So, it goes like this: every April, for the past 3 years, I have spent in the aftermath of some kind of breakup. Now I’m sure I would be able to recognize this fact, and have it not bothered me if I met any definition of what it means to be a “chill girl.” However, I am anxiously attached and have a borderline concerning interest in behavior and relationship patterns. My therapist loves telling me to “stay present” and “focus on the moment.” If you know, you know. If you don’t: Congratulations, but why are you reading this? To know me is to have everything you do quietly analyzed while I blindly trust you and ignore any red flags. I am like Ferdinand the Bull in the Plaza De Toros: overwhelmed, potentially colorblind, and constantly waiting for someone to be nice to me. Also desperately wishing I had some flowers.
On the other side of this unfortunate coin: I am unable to successfully cultivate an interest in astrology that would, I am positive, allow me to use the planets as an excuse for why I am always crying in April. I watch the TikToks, I read my horoscope, I know my big three plus my Venus sign, but I can’t bring myself to go any further. Maybe it’s the math aspect of it. I have an acute fear of angles (tell me you didn’t roll your eyes at that one) and astrology seems filled with them. There’s a reason that my approach in upper-level math classes has always been to make the teacher like me enough to tell me the answers and it is not because I have always had nice math teachers.
This aversion to real astrology also completely kills my street cred as a card-carrying leftist bisexual who likes alternative milk and pretty dresses. That and the fact that I refuse to ever dye my hair. Dear reader, we are only at the beginning, and not only do I have bad luck in April, but I’ve painted myself as the annoying straight woman who virtue-signals as a hobby and calls herself bi because she kisses girls at bars for free shots from men who majored in finance. I promise I am not that woman and if you stick with me, I will prove it now. We just need to go back to the beginning. After all, this is supposed to be about my breakups, not my routine identity crises; not that the two don’t go hand in hand.
The beginning here refers to April 2020. Remember that? The world was falling apart, and we were all pretending bread was easy to make and instant coffee was good if it looked aesthetically pleasing. I had just emergency evacuated out of Paris with my best friend, cutting our long-planned spring break trip short. Right before our vacation, at the end of February, I had dabbled in one-night stands by sleeping with a frat bro I was categorically uninterested in. Though we shared a friend group which made him a remarkably easy target. The sex wasn’t good and the disappointment he seemed to be feeling when I woke him up as I was leaving in the morning was worse. Picture: a hug from a grizzly bear that’s trying to insist you stay for breakfast. Upon my return from the city of love and lights, I discovered a 13-hour playlist on his Spotify expressing his undying love for me. We did not speak again. I do not feel bad about this, but it is okay if you think I am the villain in this situation. To make us both feel better I will tell you that he told his frat brothers that I was bad in bed after refusing to go down on me for more than 7 minutes but insisting that I let him get inside me repeatedly, waking me up more than once to do so. Sorry to bury the lede, but this is not breakup number one. Just the precursor and almost a catalyst to the tawdry and high school-esque (if you attend high school on the CW network) affair I am about to describe to you.
To set the scene: I am alone in my bedroom in my mother’s house in rural Virginia, I attend Zoom university by day and redownload Tinder by night. I was possessed with a need to fill the romance-shaped hole that prematurely leaving Paris had left. Please don’t tell me that I should’ve downloaded Bumble or Hinge if I wanted romance. I am aware of the facts, but you are talking to someone that had Hot-or-Not at 14. I am a traditionalist. I was back on Tinder with my gender preference set to women and my set distance minimum to 10 miles back toward civilization. This is how I discovered Skater Girl. I really should say re-discovered as I had been in a class with her a year prior and immediately remembered her face. She did not remember me but did remember the class and told me that I ‘totally’ should have spoken to her at the time. She knew all the lines and I am a master of the swoon. Or what some may call being a complete sucker when I get the smallest crumb of positive attention. We quickly switched over to texting which turned out to be frequent and surprisingly romantic sexting. We moved too far too fast and before I knew it, I was offering to drive over to her parents’ house and bring her a piece of the Easter cake I had made.
P.S. If you’re reading this and we’ve dated and I’ve given you a baked good, I promise it is just as special each time and I never gift the same confection to any lover twice. Scout’s honor.
She accepted the proposition and snuck me into her bedroom. She kissed me under the TikTok lights and told me she loved the way I talked about books. We did things that night I still use to prove to myself that my attraction to women is not a figment of my imagination. I climbed back in my window at 3 a.m. more excited than I had any right to be. I snuck out one more time at her prompting and that was the last time I saw her. She ghosted me a few days later.
I decided I was heartbroken, but looking back I found I was just grieving her in place of grieving my grandmother, who had passed in January. I was sad about the loss of romance but crushed by this feeling that I was always being left behind. I called Isabelle, my best friend, sobbing and incoherent that I “didn’t know how to do this”. I’m still trying to pinpoint what that ‘this’ is. Being alone? Being vulnerable? Trusting someone? If any of those are the answers, reader, I am proud of the adult I have grown into that is a certified professional in all aforementioned skills.
