I recently ended a long-term relationship with my first love. It was the right thing for me to do. Our relationship had become more of a burden than a joy. In short, the relationship was not healthy for me. Rather than going stag to a Halloween party, I brought a new friend of mine. A male friend. Only a friend. At the function, I ran into a woman I had once dined with at a colleague’s birthday dinner. She is in her mid-thirties, particularly articulate, very outspoken, and appears to live life fearlessly. I liked her when I first met her and was pleasantly surprised to run into her again. My enthusiasm was short lived.
She told me in the kitchen that my date was “cute” and asked if we were dating. I told her the story of our newfound friendship and the odd relationship he has with his girlfriend. She immediately became forceful, informing me not only to never date him, but to also not be friends with him. “Now is the time to be picky,” she said. “Start with a clean slate! Pick someone worthy of you! Avoid anyone with baggage. You don’t need baggage.”
While in principle I agree with her, it became increasingly clear to me that she herself is lugging around a great deal of baggage. Our conversations throughout the evening always turned back to her failed relationships. How abuse in relationships can be sneaky and that even remotely controlling men are, in their own way, abusive. I did not argue with her, but her persistence and hostility made me uncomfortable.
At the party, I spoke to many people I had met before. Perhaps I have a natural way of putting people at ease, or they had all consumed copious amounts of alcohol, but they all opened up to me about the relationships they were in or had just gotten out of. No one I spoke to seemed happy or satisfied. Everyone had baggage.
I never thought that at twenty-two, I too would have emotional baggage, but I do. I realized in the weeks following my break up how angry and hurt I really was. My former boyfriend continued to try to make contact with me. His actions were particularly manipulative. I realized that he had not changed … he had been the same way when we were together, but I had not seen it. I felt so stupid and angry with myself and I cried. I cried in the shower; I cried when walking my dog; I cried while reading; and I cried when I was doing nothing. But it was a different kind of cry than I had ever experienced. I cried for the person I used to be and all the things I had learned from my relationship. I cried over my frustration with him and with myself. I cried in relief that I would never again have to feel like something in that relationship wasn’t right or like I was not good enough for him. I cried over the fact that I had dodged a bullet and not accepted his marriage proposal. It was cathartic.
My wounds have mostly healed since then. I can now lovingly accept who I was and the mistakes I made. And I believe that I will look back fondly on my first love, but I am not there yet. I am no longer angry. Instead, I have moved on without frustration or malice. I do have baggage, but as my mother always told me: no one gets through life without scars. I will embrace my emotional scars and understand that they have helped me grow into the woman I am becoming.