One of my most unhinged reactions to rejection was when I wrote a letter to an ex on a breadknife using a Sharpie. Though I had no intentions of harming anyone, I can see how alarming such an action would be.
A handsome pre-med had his fun with me and I caught feelings. I found out he had a girlfriend when he invited us both to the same party one night.
I will never forget what she said to me when we met: "Jenée, you're here" she gestured with her hand at shoulder height, "and I'm here", she added motioning above our heads. "You are nothing but poor, white, trash, and that's all you'll ever be."
He told me she could be replaced if I was willing to join a sorority. I thought I was getting revenge on her when I spent the night of the party with him.
I was wrong, I wasn't getting revenge on anyone but myself. We were both children. Intellectually mature people would have seen the truth of the situation; a boy playing girls with fragile egos against one another for his own amusement.
I think the single best piece of advice I got was from an ex-fiancé;
You have to ignore the shit out of your ex for at least six months.
No calls, no texts, no comments on their statuses, no retweets, no snapchats about them if they're on your list: No fucking contact.
I thought this was cruel at the time, and after he ended our long term (I thought) committed, but at the time long-distance relationship via email I was not well.
I needed more mental health and community support than the sibling I was living with could offer, so I was in-patient for 5 days. Mostly what I learned with my visit was how to use dark humor as the last thread of hope; But I certainly didn't know that's what I was learning at the time.
But that breakup taught me another valuable lesson;
When someone decides they're over you, they are. Let it be.
If you are anything like me, this can be the hardest part. No matter the circumstances of my breakups, I would want to know why. It was a burning question that I felt necessary to answer in order to process the loss.
The truth is, we have to turn inward to understand what happened in most cases.
Our society teaches us little about actual adult relationships and how to find them beyond the bar/club scene. We know more about "romance" than we do about navigating the rough courses of our lives with a vulnerable and fallible partner.
I continually sought out the emotionally unavailable, or complete personality mismatches. I honestly had no idea what I was looking for, but I started to hear my mother's voice in the back of my mind: "You have to love yourself before you can love somebody else".
I ignored that advice long enough to get into an emotionally, and at times physically, abusive marriage. I thought by forgiving all the bad things he'd done that I could forgive myself. Instead, he used me for financial support until I no longer offered it, and then tried to have sex with my (male, cis, married) friend.
As usual, I was tested after our breakup. This time I was exceptionally lucky, considering the number of people who came forward telling me of his infidelities, including himself.
Always get tested, especially if you're afraid of the results.
When I started to rewind my relationships, I realized that the presence of alcohol exacerbated just about everything, and often blinded me to serious flaws. I'm not saying it can't be enjoyed in moderation, but I was overwhelmed when I considered how many relationships started over a drink.
Yes, it's hard to make that first move from friendship to a romantic relationship, but it feels so much more intimate when you can't blame it on being tipsy.
And that's what adult relationships are: Getting to know someone extremely intimately.
The last traumatic breakup of my 20's rendered me homeless at 3am in Manhattan, and took me a month to get my cat back. I felt stupid and weak for putting so much trust in a man who was clearly an alcoholic despite his financial success and social connections.
Maybe it was realizing I missed my cat more than I missed that relationship or maybe I had just grown tired of the drama, but I decided not to let alcohol help with anymore of my dating choices.
I also began to realize just how much of my time was spent invested in other people. Learning about their childhood, trying to get along with their friends and family, memorizing their favorite meals, picking up after them, and a myriad of other time consuming relationship details. I was so caught up in other people's lives I wasn't living my own.
I decided I was done throwing away my energy on emotional investments that yielded such poor return. Instead, I began to finally turn inward, and listen to that voice. So I decided to get to know me in hopes I would learn to truly love myself and invest in my future.
Just around that time I met a wonderful man who would become my best friend. He couldn't drink due to an autoimmune condition, so our friendship grew over thousands of texts and hundreds hours of conversations.
I developed romantic feelings for him, and convinced him that we should date. He warned me that he made a terrible boyfriend, so we dated in secret. It was short lived, and I should have listened to the warnings he gave about himself.
When someone tells you their faults and flaws honestly, listen to them. They are doing you a great service.
I didn't talk to him for six weeks after, shortening my usual rule for an exceptional relationship. But we didn't get back together, and I eventually came to appreciate what he offered me.
True, intimate friendship, where you find an intellectual and empathetic connection is invaluable. It is the basis for any healthy long term relationship. Without it, you are literally just fucking around.
Knowing who you are and what you want are the first steps to building something real with another person. Having a lot in common doesn't hurt either. In fact, it will probably come in handy if you're lucky enough to get old with somebody.
I met my SO on a 14 hour, snowy January road trip from Manhattan to Chicago. My friend knew me so well, he was aware of how much I would have in common with his cousin*. So he "innocently" arranged our meeting via a shared commute.
Over the course of the next year I got to know this wonderful man. When we made the decision to start seeing one another officially I had a good idea of what to expect from our relationship and what he expected from me.
The biggest difference between my current relationship and most of my failed past is the mutual respect involved. He is incredibly talented, capable, hard-working, intelligent, and compassionate. I respect and love the person that he is and that I believe he will become. He encourages my passions and endures my storms with patience.
So what would I do if we broke up? Crumble into an absolute mess, most likely. But when I came to I would know something about myself that I didn't before.
I am worthy and capable of loving another, so long as I continue to love myself. The more time I invest in me, the more value I hold.
I did myself a great disservice by ignoring my potential all these years to seek it out in others. Every day that I better myself I become a better partner, or potential partner.