CW: mentions of disease/illness, verbal abuse, and drug usage
In my first year at Pomona College, I would sob on every flight from New York City to Claremont. Each minute that passed ripped me further and further away from someone who I felt I could not exist without. Three years later, the same flight from JFK to LAX no longer fills me with panic, but instead overwhelmingly with relief and comfort.
Relationships always fall on a spectrum of seriousness. In high school, I found it common for relationships to be based largely on close proximity and boredom. Others, like mine, were more serious, and therefore particularly challenging to extricate from because the relationships were so closely linked with personal, cultivated identities.
A great amount of self-development takes place in high school. In adolescent developmental research compiled by the Konopka Institute at the University of Minnesota, two of the major changes cited in regard to late adolescence are: 1) “defining a personal sense of identity,” that is more than just an extension of one’s parents’ identities, and 2) “adopting a personal value system.”
Most of my friends spent their solitary leisure time developing that identity: putting together their repertoire of interests and figuring out what they cared about. Because I spent a huge amount of my non-social ‘alone’ time with the boy I dated in high school, my interests and abstract thoughts were incredibly linked to him.
One arrives at college with an identity they’ve created and developed. What happens, then, if your identity is based largely on someone who is not around?
I ‘broke up’ with my high school boyfriend the night before I came to Pomona. Our relationship, which had already been problematic, escalated into a catastrophe in the months that would follow.
For much of my freshmen year, I did not think I was ever going to feel better. I cried so often that my face stopped looking different after crying. Though everyone told me I would get over it, I did not believe them. Because my relationship was so interdependent, I was sure it would be the exception to the typical ‘get over it and move on’ narrative.
Part of this codependency came from my experience with a lot of hardships in late high school, where I felt he was the way I got through it all.
In senior year alone, I got semi-evicted; my loose cannon sister had a baby, her boyfriend overdosed and died a few days later; and my father was first diagnosed with cancer. This was all just on top of my typical daily travails: financial insecurity, witnessing verbal abuse between my parents on a weekly basis, along with my own personal emotional woes, from body image problems to social anxiety and college applications.
Because I went to a small high school, and everyone’s personal information was on blast 99 percent of the time, I had a lot of support. However, the support received from the boy I was dating was somehow different and profound to me.
Perhaps this is because no matter how horrific I was feeling, his presence was legitimately always uplifting. Our relationship was also a symbol of hope to me. If I was with him, I would surely get out of my current conditions and live a life that was happy, motivated, and normal. When I was dating him, I had no doubt that I would eventually move past my present emotional hardships.
When I got to college and we began speaking less, suddenly, the doubt that I would eventually feel better enveloped my entire being. I cried all the time for a lot of reasons: because I missed having him around, because we fought over the phone constantly, because I was jealous. However, my biggest cause of tears was a fear that I would never feel better.
My intense fear was unnecessary. No matter the circumstances of the relationship, with effort, anyone can get over any kind of break up.
I’ll illustrate. In my first year at college, my biggest fear in all of life was that he would get a girlfriend. I could not fathom something that could make me feel worse. Though that is obviously delusional, I mention it to express just how tethered I was to him.
This past July, he finally did.
At that time, we were back to talking, and had been going back and forth for months about possibly getting back together. Receiving that news from him, and learning that he had been hooking up with this other girl all summer (and probably prior to the summer as well), was my biggest fear realized.
I had pre-existing plans to hang out with another boy the night I found out. I was unsure about going because I felt upset, but I ultimately went.
On the train ride to this person’s apartment, I definitely felt emotional, but I also felt overwhelmingly free. Because the ex-boyfriend’s attainment of a new girlfriend was so next-level terrible to me, I, for the first time, no longer wanted anything to do with him.
An experience that I had for so long assumed would be my downfall actually felt good. Though I am definitely not prescribing hooking up with someone the same day you get pseudo-broken-up with (again), I was fortunate that the subsequent time spent with the apartment boy was pleasant.
The following morning I was lucky enough to go back to a job I loved, where I socialized with people that made me feel good about myself, and appreciated every day of my summer break. I certainly cried here and there, but I was absolutely not heartbroken all over again.
In the past three years, my feelings toward my high school boyfriend have fluctuated dramatically. There have been weeks when I cried to Drake on a daily basis, to weeks when I focused entirely on other relationships, and to weeks when I thought only of myself.
Throughout this time, I came to appreciate the people who filled the space he left. Though I valued my friendships during high school, it was not until I was alone that I was able to fully value my friends. I came to also appreciate the people I hooked up with, because each one exposed me to a new, positive experience that I had not known existed prior.
For example, one of the people I hooked up with toward the end of my first year was interested in me at a time when I was quite sad and had zero self-esteem. Not only did I appreciate him for being interested in me when I felt like no one else was, he was also free in his expressions of affection and care, teaching me to give and to expect such things.
Similarly, over the summer I had a gigantic crush on someone I worked with. He gave me near-constant attention, but made it clear that nothing was going to happen because he was significantly older than me. His clarity allowed me to have a crush that, for the first time, did not make me miserable.
Over the summer, I cared about myself and my friends. I looked forward to going to work because he would flirt with me, but was not heartbroken at the end of the summer when nothing actualized. I learned that I could be interested in someone without it occupying my mind constantly.
On the flight back out to Pomona this year, I ate a bag of SunChips while laughing out loud at “Rampage.” Wherever you are at in your relationships, I urge you to do what you want and what feels right to you. If things are not working out the way you would like them to, just keep me in mind. If I could get over it, you will too.
Micaela Macagnone is a third year at Pomona College majoring in international relations. She is from New York City, and misses bacon egg and cheese sandwiches everyday.