when I was young. This may be the biggest factor. And now that I see my own daughter and the very cool relationship she has with her Dad, I know how essential a father is when it comes to a girl's developing sense of self. Her identity as a woman, whether she believes she needs a guy to complete herself and fill some emptiness, or not--all seem inextricably tied to how the first man in her life, her father, treats her.
  • The weirdest aspect of my relationship with this boy was how fated it felt. The longer we dated, the more it seemed we were meant to be together. Every time we broke up, it was always the thing we would say when we got back together. "We've been with each other so long, how we can quit now? We're worth working on," we said. As if we were a married couple and not two sixteen-year-olds.

Every so often reality would creep in on me or else bash me upside the head. What we had in common when we were eleven (not much, really, except we both thought the other one was cute) and what we had in common at age twenty changed drastically. Example: I majored in English in college. He failed high school English. I could give you a billion more examples, and it is clear now how wrong we were for each other, but back then, it was like I was slogging around in a muddy fog. I could not see myself and this boy for what we were.

Some part of me must have though, and I marvel at that part. It made me apply to a college 1250 miles away. Oh, it would've been so easy and expected to go to the school in my state. An added bonus: my guy told me he'd be hanging out with me there all the time! Never mind that the place was cheaper, which would make things simpler for my single working mom too.

But I went away. Even though I was scared out of my mind. I think I held onto the guy at this point out of sheer terror. It was nice to have a boy back home waiting for me if this whole going off to college thing fell through.

Going far away to college (and I HIGHLY recommend this, kids!) was like waking up from that muddy foggy dream. There is great freedom in starting over in a place where not one other soul knows you. Hey, you can be anyone you want. You can be alone for the first time ever and realize you won't fall apart.

You can pick up the phone one day and break up with your boyfriend of nine years.

The week leading up to when I did the deed, I was a manic wreck. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I wasn't just breaking up with a boy, I was tearing apart the expected pathway of my life.

The funny thing was I think he was almost relieved when I told him. I am not saying that I didn't break his heart. (Or that he hadn't broken mine, either, multiple times) Just that we were both weary of it, of each other, and someone, finally, was going to have to put the relationship out of its misery. I am not sure, exactly, how that someone was me, how I mustered the courage to say what needed to be said and stand firm. But somehow, I did it.

And after, for weeks, I walked around in an excited daze, grinning like a loon.

If I could do this thing--change the entire trajectory I had been on since the age of eleven, geez, what else could I do?

I really could be anything I wanted to be. I could live anywhere I liked. I could follow any dream. There was no prescribed path for my life, after all, and every option in the world was suddenly open to me.

(One half of the once happy couple) 


  1. I can relate. My story has some similarities and lots of differences. I was sixteen and stayed in a horrible relationship until I was nearly 20. The boy was older and I couldn't seem to find the strength to walk away. Going to college gave me the guts to break away -- that and a rebound romance that was also a huge mistake. Wisdom is hard to come by. :) Sometimes when I look back at that period of my life I am so thankful for how things turned out. My life could have been such a mess.

    1. I'm grateful too. Nothing against the guy, just not the right match, but it is hard to see that when you're in the middle of it. Going off to school really seemed to be the key. I can't recommend that enough for teens.

  2. I'm really not sure about the Dad thing. I had a father who was present, involved, and active in my life--and yet I still had some terrible relationships in my teens and early 20s where I thought I needed a guy to make me complete. I think it's a very complicated situation--and I can point to several factors in my own life that I think affected my individual mindset--but that in our society in general, we are more likely to teach a girl that she can't live without a guy than vice versa. Or at least we *have been* more likely ... I hope that's changing.

    I'm so glad you were able to make the change you needed to make!
    I also went away to school, and for different reasons, it also changed my life for the better.

    1. Jenn, I hope things are changing, as you say. When I look at my daughter and her friends, it sure seems so. (Also, hard as it will be to part from her, I will still push her to go away to school!)