If I Could Go Back is a series of articles that center around the college experience. Hindsight is 20/20, and sometimes the best advice we could ever give stems from experiences in our past that make us cringe just the tiniest bit.
Someone once told me that every romantic relationship in our lives will fail until one doesn’t. It sounds harsh, and perhaps a little narrow-minded (can we really succeed or fail in love?), but there is truth to it. Most of us, especially those of us under 25, will enter into relationships that will someday end.
There’s something about going through the end of a relationship in college that tends to make everything more intense. Maybe it’s the added stress of keeping up with schoolwork when all you want to do is curl up into a ball or go for a long walk that lasts all day. Maybe it’s the task of telling tons of people who used to know you as “together” that you’re no longer together. Or maybe it’s just because at such a young age, we haven’t had much practice in the art of dealing with a broken heart. Whatever the case, the end of young love (or even young infatuation) is not easy. In fact, it can be downright hellish.
But there are ways to survive it.
And then, grow from it.
Because everyone heals in their own way and on their own time, and because the Internet is littered with articles about getting over a breakup, I’m going to stay away from all of it and instead focus on one essential starting point: The most important thing in any uncomfortable situation, even before you “get over it,” is to separate yourself.
Separate yourself from the actions and the emotions connected to the breakup. Separate yourself from your dormmates’ opinions, from the rumors, and most important, from negative self-talk.
One of the main factors in my extremely difficult college breakup was my constant preoccupation with who the breakup turned me into. I was the girl who had just been dumped, the girl who had to duck her head every time someone asked “oh, aren’t you so-and-so’s girlfriend?” I was a lonely loser, half of the person I once was. It’s like the chemicals in my body changed the moment he said, “this isn’t working,” turning me into a broken science experiment.
If there’s one thing I wish I could tell the college version of me, it would be that the breakup was an occurrence, not an identity. No matter what my ex thought, what other people whispered about, what the media tried to feed me… I was not The Girl Who Got Dumped. I was a girl, who in addition to going to school and working part-time and building friendships, was also dealing with the pain of an expired relationship.
In the incubated bubble of college, we can often lose sight of the fact that our life will go way beyond these four years; way beyond the grades and the achievements and even the mistakes. Events that seem monumental, scars that seems like they will never fade, everything will eventually dissipate. It’s just a truth of time. Holding fast to that certainly is the first step in realizing that a broken relationship is not the be-all and end-all of who we are.
It may be difficult at first, but spending just a few minutes each day explaining patiently to yourself that you are not your breakup will most definitely give you the clarity you need to move through the various stages of grief.
You are NOT your breakup. You are an individual, connected to millions of other individuals, all of whom have experienced the kind of pain you’re experiencing. Heartbreak happens, and then it fades. Remaining steady in the face of – and staying separated from — the all-consuming ache will be the journey that allows you to grow from this cyclical human occurrence.
Even if you only grow the teeniest, tiniest bit – it’s still growth. And growth is beautiful.