At the very beginning of this year's summer break, just after finishing my junior year of university (my busiest year yet), I broke up with my boyfriend of three years, cut all my hair off and left the country. If I tried to term this quick succession of rash actions something as lighthearted as "spontaneity," I would be lying to myself and my closest friends would call me out on it immediately, since they know how much I depend on a schedule. This was not spontaneity by a long-shot; this was panic.
Had I been asked by someone about my plans after graduation this time last year, I would have spoken pretty confidently, yet vaguely on plans of grad school, moving to some city, and maybe even a hint to an engagement ring. Having just come off the high of an incredible Spring semester abroad in London, I was comfortably banking on going with the flow for the next few years and ending up somewhere, preferably NYC or my newfound hometown of London, with my significant other. We had dated since high school, survived a long-distance relationship for about a year, and then an even longer-distance relationship while I was abroad, so I believed that we would beat the odds and be high-school sweethearts forever. We even wrote letters to each other with pens and stamps and everything. What a show of devotion and love; what a story to tell our kids; what an accomplishment.
What went wrong?
To be utterly and annoyingly honest, I do not know what changed, but for some reason, I began to notice an unquenchable restlessness in me after coming back from London. The comfortable vision of a future that I had in my mind was losing its charm, but I ignored the loss of luster, because after a three year long relationship, being together forever is basically a done-deal. The itch to be rid of the pains of college life, and move on to bigger and better things was insatiable, and I was both nervous and excited for whatever my future would hold. I kept myself busy, while waiting for "real life" to begin by throwing myself into every school club and organization that remotely interested me.
Later on in the school year, I had a bouldering accident which left me on crutches with a badly twisted ankle. I was feeling pretty lame, in every sense of the word. For about two and a half weeks during the last month of the semester, I was hobbling around my small college campus, running late to classes and meetings and missing out on some pre-summer outdoor activities and traditions because of both my temporary handicap and chronic frustration with the lack of order in my schedule.
Just as I had begun to get back into shape; just as last minute finals projects and papers were in critical need of being finished; just as I was about to move up in the proverbial food chain and take on some end-of-the-year responsibilities for all the clubs I had gotten involved in, I was forced to take a pause.
I had not registered said pause in my carefully written out plans, and this is what prompted the panic. It gave me the time that I did not know that I needed to put a magnifying glass up to my penciled-in future; I mean, what else was I supposed to do while sitting in my room, elevating my ankle all day?
I saw the things I hated the most, like lazy complacence, settling/settling down, and maybe even a quick fix to a hidden fear of dying alone. In a brief moment of clarity, I realized that what I had set up for myself and what I thought I had wanted for the past three years, was really not what I needed at all. The idea of "real life," as real as marriage, a job, having kids, potentially beginning right after graduation frightened me like a wide-eyed puppy, hiding under the lawn chair on the Fourth of July. Instead of getting married young, settling on a place where both my significant other and I could work, and starting grad school or a real job, I wanted to travel, explore, and figure some things out for myself; by myself. It still makes me uncomfortable to say it out loud, but the relationship that I had cherished for so long seemed to be holding me back. I panicked, because I did not see a way out of it; not an easy way, at least.
The thought of the possibility of maybe breaking up with my boyfriend was frightening, because where would that leave me? The love, dedication, and time we shared was priceless, and as cliche as it sounds, he had become my best friend. Three years of history, trust, and a whole lot of learning, about love, each other, and ourselves was not something I could easily part with; and it never occurred to me that I would want to or have to, until now. The possible doom of a regrettable life weighed on me so heavily, and all I could think of was the choice that was in front of me.
Never have I ever broken up with a guy before in my twenty year old life; luckily, after a long talk over lunch at a popular cafe, complete with a complimentary serving of tears and a little bit of fumbling over the words that needed to be said on the side, the deed was done. My now ex-boyfriend took the news surprisingly well, since he had "kinda sorta" been feeling the same way too. He told me that I was brave for being the one to bring it up, and that we would work on still being friends after the allotted amount of time and space that we both needed from each other was over (little did I know about the rarity of the validation of those words).
We said goodbye as acquaintances, and as I walked away from the cafe alone, blotchy-red, and with mascara stained cheeks, I did not know how to feel. Deep down, I was relieved, but I was also incredibly nervous and lost. The future was rolled out before me, white as a clean sheet of college ruled notebook paper, and I was now one hundred percent in control of what to do with it.
After a brief period of guilt-ridden grief, filled with P.S. I Love You, hermit-like tendencies, and social media fasting, I came to my senses and stopped feeling sorry for myself for having done the right thing. I cut off the long ringlet curls I had kept for my entire college career and let their absence represent a kind of "starting over." My focus then went to the rest of the summer ahead of me; time and space away to be on my own was exactly what I needed, so I traveled to Spain with my family to do some hiking, touring, and a little bit of finding myself.
At the present moment, I am studying abroad in Madrid at a Spanish institute, making new international friends, practicing my Spanish, and trying not to let grammatical mistakes shame me into silence when in conversation. The new wave of independence has left me thinking of possible future plans that I never would have considered before; they make my heart reverberate with adrenaline and nerves. They are the kind of nerves that make you jittery, out of sheer excitement and anxiety over the limitless unknown.
I do not know if I will end up being a yogi in Seattle who rides a bike to work and sells homemade jams, or an internationally renowned wildlife photographer, living in Edinburgh with a string of lovers around the world, but I do know that if there is one thing certain in this great unknown, it is that I am in control of my destiny. I can make my future what I want it to be, with a clear head, some hard work, and a little bit of bravery to face all of the things that cannot be planned for.