One year ago today, a significant aspect of my life was flipped upside down. I know it was today because I wrote it down in my writing journal. “September 17th, 2012, ----- --------- broke up with me.” It was a single line in the margins between notes about the book projects I had in progress at the time.
My “partner” of 6½ years, with whom I had been living for almost 2 years, unceremoniously broke off our relationship one Monday morning. It was the first day of a week I had taken off work to dedicate to my writing. We'd had a fight the previous night when he came home too late and lied about who he was with. He woke up in the morning, showered and dressed for work, came out to the living room where I was lounging in my pajamas with a book, leaned against a piece of furniture, and told me it was over. He didn’t even sit down to tell me this.
I put “partner” in quotes because that’s never truly what he was to me. It was only what I called him. I started using that term in our sixth year together, when “boyfriend” was too young an expression and “husband” was something we agreed he would never be. (One of many compromises I made was that marriage and children were off the table.) We had a formal domestic partnership in place so that he could be on my health insurance. I had replaced romance with paperwork, thinking I would take what semblance of permanence and commitment I could get. He never used the term. I’m not sure what word he used to refer to me. I’m not sure he ever referred to me at all. I found out several months ago that his boss at a job he’s been at for years didn’t know I had written a book. He was a photographer who only took my picture a few times, an apt metaphor for our relationship. But despite the many problems, it's hard to overstate the effects being in a near 7-year relationship can have on a person, and even harder to overstate the effects of its sudden end.
We lived passively together for the next 5 weeks, while we worked with our landlord to find someone to take over the apartment, and I tried to find a new place to live. Our life together was shockingly similar to the way it was before the breakup, a fact that made it easier to swallow the reality and the necessity of the situation.
The immediate effect of the breakup, aside from the traditional cycle of grief (which seemed to spin on an endless loop those first few weeks), was a deep introspection and a consuming need for intense self-care, which I had let lapse for years. I planned a trip to Colorado in an effort to reconnect with my semi-estranged sister, my relationship with whom had been strained in large part because of my ex. I emailed another friend with whom I had been estranged for years; he was ecstatic to hear from me, and we forgave each other for past wrongs. I wrote love letters to my friends. I called everyone I loved and made plans with them. I scheduled every day for a solid month to do something, anything. I dedicated myself to a new [semi]-minimalist lifestyle and gave away, sold, or trashed a significant portion of my possessions. I found a beautiful studio apartment in a neighborhood that scared me; I knew living there would make me grow. Moreover, it was somewhere I couldn’t live with another person, so I knew I would have 18 months of living alone—and that was essential for me.
In the midst of all this, as well as being sad and angry and confused, I reconnected with someone else from my past. He was a would-be suitor from a foray into online dating 7 years earlier. We’d run into each other on Facebook in December 2011, when my book came out, and had been “friends” since then, but one or the other of us had been involved. This was the first time we were both single, and to say I began to notice him is a gross understatement. By the time I was in Colorado, we were texting with each other every day, for almost the entire day. We had our first date on November 3. I threw up that morning because I was so in love with him, and we hadn’t even met yet. That date lasted 2 days. Today, we already have plans for a weekend away for our 1-year anniversary, and are planning a trip to Asia. I could write a book about what meeting this man has done to my heart, soul, and mind. We agree it’s a blessing we never went out those 8 years ago; we needed these years to become the people we are, the people who were meant to be together. I lamented the time “wasted” with my ex and he the time wasted on his own dating foibles, but we reminded each other that we are who we are because of what—and who—has happened to us. It truly feels like my whole life was spent in a run-up to meeting him, again, and having him meet me, and then falling in love with each other.
To spend time thinking about what else the past year has brought is not to minimize my new relationship. It is by far the most important thing to happen. But there has been so much more. Indulge me while I take inventory, in no particular order.
- I attempted—and failed—to learn French. Relatedly, I learned that learning is harder when you’re older, and that I am not, in fact, good at everything.
- I turned 31 and threw myself a rager of a birthday party to make up for the failed 30th birthday that had gone forgotten.
- I gained—and subsequently lost—18 pounds.
- My football team won the Super Bowl.
- I put out the second edition of my novel, finished the booktrailer, and threw the most glorious book reading for the best of my best friends and family.
- I gave away almost all my art supplies in a conscious decision to focus my free time on my writing.
