Loving and Leaving: What I Learned From Letting Go Of My Long-Term Relationship

I have always wanted to share the story, as well as its ending, of my six-year relationship. But I always felt like it wasn’t mine to tell, though I know that’s not true. It’s just as much mine as it is his, and anyway, I have only good things to say.

I also know he would want me to write about it. He would be upset if I didn’t, reminding me I am stifling words and lessons that deserve to be spoken and heard. I am a writer, after all.

So, if you’re reading this, thank you. Thank you for always encouraging me to share my truth — even though you know it isn’t all pretty.

I never imagined I would walk away from my best friend after spending six years planning our future together — a future I was almost certain of. I know he didn’t imagine it, either. But as I sank into our little sofa in the home we shared, looking everywhere but at him, we both realized we had no other choice.

We tried to make it work. We truly did everything we could, from taking space from each other to planning getaways in hopes of reigniting that initial spark. But just as we changed as individuals, our relationship did, too.

We grew up together, from ages 18 to 24, helping each other through some of the most difficult parts of our lives: deaths of loved ones, loss of close friends, career obstacles, ongoing battles with mental illness.

But in the midst of it all, we also grew apart.

You see, I am not the same girl I was in college when we’d play beer pong in some smelly frat house basement or devour cheesesteaks in Philly on Sunday afternoons. I am not the same girl who would use control as a form of coping with her anxiety, the girl who was outspoken and rigid in her beliefs. I don’t have the same dreams or even the same political views, and definitely not the same outlook on life.

Still, losing him felt like losing one of my senses. Like I couldn’t fully experience life anymore. I didn’t know how to go on, because he was my rock, even before we officially dated. In high school, he was the friend I’d call after a breakup, the ice cream date who would expect nothing from me but a good conversation on the car ride home. 

I was shattered and alone for the months following the breakup. I felt like I had no one.

During the last year of our relationship, I lost touch with myself and, in turn, with most of my friends, too. I especially fell out of contact with my family, too ashamed to admit to them that I could no longer be with the guy they saw as their son, brother, cousin, grandchild for the last six years. This decision wasn’t just breaking my and his heart; it was breaking everyone’s around me. I assumed all of this self-inflicted shame and guilt and blame, and I cut people out of my life for months because I simply couldn’t face them. I could barely look in the mirror without feeling so enraged at the person staring back at me, much less explain to my loved ones a life decision that seemingly came out of nowhere — a choice that appeared to be rash, but was actually a longtime coming. Only we knew that, though.

And so, in my isolation, I ended up turning to someone who showed me kindness I didn’t think I deserved during that time. I tried to recreate some stability, tried to turn a deep and meaningful friendship into some lasting romantic connection instead of allowing myself time to heal.

I didn’t want to be alone. 

Admitting that feels like drinking poison. I wished to be known as that healthy girl who was able to cope well with her breakup, who instantly found self-love and bettered herself while spending more quality time with family and friends. And while I got to that point eventually, I wasn’t “that healthy girl” right away.

I was not perfect, I am not perfect, and I am no longer interested in being seen as perfect, which is why I take pride in telling my stories just as they are. I refuse to rewrite my past (or leave it unwritten) and control my future to avoid being deemed “less than” or “unworthy,” how I’ve felt my entire life.

That breakup — and everything that followed — was an emotional rollercoaster I had to endure in order to grow. To really understand the wounds from my childhood and just how deep they were. To finally heal them.

At the end of the day, I don’t have any regrets. Because every decision I have made up until this point in my life has led me to where I am today. Experiencing all that chaos, during and post-breakup, helped me become a more empathetic and self-aware individual, and I’m proud of that.

It warms my heart knowing how happy my ex now is in his new relationship, and I send them both endless love and light. Having gone through all this, I can also acknowledge the fact that my boyfriend has a past, and find myself relating to girls he once loved — because in many ways, I identify with them (and wish them the absolute best), too.

We are all just trying to create happiness within ourselves and with each other. Emotions are messy and complicated sometimes, but even the “ugliest” emotions need to be felt in order to move forward. In order to get to the place where we are meant to be.

Loving and leaving someone at the same time was one of the hardest things I have ever done. But, for everyone involved, it was also the best. And I will never forget the difficult lessons learned and, even moreso, the beautiful moments shared.

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