In June, newly moved out of my mother’s house, I invited Isabelle over and we got appallingly drunk on purple wine and drunk-dialed her. Three times. We weren’t interested in anything but having someone over 21 buy us more booze. She didn’t answer but did text and we had a conversation. As close to closure as one could get. She ghosted again the next morning and I finally agreed that it was for the best. I had not missed some great love of my life. I had missed out on someone who genuinely believed Scream Queens to be well written but thought liking Clueless was embarrassing. Please use this story as proof to never be embarrassed by a drunk text. Or call. Or a succession of calls. I certainly never will be. And if you’re looking for a moral? Avril Lavigne was wrong, and you should not be trying to be writing songs in the studio with the sk8r boi or girl. There’s a reason the ballerina and all her friends turned up their noses.
This next story might be a bit long. Friend breakups are the hardest ones to talk or write about especially when they are as messy as the one, I am about to recount. You are going to be given a couple of tasks during this story so prepare yourself. They are necessary to the integrity of the tale. Rhiannon (an alias that only she and those closest to her will understand) was my sorority “Big” but in many ways also a little sister to me. For a moment I am asking you to not judge me for joining a sorority. I judge myself for it every day. Rhiannon was one of my dearest friends and we didn’t go a day without talking. (Red Flag 1: codependent?) At our best, we trusted each other with our lives, and we went to every measure possible to avoid having the worst. (Danger Will Robinson.) We built ourselves up so high that we were bound to break. Reader, I want you to find whatever item you own that you consider a good luck charm. Or just an object you treasure greatly. Hold onto it while you read this and think about where you got it, what it means to you. When I first met Rhiannon, I gave her a four-leaf clover I had found a few days prior. She kept it for as long as I knew her and thinking of where it ended up is the only part of this story that still breaks my heart. But the point of this essay is not the beginning. It is the endings and where they leave us. Where we go after.
Rhiannon and I ended because of a miscommunication. Or lack of communication? I broke our cardinal rule and honestly criticized her. Well, the job she was doing as chapter president. I could tell she was shaken after, but I was too stubborn to take it back because I felt it shouldn’t have any bearing on our friendship. Especially considering I was part of the panel that slated her for the job in the first place. I thought our friendship was stronger. Should be stronger. I was wrong and she got distant, and I got angry. We never talked about it. I got tired and finally asked if she was upset. She promised she wasn’t but said that she “needed space”. (Cue Taylor Swift singing “we are never ever ever . . .”) So I knew? Decided? That it was over then and there. Which word is accurate doesn’t matter so much anymore. She didn’t sign up to give me a speech at my senior sendoff. I invited Elise and she made the speech. Rhiannon logged off early and blocked us both on Instagram. I got drunk and edited all the Instagram posts she was in, changed the captions to solidify the break up. Make it public. Our chapter went wild and took sides. I let the hurt make me mean and basked in the attention. Treating every question like my own personal TMZ interview kept me afloat just long enough to deal with the round 2 with my G-Big. Did you know, reader, that receiving paragraphs calling you a bully and attacking you for, admittedly badly, reacting to the loss of a best friend is incredibly damaging to the psyche and self-esteem? I didn’t realize how much this time had worn me down until recently. Thinking about it is still exhausting and something I should probably bring up with my therapist. Anyway, the end of the story goes like this: we never spoke again, and I still texted her happy birthday anyway. I am okay with never being unblocked and I hope she is okay wherever she is. I don’t wish we could’ve worked it out, that was never in the cards for us. I do wish we had ended in the summer, just so the whole event could have been less of a bang, more of a whimper.
The ending of this story is not the conclusion. The conclusion is the long year of thinking I have done since. All the hardship and happiness I have gone through without her. How the being without her hasn’t made the sadness any worse or taken away from the joy. This is a story of life going on. Mine did and yours will even in these earth-shattering, universe-restructuring moments. Humans are stubborn. We will always rebuild and always get better. I am going to give you the most important moment in my friendship with Rhiannon. It happened weeks before the end. We were sitting in my car drinking painfully bad milkshakes and I played her “Friends Don’t” by Maddie & Tae while showing her a playlist I made about an old friend I was crushing on. Your next task is to go listen to this song or at least read the lyrics. Sit in what the song is saying.
Rhiannon looked at me and said, “this is us . . . except the romantic stuff of course.”
I agreed with her, but it was a lie. I felt so guilty in that moment both for the lie and the fact that I didn’t feel the way she felt. It’s the one thing I still feel guilty about. In my dreams, I see her again and we both get the opportunity to say that we’re sorry. If there is a lesson here it is to always hash out the ugly. The words we swallow are like a tapeworm, you won’t notice it’s eating you until there’s nothing left.
This year there was S. No nickname or alias was suitable. His story isn’t funny or ironic or tragic or bitter. Well, maybe it’s still a little bitter, the way arugula is when you haven’t chewed it long enough. Forgive me for a lack of perspective, I’m writing this less than a month after its ending. I can’t help but romanticize something so recent. This story still means too much for me to divulge many of its more intimate details. I still have too much love for the happiness I lived in here to make it anyone’s but mine. And his if he holds on to any part of it too. And even suggesting that feels like a gamble because the only thing he liked more than new beginnings was his over-the-top sunglasses.
