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My relatively recent and unexpected breakup was, to put it mildly, a rather unpleasant start to the decade.
Needless to say, there’s been a few anxiety attacks, recreational cry sessions, and movie nights with my mom binge-watching romantic comedies to convince ourselves (mostly me) that true love does exist. But, I have finally decided to use this as an opportunity to reflect upon the last two years I have spent growing and building with my ex-partner.
Out of the blue breakups leave us not only heartbroken but also insecure—wondering where it all went wrong. Was it something I did? Were they secretly unhappy? When did they decide to leave? How did I miss this?
Common sense and best friends will reassure us, “Of course, it wasn’t you.” It’s them. They’re going through something. They couldn’t handle the responsibility of being in a relationship, so they projected their insecurities in an attempt to get some of the blame off their shoulders. They probably cried a bit but, eventually, decided that it was for the best for them to walk out.
And so, there I was with a tear stricken face and snot running down my chin. I remember changing his nickname in my contact list with bloodshot eyes and sobbing painfully into a friend’s shirt. Then I started playing back all of the good times and wondering how they came to an end so quickly.
I know in advance what everyone will tell me. Yes, I know that I deserve better. And yes, of course, I’m better off by myself than with someone who doesn’t believe in me.
Eventually, as the initial shock slightly subsided and left room for some sadness and reminiscing, I started taking a trip down memory lane: “He did this and said that and he was so caring, and I thought…”
And then, in the immortal words of Miley Cyrus, it hit me like a wrecking ball. The illusion faded, the foggy glass was wiped clean, and the happy background music came to a halt.
This was the moment when my wiser self looked into the camera, shrugged, and asked: “You thought what?”
See, this is where the tricky part begins—or at least this is where it did for me.
I took off the rose-colored glasses to glance back with a newfound curiosity. I started taking note of all the times I was annoyed and realized, quite frankly, they weren’t as perfect as I made them out to be.
We start to realize that they weren’t as empathetic, mature, or selfless as we thought. We stumble upon the critical fact that, perhaps, we were the ones who gave our ex-partner a heightened level of greatness. We elevated them from the rank of “decent human being” to “the best person I ever met.”
Yes, that sounds harsh. But aren’t we all guilty in some ways, of only seeing the potential our partner has and how great they could be? Don’t we all end up falling in love with the idea instead of what we have in front of us?
We idealize them. We attribute qualities that they do not yet (and in some cases, never will) possess, and then we convince ourselves that we found this perfect person—and nothing else matters. We circle around a version of them that we have created and impose it on them. We encourage them to do their best while assuming that their idea of what’s best is the same as our own.
Sure, striving to be a better human being is something we should all do. But when does the pressure created by this looming ideal become too much for them to bear?
When will the lights come on? When will we see them for who they truly are, flaws and all?
Suddenly, what we thought were precious diamonds turn out to be shards of broken glass upon which we’ve been cutting ourselves for years.
Over time, we get attached to the potential that we see in our partner. We build ourselves, our lives, and our aspirations around them. We see ourselves together in the future—we make plans. We compare that potential to what we remember from our past relationships and former partners. We start telling ourselves that this current person is so much better than the previous, when in fact they are both equally human (and equally not meant for us).
When there are red flags, we carefully pick them up, fold them, and file them in a hideaway drawer labeled this is a phase. They’ll change. They will grow up because I believe in them. We tell ourselves that we love them unconditionally, despite their flaws, but here is the thing: our love depends on the condition that they outgrow said flaws.
So what happens when they don’t? Do they fall short of our expectations? Thinking back, I now realize that the only person who let me down is myself. Some time ago, I made an active decision to ignore my former partner’s imperfections and replaced them with a better, nobler, shinier version of him. It was a made-up idea that fueled my admiration for the person I loved.
I could see everything clearly, but still, I imposed on us a certain future, one that fit my ideal better than reality did.
What we see is what we get. My breakup was a sobering reality check. It made me realize that my partner was not half the person I made them out to be. Not necessarily in a bad way—we’re just cut from a different cloth. My version of him turned out to be different from reality.
Sure, perhaps the person I thought I knew and loved would have never been so quick to break and end something so precious. But then, maybe the person who did the breaking was the one who truly existed outside of my own head.
“Yeah, look at you, boy, I invented you.” ~ Ariana Grande