- I bought more art supplies so I could draw my first comic. I drew my first comic.
- I decided one day to stop texting my ex first, just to see if he would ever contact me. He never did and we haven’t spoken in 7 months. I deleted his number from my phone. I’ve seen him once, across the street at a festival. I don’t think he saw me.
- I learned to love my body, instead of feeling like it is always a work-in-progress. I started to feel truly beautiful for the first time in years.
- I cut out sugar and grains and have subsequently learned to cook some really interesting foods, like greenola and spaghetti squash.
- I started practicing yoga at a studio.
- I allowed myself to grow out my hair because I like it that way.
- I started wearing more makeup because I want to.
- I tried on bikinis instead of one-pieces. (I did not, however, buy one.) I started wearing shorts on the regular for the first time since childhood.
- I decided that I would like to be heavily tattooed, and scheduled 9 hours of tattooing over the next 3 months. I hired an artist to design a tattoo to commemorate my first book.
- I put over 20,000 miles on my car.
- I took my bassoon out of its case, put it together, and attempted to play it for the first time since June 1999. It belongs to my nephew now.
- I reconnected with my sister and spent excellent quality time with my niece, who is becoming an adult faster than I can bear.
- I started spending my money on things that make me—and my loved ones—happy, instead of squirreling it away in paranoia and anxiety. I bought art. I bought pretty dresses. I donated to Kickstarters. I bought plane tickets to Bali.
- I remembered how much I love to walk. I climbed a mountain. I regularly hike through Baltimore just to be sure I am truly noticing all the people and the things there are to see. I replaced driving with walking whenever possible.
- I started bicycling. I am terrible at it, but getting better.
- I took up feminism.
- I realized I DO want to get married and I DO want children, and that I had deluded myself out of those desires because of a man, and fuck that forever.
- I neglected this blog, but I started tweeting like crazy.
- I started listening to more music and less news. I listen to hip-hop without feeling embarrassed about it. In fact, I listen to whatever I want without feeling embarrassed about it. I pretty much stopped feeling embarrassed, because people who make me feel embarrassed don’t count.
- I took a class in religion. I discovered Buddhism and Unitarian Universalism, and started going to church sometimes. These may very well be the answers to the spiritual questions that have been haunting me for a decade.
- I realized I might still like to be a minister some day, and I started looking into it in earnest.
- I decided I don’t need a Master’s degree to feel like a whole person.
- I cut down on drinking alcohol from nightly to once per week, or none at all.
- I finally got over my fear of the dentist and got my teeth fixed. I FUCKING FLOSS NOW.
- I learned that I can’t do everything myself. I learned to let people help me. I learned that the way it makes me feel really awesome to help people is the way it feels for other people when they help me, and it’s only fair that everyone gets to feel that.
- I tried to smile and say hello to everyone I saw on the street. That ended when I realized how much street harassment I was facing. I realized I don’t owe it to anyone to smile at them, so I stopped. I feel very ambivalent about this, but I have become very outspoken against street harassment.
- I went to my 10-year college reunion.
- I networked. Like an adult.
- I go out to eat or to concerts by myself sometimes—not because I can’t find someone to go with me, but because I realized I am friends with myself.
- I Instagram my meals and my cats with abandon because fuck the haters.
- I have more, better sex than ever, and I realized I am no less than one half of that equation.
- I make a concerted effort to see at least one of my friends every week. Depending on your personality, this may not seem like a lot, but it’s a significant change from the way I used to live my life.
- I remembered what it’s like to enjoy things with abandon. I remembered what real happiness feels like. I stopped thinking it was cool to be aloof or critical. I stopped giving energy to people or situations that make me feel bad.
- I’ve made new friends. My boyfriend has made friends with my friends. I’ve made old friends into new friends. I’ve made acquaintances into best friends. I’ve made best friends into family. I got rid of friends-in-name-only. I will never again neglect the people who will never leave me.
- I fell into a deeper, truer, more perfect love than I could have dreamed possible.
There’s more. So much more. What a year it’s been. 13’s always been my lucky number. I guess it figures that I’d be age 31 in the year ’13, and it would be the best fucking year of my life. It took a major shaking up to wake me out of the fog I was living in. It felt like a knife at the time. Now it feels like a gift.