We broke up a year ago today. The man — I planned on marrying, having two bright eyed kids with (named Jai and Arya), traveling to Bali with, growing old with and loving everyday — is gone. The future that we dreamed of, whispered sleepily and softly into the early mornings after late date nights, had been officially relocated to the back of my consciousness, already beginning to collect dust.
I met him in the hallway of a hospital. He was wearing blue scrubs and he had a boyish smile. He was handsome, humble and charming. I ran into him a few more times in the PACU and in the cafeteria (where I asked for double chocolate chip pancakes religiously) before he asked me out to dinner. He waited almost two hours for me on our first date after my uber took numerous detours. On our fourth date, over panang curry and pad thai, he asked me to be his girlfriend. Nervous, I asked him if we would be strong enough to do long distance and if he was sure. He said yes.
And so started our relationship, born in a small hospital in Philly, growing over monthly adventures to different cities that led to introducing each other to family and friends. We fell, completely, head over heels, in love with each other. We called each other everyday. We would tell each other, “I love you” over and over again until one of us, laughingly, hung up the phone. We skyped all the time. I would leave the phone on as I fell asleep in California listening to him snore in Pennsylvania. I wonder if we could have made it if we began dating while living in the same city.
Eventually, we began seeing issues with how we thought. I wish we fought over small things like, “you forgot our anniversary” or “I really hated that necklace you got me last year”. We argued about core values and deep set differences. I was independent, fearless and I wanted to take on the world, break tradition and empower women. I wanted to protest. He wanted me to stay at home. He wanted a peaceful life and a wife that would fit perfectly into conservative Indian ideals. I didn’t want to be that person.
A love like this didn’t just die out suddenly, like a candle that suddenly went out.
It was a slow deterioration of trust, decay of something beautiful, dismantling of dreams and ultimately a death of a part of both of us. It was a process fed by months and months of failed attempts at reconciliation, heated arguments, violent breakdowns resulting in broken phones, cracked walls, days of crying, sleepless nights, lost appetites, lost weight, lost promises and lost sanity. At the end of it, we wondered: What were we doing? Should we end it? Who’s stronger? The person who decided that this was it? Or the person who still stayed, refusing to evacuate a burning house, holding onto photo albums of happier times while searching for a fire extinguisher? What ended it? Was it the last argument instigated by anger and insecurity? Was it that one mistake, that one argument, that one moment that sealed the decision for the other to give up?
For months after, I wracked my brain revisiting the past, reliving each argument and fight, trying to find that one pivotal moment when I could have turned the sails on this sinking ship and avoided the (inevitable) glacier of a break up. A few awful memories stand out. One of them is when I made him cry. One Sunday evening, I sent a flurry of texts expressing my frustration, worries and fears for the future. I suggested we break up rather than keep a failing relationship (and subsequent future engagement and marriage) going. I fell asleep and I saw his missed calls hours later when he left the operating room. He was crying and I had slept through his phone calls. We spoke a few hours later but I remember the guilt of hurting him followed me for months after. How could I have fallen asleep when he was crying? Why didn’t I hear my phone vibrant? What if I had picked up? Was it this tirade of messages that made him give up? I am not sure. Regardless, none of it matters now.
None of it matters.
Truth is, at a certain point of our relationship, something big wasn’t working right. It wasn’t the small things (like him throwing his scrubs on the floor or how he hated that I did laundry on Sundays while he watched cricket). It was the big things: He wanted me to be a bit different. I never forgot certain things he said that were cruel and tore at the core of who I was and valued. We both consciously sabotaged this relationship immaturely (yet effectively) to push each other out it because we didn’t fit together correctly. Love was not enough. We both felt it. We both ended it regardless of who ultimately pulled the trigger.
The first few months after the break up were horrible. I relived all of the best and worst memories of my relationship over and over again. I curled up on the couch, watching us laughing in old snapchat stories, with my heart asking him, like a Netflix notification, “Are you still there?”. I saw him in my dreams, smiling and laughing, open arms and sunshine.
I got on stage to do the graduation commencement speech, called to action all of the Phd, MS and MPH graduates to become fearless world leaders but I ached when I saw his empty seat next to my family, wanting to be with him in his studio apartment across the country instead. I attended the United Nations Conference in Geneva, watching visionaries, politicians and leaders discuss politics and health but mentally, I was still in Philly, talking to him about his day, cooking dinner. I wanted to call to hear his voice. I waited for him to realize it’s all a mistake. I cried sitting in traffic, standing in the shower, after romantic movie scenes, after songs we dedicated to one another, at weddings I told my friends he would come to.
