I lost him twice. The first time was twelve years ago, after a six-year on-again/off-again relationship that began with us as high school sweethearts. The second time was after a long-distance “friendship” that began with me swearing that we would never again be a couple.
But just a few weeks into our reunion, I found myself blowing out the candles on my birthday cake and wishing that we would find our way back to each other. And then he let me go. Again. He betrayed me for the easy way out. He always did — all the while proclaiming my strength.
I’m not “the one that got away,” like I naively and selfishly and arrogantly wanted to believe. Yet, like the hundreds of times we lingered over good-byes, hesitant to hang up the phone, I can’t help but want more of him.
I need to practice not keeping watch for the blinking green light on my phone that used to indicate him sharing his life with me.
When I go to bed, I have to face the fact that I’m alone and, even worse, that he’s going to bed with someone else.
I lie still, stare into the dark, and try not to think or cry, afraid that even the slightest movement will yield a tantrum of both. I try to appreciate that 4:30 a.m. conversation, the last one we had, when we told each other that we loved and wanted each other. And I tell myself that “it’ll hurt until it doesn’t.”
I also try to emulate his amazing ability to forgive, while hoping that he someday aspires to my strength — the strength he seemed in awe of and yet which always led me to pursue dreams that he and I couldn’t survive together.
My last days with him were filled with anticipation, laughter, appreciation, and fulfillment. And I want him to fight for that experience someday; I’ve wanted that for him since we met 18 years ago.
And now I also want that for his children — because I went from not wanting kids at all to wanting his, just because they’re part of him. I know that the world, and his family, will be better off if he learns to fight worthy battles.
Though I lost him, I have pursued and unearthed many victories. My life has, therefore, been full of people, like him, praising my strength. I often find the compliments more infuriating than flattering, however. Because those compliments romanticize my pain. And I’m not inherently stronger than anybody else.
I became strong one choice at a time. I chose to rage against the temptation to hang onto unhealthy relationships out of fear of living and dying alone; to pursue advanced degrees despite unrelenting financial and medical setbacks; to pull all-nighters chasing perfection; to run at 6 a.m., no matter my exhaustion or the unkind weather; to follow my career to a new home; to work three jobs to make ends meet; to put one sock on, break down in tears, and then put the other one on.
And I choose now to love and to lose; to see, dissect, and learn from my weaknesses; to defy the odds; to do what I have to do; to put myself into words.
So, the next time you feel compelled to compliment someone on her strength, do it. And then rage. Don’t use strong people as an excuse to be weak; to do so means committing an injustice against them and yourself.
Choose to be strong one choice at a time.