When I was in high school, one of my favorite teachers told me that nothing worthwhile is easily attained. And I believed it — except when it came to men.
High school was a land of plenty for me. In my sophomore year, I began dating a series of quirky, heartfelt boys, each one something straight out of a John Hughes movie. There were lots of burned CDs, late-night make-out sessions and outside-the-box love notes. One boyfriend placed a Ziploc bag of red liquid in a heart-shaped container lined with handwritten poems comparing me to ventricles and the aorta. It was kind of creative, very creepy and totally romantic.
I was drunk on my newfound power. Why bask in the adoration of one guy, I thought, when there were at least two others who were also interested and waiting in the sidelines? "Boys, please! There's plenty of me to go around." My ego was off the charts.
I began to string a few guys along at a time. I started one semester in a relationship with a great guy, then replaced him two months in with a charming nerd who was double-majoring in Film and Computer Science. That summer, I got back together with the first boyfriend so I wouldn't have to spend three months not being worshipped back in my hometown.
Eventually I realized that some guys are special, and I shouldn't be changing them as often as I change my underwear. I would find a nice guy to commit to… but so many guys were nice. I decided I'd find a nice one until I found a nicer one. I'd become a serial monogamist.
When I moved to New York City at age 22, my college boyfriend, Sam, and I tried the long-distance thing for a few months. Then I met someone else and started acting aloof so Sam would break up with me. So, for those of you keeping track at home, there was Sam and then Marco and then Nick and then… I'm running out of aliases.
I finally fell hard for Chad. He was the first boyfriend who seemed to be marriage material, whatever that was. Things soured after about a year, and I broke up with him. I walked around the city, listening to sad music on my iPod… for about three weeks.
Then I started dating John.
If Chad was a hard fall, then John was a jump off the Empire State Building. He was smart, kind, and inspiring. We drove around the city for hours brainstorming ideas for creative projects. I'd never had so much in common with someone I'd dated. John and I read the same books, sang along to the same music, and shared the same values. We'd also never been single adults. I'd been in a relationship of some sort since I was 15. John had dated only three women. He'd had the same girlfriend through high school and college. Then he met me, his third girlfriend, while he was still dating his second.
That might have been the most significant thing we had in common: John and I were both serial monogamists. He was my mirror.
I was devastated when John broke up with me after a year of dating. Our demise wasn't easy to classify. We hadn't stopped loving each other or grown bored. The things that brought us together were still stronger than all the annoyances that came up later. But we were stuck.
When you really care for someone at 16, everyone reminds you how young you are. When it happens at 26, everyone reminds you how not-that-young-anymore you are. John and I weren't ready to take any big next steps, no matter how age-appropriate they might be. John told me that he wanted to focus on his career and self-actualization, and that he worried he was codependent. But John wasn’t just talking about himself. He was talking about me, too.
When two serial monogamists quit each other, it's not pretty. John and I spent months trying to get each other back, though never at the same time. I tried standup comedy, took a trapeze class, and changed careers — all while listening to angry breakup music. Months later, I decided to try dating again.
Remember, I hadn't ever spent more than a few weeks on my own. I'd just bounced from relationship to relationship. The singles scene was a sobering reality: it certainly wasn’t the land of plenty that I'd experienced in high school. I went on so many bad dates. Sometimes there was no chemistry. Sometimes we didn't speak the same language (literally and figuratively). Sometimes I got treated the way I used to treat boys in high school — disposable.
I was a serial monogamist who was suddenly single and trying to figure out what I really was looking for after all. But how could I really have known who I am if I'd never really let myself be independent? I had always been wrapped up and somehow defined by a relationship — in a perpetual rebound state.
Then I met my match in John — the mirror — who broke up with me and finally forced me to reevaluate my dating patterns. Before John (and our breakup), being a girlfriend was a huge part of my identity. I neglected other aspects of myself, because boyfriends consumed so much of my time and energy.
John's decision to ultimately make a clean break forced me to look inside myself. I probably would have kept falling back into his arms if he hadn't cut the cord. Once I was alone with no desire to be with anyone else, I saw that love — and the pursuit of it — was an addiction for me. In the first weeks, I found myself lonely and unable to imagine the rest of my life. But I stuck it out and then once I snapped out of it, something amazing happened: for the first time, I was able to imagine my future without someone else in the picture.
I started to focus on rediscovering me.
Does that mean I'd given up on love? Of course not. But instead of always looking outside of myself for fulfillment, I learned to turn my search inward. Ultimately, I want a partner and a person who makes me a better version of myself. It would take a lot of time and effort to find someone special again, I knew. But when I did find him, I'd finally understand his worth.
While a few drinks with girlfriends may make you feel better for the night, you're sure to feel worse the next day — and not just from a hangover, but wondering why (OMG why?!) you told the bartender about the STD your ex gave you, why you kissed that guy in the parking lot and how you got home.
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