I started this year with an exciting new fling and a date to the Minnesota State Fair. The butterflies of a new relationship left me excited and warm, and the boy I had been talking to through the summer was straight out of a YA novel. For the first time, it felt as though fourteen-year-old Alexia’s Wattpad romance fantasy had come true. Which is to say, the impact he had on my life was significant. Having a boyfriend represented the ultimate character growth. It meant I finally respected myself enough to pursue what I wanted – things I hadn’t, up to that point, believed I even deserved – and I did so successfully. After all, he became my boyfriend. We were going to the fair together. Everything was working out exactly like I had wanted it to.
That being said, when it ended a few months later, I was left confused. Not because I didn’t understand why we didn’t work out or because I thought our breakup was unwarranted, but because our lives felt relatively unchanged. One day, he was texting me about how his day went, and the next day he wasn’t. He went from just another boy who passed me by in the halls, to my boyfriend, to just another boy who passed me by in the halls. Our post-breakup behavior made it seem that our relationship never even happened at all, and that it didn’t make a difference. A weird chimerical fever dream.
During our relationship, all of the butterflies, excitement and warmth represented such an important milestone in my life, and I clung to any sort of notion that it was real. Suddenly, all I wanted was for him to validate my existence. To send some sort of message that I ever meant something to him. I wanted to know if I made any sort of impact on his life the way he impacted mine.
Losing a partner doesn’t necessarily just mean losing a person. Sometimes, it can be at the cost of your self-esteem. Working up your confidence to be in a place where you believe you deserve the good things in your life is hard when faced with rejection and heartbreak. It’s natural to question if all this work you’ve put into yourself is worth it. Is being hurt by rejection part of the process, or is it proof that you’ll forever be stuck with “not-feeling-good-enough’s?” What is the correct way of going about this and how do you know if you’re on the right track?
Wanting approval from my ex was a caveat that I was regressing back to old habits. He represented the newfound respect I had for myself, and because I had lost him, I had tricked myself into losing that respect as well. Validation from him was the convoluted way I sought validation from myself.
After we broke up, I was hanging out with a friend in the lounge of her residence hall, when I realized I had left my phone charger in her room. She offered to get it for me, considering she shared a Rand suite with a good friend of my Wattpad-esque ex-boyfriend, and the odds my ex would be there on a Friday night were pretty high. I thought about it for a bit, thanked her and refused. Half-a-year was more than enough time to let my anxiety about seeing him subside, so how bad could a smile and a wave be?
When I opened the door to her room, everyone turned to me. A few people were dispersed around the double and I saw my charger sitting on my friend’s bed. Just as I was going to grab it, the bathroom door opened. There he was, standing in awkward silence. He stared at me and I stared back.
Slam! The bathroom door shut behind him and I was left in paralyzing shock.
That moment, though small, was the moment I realized how much control I let him have over my life. Even though I didn’t have romantic feelings towards him, I still let him be a tangible manifestation of everything I was and then was not. He was the confidence I had lost. The butterflies I missed. The excitement of a fourteen-year-old’s fantasy coming true. The happy, sure-of-self girl I was at the start of the year slamming the door in my face.
People talk so much about how a small change can make a big difference, or how no act of kindness is ever wasted, so I had spent months after the end of the relationship feeling at a loss. Seeing him in my friend’s room was a wake-up call that showed how I poured all my energy into wanting to make a difference in his life. So, when I got back to the lounge with my charger, I decided it was time to start making a difference in my own.