Oh, high school romance. It should have been peaches and cream yet it was anything but that.
You know the relationship – you’re head over heels and you’re just excited to have a real fling, but then his true colors start to show and your world comes crumbling down. My failed high school romance set me spiraling into depressive, destructive behaviors that were only worsened by teen angst over being in a holding pattern until graduation.
I felt some sense of escape at my part-time job and relished the time I could spend feeling as though my past was already beyond me. There I found myself in better company, developing a very close friendship with a coworker. Now reflecting years later on how fragile my heart was at the time, I can’t help but be grateful to my ex for leading me to my husband.
Maybe I Should Have Seen the Obvious Red Flags
Throughout high school, my entire friend group was identity-crisis central. As I’ve shared before, I was a self-conscious, green-haired, slam-poetry writing, thrift-store dwelling, politically correct, feminist-minded, grungy teenager who ran in circles I should have done a swift 180 on. We fed on each others’ victimhood mentalities and emboldened one another to be alternative in every sense of the word. Alternative interests, alternative attire, alternative bodily appearance, and of course alternative gender identities.
My ex wasn’t your typical high school boy, and especially knowing now that he transitioned genders and became a she, our complicated relationship makes all the more sense. We were all struggling to understand ourselves.
We also were all faced with the fact that high school was ending and we’d have to have some kind of a plan for what was next. But my ex wasn’t putting himself on a path to success. He showed no interest in continuing school – neither trade school nor university – and had no lucrative prospects for work otherwise.
What could I do about it? I couldn’t just snap my fingers and make him feel driven or motivated. I learned just how important it is to not mix up a human being with a wounded puppy. Women have this natural instinct to want to “fix” people, but if the person we’re with isn’t looking for help or nurturing, then we can’t mold them into something they’re not.
He’d have to figure it out himself, but he was far too laid-back from his nature and from his perpetual high. Looking back, I yearned for a version of my ex that didn’t exist – someone who had upward momentum in mind. I couldn’t influence that decision after all, seeing as how I wasn’t his mother, I was his girlfriend…or was I?
Labels Actually Matter in Relationships
I know, I know, many of us bemoan how labels have become the most important thing in some people’s lives, thanks to our identity-obsessed society. One place where labels really do matter, however, is in your romantic relationships. To my ex, I was just his “thing,” but to me, he was my world. Since he was unwilling to call me his girlfriend for most of our relationship, I kept feeling that there was a deeper issue.
People like my ex-boyfriend will say things like “Why do we need to label what we have?” That mindset does everyone involved a disservice. It’s not just a label, it’s an admittance of being wholeheartedly devoted and completely committed. Giving your significant other the correct designation is a symbol of respect.
Giving your significant other the correct designation is a symbol of respect.
My ex was hesitant to label anything because he had feelings for other girls. Given my position at the time, trying to be the most open-minded progressive I could be, I let myself be led on while he still pursued other girls.
There was the girl he couldn’t get over from early on in high school, the girl’s friend he found himself interested in subsequently after, the best female friend that he and she swore up and down would never go further than friendship, and then there was me: the close friend who was lovestruck and always hoping our friendship would officially be more than just that.
I Realized I Needed a Real Life Investment
A real relationship is much like any other investment you make in life. You have to make some sacrifices for it to get going, but you can’t be hasty and think that you’re just automatically going to withdraw more from it than you have contributed.
What this relationship lacked was an equal amount of interest shown by both people. With my ex, it was understandably difficult feeling like I was never first in his heart. Yet, I gave myself up to him and was overly available in the hopes that he would reciprocate. Tough luck, kid, sometimes love isn’t mutual! You might think you’re expressing love in all the right ways, but you might just be that person’s parttime lover. I learned that I shouldn’t chase after someone who didn’t give me the respect and devotion that I was handing out so willingly.
My ex was also not a real investment in the sense that he had major Peter Pan syndrome. He was unwilling to mature in the healthy, productive ways that I was seeing so many other peers in high school achieve in their relationships. Yet, I so easily had heart-eyes over Peter Pan syndrome boys because I admired that feeling of youthful rebellion. Eventually, though, it became too much for my heart to handle.
