Warning: naughty language ahead!
Part one of my story spans the time from when boys stopped having cooties through my second year of college.
Although probably not original, the contents of those years involve romantic trysts fueled by insecurity and sadness and inadequacy.
I’m sure your stories probably contain an equal share of that, or at least an equal share of questionable decisions during those first years as an autonomous sexual being.
By my third year in college, I wasn’t feeling so much insecurity and sadness and inadequacy. I was feeling more comfortable with school and with my friends and with my hobbies. I was working out and losing weight, and creating dietary regimens that made me feel good. I was learning how to pay rent and have jobs and spend birthday money on can openers and toilet paper.
(Read: balance. Maybe if I were doing more tree poses, this would have come earlier.)
All in all, I was feeling better. I was feeling better just being myself.
I learned that when you really fucking want something, you don’t need to go out and get it—you just need to ask for it and walk five or six steps in that general direction.
I wanted just one relationship where I didn’t feel like an absolute crazy person. I wanted one relationship with someone I was enchanted by and who was enchanted by me. I wanted one relationship where I didn’t have to worry about whether or not I would get a call back, or if the other person would still want to hang around the next day, or any number of anxious scenarios resulting in fire in my core. (I’ve never cut my stomach open, but I’m pretty sure I’m capable of building fire in there. I’m pretty sure that’s happened.)
Somehow, I started liking myself more.
When it started feeling just a teeny bit better to be myself, it started feeling just a teeny bit better to be in love.
I met my star-crossed lover my third year in college.
We were branded for expiration, as his plan was to graduate college, go to med school, and eventually marry a Muslim woman.
My plan was not that.
We had an unlikely friendship for a year and then began pursuing each other romantically. This was initially exciting because we were never planning on falling in love. We were just planning on having fun.
But our idea of having fun was to talk online one night until 11, and the next night until two, and the next night until four, and the next night until sunrise, because, fuck it, it was Ramadan for him, and let’s stay up all night.
Our idea of fun was to meet in an elementary school parking lot and cuddle in the backseat of his car on Sundays, and then on Mondays, and then on Tuesdays, and then through Saturday.
Our idea of fun was me surprising him in his on-campus office and watching other people look back and forth between us.
Fun was in the moments people pulled me aside and said, Brentan, he looks at you like you are the most beautiful woman alive.
But there was an underlying sadness to all of this because we knew that we would have to say goodbye.
We knew that this only worked because our collegiate sense of adulthood made us feel mature enough to love, but also safe enough to not worry about post-college dilemmas like making enough money or having a good enough job. We felt both serious and carefree.
June of my third year started creeping closer. June started taunting us with our expiration date, creating tremors in our neon sign that shook between Open and Closed.
The day we tried to flip the switch and light the Closed sign ended in tears and proclamations of forever and soul mate and love of my life and I’ll never find this again.
It shook between Open and Closed for an entire year, as I entered my fourth year of college and he entered his first year in med school, on the same campus as me—this was never part of the plan, the plan was for him to go far away, far, far away.
But with him staying, and not only staying, but moving closer to me, we had my whole fourth year between us.
We were supposed to be done. We had all the long talks and all the long cries. We tried for hours and days to figure out a glitch in the system: surely two people who loved each other this much were supposed to be together. Surely. Right?
There was no glitch.
The conclusions were still the same: he was Muslim, and I was…other.
We would have to break up; and we spent an entire school year doing just that.
By the end of it all, I was overwhelmed inside my chest.
My heart pumped and sobbed because its workload became so much more heavy. I ingested ten pound dumbbells and they sat squeezing my heart in-between them, saying, I dare you to work now, fucker.
The sky, the flowers, my car, my apartment, my favorite Mexican restaurant, the entire four-mile campus loop—it all reminded me of him.
But even during this time, there was still so much beauty: I found yoga; I found God; I found myself as an artist; I found friendships; I found a deeper relationship with myself; I found gratitude.
Our breakup worked its way through my system in three distinct shifts, each one two months apart.
The last shift was six months after our breakup, when my Ipod decided to randomize my music to six consecutive songs that reminded me of him, but not just of him: of our relationship. Of how many feelings I experienced with him, and how much I gave to him and how much I received from him. I let the songs play out, even though my initial instinct was to press next, and I found resolution: thankfulness.
I took our love and thrust it into yoga and into spirit and into really truly asking myself: what is God to me?
At first, God was a ball of white light; then God was a ghost-lamp in a theatre; then God was a swirl of color.
God is always changing, but at least now there’s God in my life.
I dated several more people after him, looking to nurture this new love I felt inside of me.
I was spiritual now. I was more retrospective than before. I was healed. I was happy: I read the mythologies, studied the Gita, refined the asana, engaged the meditation.
I had loved in so many different ways, and with so many different people!
I should be able to make these relationship things work now.
But that’s not how it played out: I had a lot of relationships that felt like straight-up work. They felt like projects.
I felt even more crazy than before.
I felt crazy because I expected that once I came to my yoga practice, my relationships would just magically work: all of my nuanced idiosyncratic tendencies towards jealousy and anxiety and neediness would just magically disappear because now I did pigeon pose (or something…I’m still not quite sure on the logic of all of it).
I had two-week things and two-month things and one-year things.
When I was single, I mostly enjoyed it, but there was still some gucky stuff in there.
The guckiness came from me not totally—with 100 percent of what I had inside of me—believing that I was good enough just by myself. And I didn’t believe that I was good enough by myself because I still didn’t enjoy spending time with myself all the time.
Then I started excavating.
At some point, I realized that I could change the belief systems that I maintained. I could change the beliefs that I had about myself, and I could be fully loving unto my own heart.
The wind is settling into a mere whisper at this point in the story, so I will leave it here and let the reader have a break. I have just three more words:
Excavation brings magic.
(To be continued.)
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Editor: Catherine Monkman