Nevertheless, let the snapshot of memories I am about to give you play in your mind like the best romantic montage a girl living in the real world might have; movies, glances, breakfasts, baked goods, laughter, eyebrow raises, drunk texts (the happy kind), Taylor Swift, Arctic Monkeys, and a lot of good sex. Things didn’t go wrong as much as they just didn’t go. A slow build of momentum and then a slamming of brakes. An “I’m sorry,” and “I thought I could, but I can’t,” and a pinky-swear that I had done nothing wrong. (Reader, if you would have trouble believing that we are alike. If you wouldn’t, send me a telepathic message as to how.) I was wearing my favorite lip gloss when it happened and haven’t been able to find the tube since. I bought a new lip gloss. I cook and drink beer and light candles and clean and try to think about the lessons I learned that make the pain of loss worth something. The most important lesson I learned is this: that kindness and passion can coexist. Never having had an example of that, it was easy to assume the two were mutually exclusive. My parents had three kids in seven years and did nothing but fight. Passion, no kindness. My friends complain about being unsatisfied with their respectable, meet-the-parents boyfriends: kindness, no passion. When I dated my abuser, passion meant violence, and kindness was the soothing balm ensuring I wouldn’t leave. I can’t prove it, but I swear watching someone change from villain to hero that fast is the reason I still have neck pain today.
This year, I got lucky. I met someone who showed me that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. And that passion doesn’t always mean pain (and get your mind out of the gutter thank you very much). One of my best friends met him and liked him. So much so that on the day he ended things, and she had texted me gushing over how good we seemed together. How happy I seemed. (If your jaw dropped at the cruelty of the universe, you’re not alone) I’ve thought about the possibility that someone actually publishes this, and he reads it. Don’t let this next line fool you: the idea of this freaks me out so much I want to throw up. But if he did, I’d want to leave something here for him like “we both know I don’t really drink coffee, but I’d make an exception if you ever wanted to get some and sit and talk”. And reader I know what you are thinking but I am not pining. I am simply reminiscing on a good thing. I have been starting over for a long time and while it never gets easier, this time it is at least nice to know that there isn’t always a natural disaster behind me. That occasionally, I lose someone I wouldn’t mind coming across in a “found” box at some point in time. Maybe this lesson will change as I get older. If it does, I can only hope it never hardens into something harsher.
Before I finish here, I want to tell you a very public secret. After skater girl ghosted, I made an absolutely heart wrenching playlist about always being left behind. About feeling like I’m too much for people. I contributed a couple songs to it in the Summer of 2020 but haven’t touched it since. The track listing looks like this:
- hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but i have it — Lana Del Ray
- American Spirit — Kathryn Gallagher
- Caring is Creepy — The Shins
- Just Like Heaven — The Cure
- Liability — Lorde (I know, I know)
- Land Locked Blues — Bright Eyes
- West Coast — Coconut Records
- Two Weeks — Grizzly Bear
- mirrorball — Taylor Swift
- Salt In The Wound — boygenius
- The Other Woman — Lana Del Ray
- august — Taylor Swift.
I made a much sadder playlist after Rhiannon, this one didn’t do that breakup justice. It was much more difficult to create a playlist that encapsulated the anger and confusion I felt when Rhiannon left. I was re-evaluating years of friendship while still trying to honor what I felt in the present moment. When I look back on it, I see so much questioning of my role in that relationship. My doubt that I had ever been the friend she wanted to be tied to, along with the shock of seeing another side of her and losing the person I knew became a kind of ultimate heartbreak mixtape. Not as much of an identity crisis, as a realization that I was tired of tamping down my personality to please others. I tried to revisit Skater Girl’s playlist this year also and realized something. I am no longer as scared of being too much for people as I once was. I have found agency, self-love, and confidence. If someone refuses to carry me, it is not my responsibility to make myself lighter. Or grow extra arms. I have learned to trust myself, and to only accept people into my life that don’t make me doubt that trust. I still have hope but not in a desperate, Sylvia Plath kind of way. I am hopeful because I know that I deserve to be. I still make sad playlists, but I don’t listen to them as much as I used to. I have chosen to believe the best in people even when they disappoint me and even when nothing in me wants to.
I am grateful for this growth. For the way I have carried myself through it. You know how when we look at ourselves, or our loved ones every day it is harder to notice the ways our appearances change? Until one day we look completely different than we used to. I seem to have done the same thing with myself. I have checked in on it so frequently I didn’t realize how much it had changed. How I have gotten stronger and softer and braver. How every tear I have shed, every single April has truly given me an even greater garden. People love to say that spring is for rebirth and although I’ve never been one for cliches I am inclined to agree. May we all bloom or flourish — or whatever plants do. Coincidentally, I don’t actually have any. Taking this journey with you may have inspired me to invest in some summer foliage. Isn’t it a beautiful idea? To watch yourself grow alongside something? •