Let’s be honest, you don’t go most a decade only casually dating without collecting a few breakup stories. In some of these stories, I’m the bad guy — leaving guys without giving them a reason. In others they are the bad guys, unnecessarily mean when they do it or cheated or any other number of reasons people split. But almost all these stories generally get distilled down into short, funny one-liner stories I tell at parties or share with a friend to help make her breakup seem not as bad: “Would hearing about my breakup in Thailand help make you feel better?”
Those are some of my favorite stories from my dating past. While these stories actually have full back stories and a lot more to them than the little one-line blurbs I share, that pretty much covers the most entertaining part of the “breakup.”
My worst breakup isn’t any of these (although I’ve had maybe one other breakup that gave dethroning my worst a solid shot). My worst breakup story isn’t one I distilled down to a single sentence (normally) but instead is told in full to very few people. It goes a little something like this:
I was 24 and he was my fourth ever boyfriend. My first post-college boyfriend actually. At that time, I’d recently landed my first “real job,” had a “serious” boyfriend, and thought I had all my shit together. Oh how naive I was at 24. Then we broke up. “But why???” you may be asking yourself. Everything seemed so on track when you had your shit together. Yes, yes it did didn’t it? However, the why we broke up isn’t nearly as important as the how we broke up. The why is simple—we weren’t meant for each other! Some people just aren’t compatible long-term and that’s OKAY. Breaking up was a good call in the long run and I certainly have no regrets over not being with him anymore. The longer we were together the more and more clear it became that our views on important issues and our life goals were just too different.
While I don’t feel any regrets over not being together, I do often wonder how different my decision making would have been in the years after if the how we broke up went down differently. By the time we broke up we’d gone from living together to living separately (I moved out into my own apartment because he wanted to live in a bungalow style house with people and I had the dream of living alone in my own space—on the opposite side of town). Honestly, the move was probably when we should have called it quits but instead, for just a while longer, we pretended that it was totally okay that we’d taken a step backwards in our relationship to live in separate places. A month or so after the move, we got a cat. An adorable black kitten. I was the one who was really into having a cat (because cats are awesome) and the cat would, obviously, primarily be mine and stay at my place. We named him after my ex’s favorite soccer player, Messi (I wasn’t a huge Messi fan myself but do think it’s an adorable name for a cat). Less than two days later, we broke up… for the first time. The next day we got back together ( “I want to be with you when I’m around you but I want to breakup when we’re physically apart,” he said. What???) Red flags much?
At this point you’re probably thinking, “Oh no Gretchen! How could you have been so stupid?” I know! Remember earlier when I mention I was a naive 24-year-old at the time? We all make mistakes, particularly when we are young. Luckily we didn’t do the on-again-off-again much. A week or so after attempting to “make things work” we broke up for the second time: He stood me up on a Friday night, leaving me standing out on a street corner outside the soft-opening of a tiki bar, and officially dumped me over the phone when he called to say he wasn’t coming. His reasoning for dumping me, asking me to get back together, and then dumping me again? He didn’t know how to breakup with me because he’d never dated anyone “fucked up” before.
If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you might remember me talking about my experiences with body image, eating disorders, and depression. I’m much more open about all that stuff now, but when I was in my early 20s, I didn’t talk too much about it. I had, nonetheless, talked about it to my close friends and my boyfriend at the time. When I was 24, overcoming those experiences during my college years had been something I felt kind of good about. I had a problem, I had gone to therapy, and I had put a lot of work into getting better, into getting my ability to eat food back on track. I felt really proud of all the work I’d put into it and the fact that I had actually been proactive about getting my issues under control. I had no idea that in my boyfriend’s mind, this thing I felt really proud about how I handled, was something he felt had made me “fucked up.” Having something I felt in general good about, turned against me to make me feel like I was a less worthy human crushed me.
For years after, I never talked to anyone about my past eating issues. I tried to hide my history with body image issues and depression from the world—particularly from any potential boyfriends. At the end of the day, I felt fundamentally fucked up and unlovable. It changed my attitude towards dating, or letting anyone get close to me. I found myself dumping guys who might have actually been good for me and gravitating towards ones who reenforced my new outlook towards myself: there is something horribly wrong with me. That is why I consider this to be my worse breakup. Because I let the words of a boy destroy my sense of self… of self worth. My personality felt like it was slipping into hiding. I fell into a long, sustained period of high-functioning depression. I had a resurgence of my eating issues. I let myself be the “fucked up” and “unloveable” person he had viewed me to be.
I let myself live like that for way too long, too. I’m sad to say that it took until my 30s to put those words in their place and no-longer let them dictate how I felt about myself. I’d love to say that once I took his words off the shelf I’d so carefully stored them and dumped them in the trash that everything got better. That my self confidence came back and I stopped feeling too “fucked up” to be loved. Unfortunately it’s a bit more of a process than that; however, my sense of self worth is getting better. My personality has started to come back out of hiding. I’ve become much more open about my thoughts on metal health. It takes a lot of mindfulness and somedays way more effort than it feels like it should to constantly remind myself of who I am—who I truly am.
It was a difficult lesson for me to learn, but you are the only person who get’s to determine your self worth. Not a boyfriend, or anyone else in your life—friends, relative, coworker, and especially not an ex. Putting this breakup into perspective ended up being one of the first steps I’ve had to take to learn to love myself again. When I look back on all of it now, it’s so much easier to see how young we were and how his actions probably weren’t just about my past eating disorder. It’ll always be my worse breakup but when asked about it now, I just refer to it as, “That one time I got a kitten with my boyfriend and then he dumped me the next day! I ended up with a cat named after his favorite soccer player but I love the cat anyways. Cats are awesome.”
GRETCHEN IS A WRITER-BASED IN PORTLAND, ORE. SHE GOT HER START AS A JOURNALIST WORKING ON THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION AND RESTAURANT BEAT BEFORE MOVING INTO COPYWRITING AND ADVERTISING WORK. SHE CURRENTLY BLOGS AND WORKS AS A FREELANCE WRITER.