Life at the End of 23

I’ve been avoiding this post for just about a month now. It’s the one that’s been on my mind the most, and the one I’m not supposed to talk about. But it’s my birthday, and if the first 23 years have taught me anything, it’s you do what you want on your birthday—it’s one of the few times you can get away with it.

Here it goes…

When you break up with someone it’s sort of like being stripped of your identity. Even though you’re the same person physically, you feel people don’t view you the same—that somehow you’re different, damaged goods maybe.

At least that’s how I felt.

After nearly 2 years of dating, or rather being all-consumed by the same person, I found myself suddenly single, and within weeks, her suddenly not. It was undeniably over and I didn’t have a single thing to show for it—not a brand new object of my affection, not an imaginary faith to lean on, not even a string of post break-up Facebook photos to show. I had let friends of days gone by slip away while I had fallen deeper and deeper into a relationship destined for nowhere. Then suddenly, in a moment’s notice, I had been exposed. I had been the one left behind. Slowly, I felt my sense of normalcy give way to the complete unknown.

I was angry. I was livid. I was devastated and paralyzed with hurt.

How was I going to tell my friends? Better yet, what was I going to tell them? How could I explain that she had found someone new already when I could barely even explain what was going on. I wasn’t even sure we were broken up. Just a week earlier she had called to complain about her life, just like she always had. A week before that we went to lunch, she had even shown up at my house unexpectedly a few nights before that…

How would her family treat me now? How would her friends treat me? What about the mutual friends? Well that was easy—her friends took her side, my friends didn’t care either way. And the mutual friends? Turns out there’s no such thing. Then there was her dog. I loved that damn dog. We had been through hell and back together. I would have given the world to keep him. And then there was her. How do you go from talking about marriage with someone to pretending they don’t exist?

Twenty-five days later, I’ll tell you how.

You wake up early, fight an hour’s worth of traffic to work, focusing on the music so closely you don’t have time to think about her. You work hard enough that people start to take notice in a big way. You obsess over earning their respect. You up your gym time from three days a week to six. You drop your mile time by a minute. You go up in bench for consecutive weeks because it feels good to hurt. It’s the only kind of hurt you allow yourself to feel. You go to the mall and pick out a new pair of Rainbow sandals, because let’s face it, it was time. You get a haircut, one that says I’m here to steal your girlfriend and if you’re not careful your Mom, too. You switch your music from the typically whiny, emo, indie alt rock you normally listen to, to straight up Lil Wayne (before he went Jay Sean soft), Eminem, Gorilla Zoe and a little Rise Against mixed in for variety.

You pick up when someone calls. When anyone calls. You don’t wait for people to ask you to hang out on a Friday night. You call them and tell them where to meet you. On a Wednesday night. And then again on a Thursday. And especially on Friday. But don’t even think about sitting out on Saturday. You can sleep when you’re dead. You call people you haven’t talked to in years. You call people you don’t expect to pick up and then you talk to them like you don’t expect them to hang up. You live your life knowing that no matter what you are still you and that people will either appreciate you or not, but not because of the person you’re dating. Not the ones worth keeping around at least.

As I’m living this, there are good days and there are tough days. There is no such thing as a bad day—I won’t allow it. Each day comes and goes, and steadily I’ve started to realize people don’t treat me any differently just because it’s now only “me” instead of “we.” In fact, most people don’t even seem to notice. Or in some cases they are just glad to have someone reaching out to them for once.

It’s ok to hurt when someone you love leaves your life. But it’s not ok to let that hurt hold you back from your life. Unless it’s your birthday—it’s one of the few times you can do what you want…