A few months into what was already a doomed relationship, I wrote what I considered to be the most romantic, heartfelt thought to the first man I had ever loved. In between showering him with the usual encomiums about his gorgeous blue eyes and sweet smile, I told him, “I will always be thankful that I met and fell in love with you.”
Another few months later, we were already calling it quits, and even though I spent months recovering from being rocked to my core by a relationship that was both incredible and incredibly wrong for me, I still believe those words I wrote him to be true. Here’s why:
I learned what it felt like to be loved.
Maybe this is something most people take for granted—being loved in a romantic relationship was certainly something I expected to happen to me at some point. But the first opportunity to really experience it was something I will never wish hadn’t happened to me. Having every inch of my face kissed in line at Target, smiling while we drove with one of his hands on my knee and the other on the steering wheel, having him to share all the highs and lows of my life with, lying in bed knowing my favorite person was asleep next to me . . . no matter the fact that it ended, I have memories that will always make me smile again when they cross my mind.
I learned what it felt like to not be loved well.
Now I know that when a guy tells me he loves me and then takes it back a few hours later, we probably won’t have a very stable relationship. And I know that when he takes it back twice, I should leave in T-minus zero seconds. Even good guys can be bad boyfriends. Every time he called me during a two minute long car ride so I wouldn’t take up too much of his day, every time he showed up at my door over half an hour later than we planned, every time he would conveniently “forget” to mail me letters he told me he’d written, and every day that I felt like a burden in his life, I was learning what it felt like to not be loved well. Just because someone says they love you doesn’t mean they do, and coming to that realization will save me a lot of time and energy in the future.
I learned what it felt like to lose myself to another person.
It would be incorrect to say that I was an extremely confident person before I fell in love, but it would be very accurate to say that being in love plummeted what confidence I had to zero. Being in love with someone who never quite felt the same way I did made me question every part of who I was. He didn’t approve of the music I listened to, the TV shows I watched, or pretty much any of the things I loved to do, so I lost my connection to them. I pushed anything that made me happy aside in favor of doing the things that made him happy, hoping that it would make him love me more. I, of course, failed at becoming his ideal woman, and because my self-image was now completely wrapped up in what he thought of me, his growing disinterest made me disinterested in myself. By the time we broke up, I didn’t know what pieces of me were left behind to put back together.
I learned that I was capable of picking myself back up again.
For longer than I should have after the breakup, I did the whole mourning thing; I barely ate, I cried a lot, and I spent all my time thinking back on every happy memory we shared. I only really started to break through it when I started running again. I forced myself to go to the gym, put in headphones, and run non-stop for as long as I could go. Running was one of those things that I had loved long before I met my ex, it was something that had always brought me confidence, and during those hours at the gym I finally found relief from all of the memories floating around in my head. As the weeks went on, I kept re-discovering all the things that I loved before I fell in love with someone else. I started dancing again, I blasted country music in my car and sang along unapologetically at the top of my lungs, I started writing (mostly about him at first). I traveled Europe during my summer, explored places I had always dreamed of going to, made out with one too many Australians, perfected my “buy me a drink” smile, and made a million happier memories than the ones I had before. I came home and have been working extremely hard to finish my degree, writing stories that I’ve had in the back of my mind for years, gone on really bad dates, and even some pretty good ones.
I don’t have to question who I am anymore. More confident than I’ve ever been, I now know what it is like to have hit bottom and built myself up again. So yes, I’m extremely thankful to have fallen in love with the wrong guy. Because otherwise, I may never have known what it is like to love myself.