The pain I felt was real.
I acted irrationally sometimes. My family and friends would be shocked by the new actions of desperation and irrationality that were so at odds withthe independent, rational young woman they knew. I looked up research and found various science studies investigating heartbreak. I found a wealth of information. Evidently, the brain I knew was experiencing quite a bit of change after the end of this relationship:
According to a study looking at fMRIs of the brains of individuals in the midst of heartbreak, the pain in my chest was the same pain experienced if I was physically stabbed as it stimulates the same neural pathways in my brain. My brain, additionally, still expected my ex to come back, even though logically I knew it wasn’t healthy for both of us. My brain, furthermore, paralleled the same actions as an addict giving up cocaine or nicotine. Explains some of the clingy, uncharacteristic behavior we all experience after a break up, right?
After the crying had stopped, a sense of calm took place. I began to focus on smaller things in life. I went to class, presented the poster for my grad school thesis, finished internships, accepted job offers. I finished a two year program in one year for him. The admissions counselor had commented when I had initially signed up for classes that it was “impossible” and no one had accomplished doing it previously.
Gradually, things got easier. The months after the break up consisted of extending the time in between breakdowns — that peaceful calm where the world still spun on its axis and life went on. I tried to stay away from the moments when I would get lost trying to search for alternative solutions, analyze past faults within us, find new evidence to back up a theory explaining, “why?”, or grapple with previous guilt. At some point, those periods of calm began to extend from hours to days to weeks to months.
Months after, I began to see the relationship a little differently than (ever) before; I even started to understand what my friends and family had been saying all along: “You deserve better”. I started to move on, unbelievable and incredible as it was. I removed him from all parts of my life (except the phone number burned into my memory from deleting and adding it back countless times).
I began to do things I wanted to do: Months later, I was having a beer with my Dad in Berlin. I was biking through Manhattan alone. I was discussing rescuing elephants on an island in Thailand. I was running through a small town in Florence in the morning. I was doing yoga in a foreign country. I was reading a book to my three month old niece about incredible women in history who persisted. I started living for myself again, doing things I have always wanted to do.
Eventually, I’ve came up with realizations that helped me make peace with my actions (and his).
If it was meant to last, it would have lasted. Someone said, “great relationships rarely fall apart and weak relationships never last”. We loved each other fiercely, completely, passionately and honestly. That is a beautiful thing — some people never experience it. But love is not enough and he wasn’t my person. Just because he was the first person I fell in love with doesn’t mean he’s the last. There’s someone better fitted to me, my dreams and my personality that is waiting for me. I’ll find him.
I realized that relationships aren’t meant to change people. We are meant to be loved for who we are, with all of our charisma, charm and craziness. I think most women, in particular, have been conditioned to think we have to compromise parts of our personality when we’re in relationships. Too honest? “Maybe you should tone it down, honey. No one wants the complete truth”. Too opinionated and too career-focused? “But how will you find someone to marry? Guys don’t want girls who are smarter and more successful than them.”
Let me do the honors and tell you this: All of these personality trimming suggestions are bullshit. Granted if you have unhealthy habits/issues, please work on them. But you shouldn’t be giving away parts of your personality to take on someone else’s insecurities. You’re independent? More power to you. Find someone who compliments that rather than being threatened by it. You want to be a boss? Be that and find a man who can keep up rather than keep you in the kitchen. Stop compromising on the parts of your personality that make up who you are, just so that someone else can be breathe easier with his insecurities in your presence. Shine brighter. Date better.
I can do it again. Falling in love, being in a relationship and breaking up isn’t easy. It’s hard. In fact, I know some people who never date for the fear of getting their heart broken. Some people never leave certain relationships for the fear of heartbreak and starting over with dating. If you are in a relationship and you’re not sure if you can do it all over again, trust me, you can. Take your time and go through the entire (painful) process of healing rather than taking short cuts. You’re going to fall in love all over again. You’re already stronger than you were before. You’re already moving forward. You’re going to do amazing things with your life — in and out of relationships.
Take it from me: Life after heartbreak isn’t all that bad. In fact, I think it’s pretty inspiring and beautiful. You’re reborn. You’re free. You’re on your own. What’s better than that, really?