"How's the wedding planning coming along?"
For any other woman engaged to her boyfriend of nearly a decade, that question, when posed by a dear relative, would be met with a barrage of details about the wedding dress, venue, theme, and colour scheme. For me, the question triggered a wave of anger, sadness, and anxiety as I, yet again, had to explain why my wedding was off and my relationship with the person I'd been dating since before I could drive had come to an end.
Breakups can be life-changing no matter how long you were with your significant other, but if you're paying attention, they can also be life-affirming. My ex and I knew each other when we were young and at the most awkward time in our lives, but as we grew and morphed into quasi-adults, I've only recently begun to process that maybe he could tell we were going in different directions while I was busy thinking of names for our future children. After nine years together, though we were in "will they, won't they" land for a subsequent four years, my ex pulled the plug on our relationship. Here's why I know it was the right thing to do.
We Avoided a Painful Divorce
Even though the breakdown of our relationship took more than a year and we did rounds of breakups and makeups for what seemed like an eternity, I'm grateful that he had the foresight to call things off before we reached the altar. We graduated high school and college with our love intact, made it through being jobless during the recession, and moved to Los Angeles to follow our dream careers, but those life changes are child's play compared to the thought of tying the knot and watching our marriage crumble before our eyes. The pain, anger, and confusion that resulted after our split is something that we both have had to make peace with through therapy and spirituality, and if the end of our engagement was that traumatic, I can only imagine how devastated we would have been had we made it to that October wedding date. My experience has also all but confirmed for me that marriage may not be what's best for my life's purpose, and it's a lesson I got when I needed it the most.
I Was Spared From Chronic Hook-Up Culture
When you're with someone from the time you're a teen until you're well into your late 20s, you've missed a lot of the formative dating habits and rituals that others know all too well. I didn't dip my toes in the dating pool until I turned 27, and by then, I missed the phase of having to mull over what to text a crush and feeling insecure about if a guy liked me or not. I developed a confidence in myself during my committed relationship, both as a partner and as a woman, which has helped me avoid many of the landmines that are common in the early days of dating. My time with my ex was like experiencing four relationships on one, and I now know that, for me, that was what I needed for my own personal journey.
"Breakups can be life-changing . . . but if you're paying attention, they can also be life-affirming."
I Needed to Grow on My Own
If it weren't for my ex-fiancé, I may not have left the city where I grew up to pursue a career as a writer. If it wasn't for our breakup, I know I wouldn't have done many of the things that now give me so much joy, like taking time to mentor teenage writers and travelling solo. I turned to those as a result of my breakup, and I'm confident that having to cope with losing my partner taught me that I should always strive to get out of my comfort zone.
My Priorities Now Serve My Purpose
I can freely admit that when I was with my ex, I was a different person. This was especially true when I tried to save our relationship. But through having to rebuild my life and redirect my focus following our breakup, I began to discover other things that now leave me feeling equally as fulfilled as I did when our relationship was intact. Meditation and studying Buddhism were some of the coping tools I employed to make sense of who I was after my breakup, yet I'm not sure I would have sought to try either if I were still in that relationship. I have shifted the practices, people, and responsibilities that mean the most to me to serve every element of my life, and I wouldn't have gotten to this point if I'd stayed in the only relationship I had ever known.
My Ex and I Can Just Be Friends Again
One of the biggest lessons my ex and I have both had to recognise is that we'll always be in each other's lives. Our particular situation is even more intertwined due to the fact that our moms are BFFs and next-door neighbours, but so much of who we are now as 30-something adults was shaped when were teenage sweethearts and 20-somethings lovers. There are elements of my life that I know only he would understand, and he admits that my wanderlust has inspired him to travel more since we parted ways. If I'm grateful for anything that came out of our painful breakup, it's that the boy who became my boyfriend who became my fiancé and turned into my ex is now still a friend.