I Couldn’t Deal with Being the Hookup
In our on-again-off-again, sometimes official and oftentimes not relationship, my ex and I were always very close friends. We’d text one another all day, every day, and confide our rawest thoughts and feelings in one another. Living with parents who mostly sheltered me, I wasn’t afforded much time to spend with friends outside the school campus. As a result, we became very close emotionally and when we could be close physically, things got a bit complicated.
Eventually, he told me that when he was with me, he had romantic feelings, but when we were apart he felt weird about us being a couple. “I have a problem,” he said. “Every time I’m with you I want to kiss you.”
Don’t chase after someone who doesn’t give you the respect and devotion you hand out so willingly.
Well, that was fresh, especially considering he hadn’t actually made a meaningful amount of effort to ask to see me. I was left utterly confused by his passiveness, especially when the big breakup happened and he had the gall to ask me if he was going to lose me forever. From my perspective, I was just seen as the convenient friend with benefits. And yes, he was going to lose me forever.
Could I blame him though? Sometimes I still don’t know. He came from a broken household and I came from a very stable, nuclear family unit. Hookup culture might have made perfect sense to him, but to me, my view of relationships was largely framed by seeing a clear-cut model of monogamy throughout my whole life.
I’m Actually Grateful for the Bitter Breakup
Having my world shattered by the one person I spent so many teenage years admiring was arguably one of the best things that could have happened to me. As I mentioned, I didn’t run in the best circles. I was half-way through senior year when we broke up, and I felt utterly disenchanted by the less-than-wholesome company I was always in.
So when I met a good man who didn’t just try to fix me but also challenged my preconceived notions, forcing me to think more introspectively and, as a result, feel empowered to become a better woman, I think I actually won.
I’ve kept a personal log of quotes throughout the years that meant something to me at the time I wrote them down. One quote, which is dated from around the time that I began to heal, spend more time with my co-worker, cultivate that relationship into a deep friendship, and then began dating the man who wifed me up last year, reads:
“Not everything is supposed to become something beautiful and long-lasting. Sometimes people come into your life to show you what is right and what is wrong, to show you who you can be, to teach you to love yourself, to make you feel better for a little while, or to just be someone to walk with at night and spill your life to. Not everyone is going to stay forever, and we still have to keep on going and thank them for what they’ve given us.”
Hands Down, Life Is the Best Teacher
I have had a whole whirlwind of personal development since then. The man I met led me on a path to faith, which helped me confront a lot of internal demons and find forgiveness for those who had wronged me in the past, ex-boyfriend or otherwise.
I chose not to hold any hate in my heart and instead started completely anew. After all, I had an exciting future ahead of me and I couldn’t operate with negative emotions toward my ex living rent-free in my mind. Forgiveness can be a long process for some who have been hurt in much deeper ways than I was, but when you make the firm choice to move forward and find greener pastures, I promise you your heart will also feel lighter.
My breakup helped me refine what I was looking for in a husband and where I needed to grow.
The whole situation also helped me realize that I needed a more masculine man. No, I didn’t need a stereotypical, strong burly guy, but the little hints dropped about my ex’s gender identity should have been a big red flag to me that he couldn’t be masculine for me.
I needed someone who was much more sure of himself, more assertive, more ambitious, and more emotionally controlled. So my bad breakup helped me refine not only what I was looking for in a husband, but also what I was looking for in my own personal growth. The traditional values that my now husband lived by made me realize just how important morality was becoming for me as my guiding compass.
And of course, my bad breakup also made me realize that the pseudo gender-bending of my teenage years was not who I was deep down. Perhaps that’s what’s right for my ex, but it wasn’t doing me any favors. I needed to love myself before I could become my now husband’s best lover, which meant taking care of my bodily appearance and cultivating a real feminine identity.
Whether your bad breakup is far back in your past or you’re tenderly dealing with fresh wounds, there’s no shortage of lessons to be learned from a failed relationship. Perhaps you’ve also been in a similar spot, feeling vulnerable and desperate for attention.
Then someone comes along to fill that lonely gap, and you put all your eggs in one basket, developing ideations of a happily ever after. Well, if that person isn’t emotionally mature enough to be your lifetime investment and treat you with dignity, I urge you to protect your heart and move on. That’s what I did, and I can’t thank my ex enough for leading me to my husband after all.
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