How to focus on the positive after a bad relationship

By Refinery29
Updated: December 07, 2016
Mallory Heyer

In many ways, the end of 2006 was one of the darkest times of my life. I was living with near-strangers in New York City, away from college for my first big internship, when my boyfriend of four years - the one I'd met through a church group, the one I'd been dating since I was 16 - called to tell me, in a rush and with a matter-of-fact tone, that he and a girl he'd met on a Catholic retreat had "ended up making out" and that he thought we should "see other people." I still remember my visceral reaction to these words, as I sat stock-still in my Upper East Side bedroom: nausea filling my torso from bottom to top. Icy brushstrokes across my nose, cheeks, chin. That sudden certainty that things were different, and worse, forever.

And the pain just kept coming, for months afterward: I'd be fine, hustling through my magazine internship, and then I'd think of him - no, of it: the betrayal, a hard punch to the gut. I couldn't believe someone I'd trusted so fully could hurt me so much. It sounds histrionic now, but I felt lonely, far from my close friends, exhausted from behaving normally, and, as a privileged, sheltered 20-year-old, fairly unprepared for a huge upset in my life plan.

Because we were going to get married. We had it all figured out: He'd go to med school, after acing the MCAT I'd spent hours helping him study for. He'd get into his dream programs, thanks to all my help editing those application essays. We'd move to Chicago, a big city just 90 minutes away from our parents - after countless hours and evenings and trips spent together, his family, after all, felt like my family, too. I'd find work at a local publication. We'd have a big Catholic wedding (I was Lutheran, but fully prepared to convert) and a small, manageable number of children. We'd been talking about it since we fell in love in high school. We were set.

And then the whole future splintered and collapsed. He got what he wanted, as far as I know: Occasional Google-stalking reveals he's a doctor in the Midwest, married to the very same good Catholic girl he'd told me about that night, rugrats presumably scrambling around his feet. I don't know firsthand, because we haven't spoken in 10 years. But I suppose I'm glad his future chugged on, unabated.

I remember another night in late 2006, less ostensibly standout but every bit as important to me. It was an unusually warm November night, and after finishing a day of interning in Times Square, I'd walked over to Bryant Park. I sat at a small green table and watched the earth dim through cracks in the spindly trees, as buildings turned gold in the dusky light and New Yorkers streamed by, full of competence and purpose. And then I heard it, as clearly as if someone had whispered it in my ear: "Now you can do whatever you want."

[For the full story, head to Refinery29]

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