When women speaking on a panel about policy and politics were asked to give advice to their twenty-year-old selves, the first piece was two words: dump him. The room roared with laughter and applause.
The immediacy of the comment and the widespread reaction proved that we had all been there before. We had all been that twenty-year-old girl wondering whether to end a toxic relationship. We had all wondered whether we would be able to be happy without a significant other. We had all forgiven someone who didn’t deserve it because we as women are raised to be accommodating and apologetic above all else.
When It Happens to You
I was that girl last year.
The first time I dumped a boy, I was nineteen. We had discussed breaking up in an abstract sort of way, with the understanding that our relationship would naturally end in the fall when I started at a new school. I broke it off at the beginning of June. I started crying immediately and didn’t stop for a day and a half. I had never wanted to hurt him.
But I had wanted to break up with him for months. I discussed the logistics with my closest friends and my mother. I felt ready. As soon as I felt the words escape from my lips, though, I forgot about everything. For months, I pitied him. I pitied myself. I forgot how he refused to get to know my friends, how he would get so jealous over nothing, how he shamed activities that I enjoyed without him.
We got back together two weeks later. I didn’t know how to feel whole without him. We couldn’t go more than a week without fighting after that. But I had made my bed, so I was forced to lie in it. It was one of the worst summers of my life: absolute misery punctuated with small bouts of feeling that we actually may belong together and a seemingly endless cycle of fighting, not talking, and making up.
I had to block his number in August when his incessant communication made my hands shake with anxiety. The next weekend, I received a message: he claimed that “we were meant to know and help one another.” I finally told him to stop messaging me. I didn’t want to talk. I just wanted to be able to live free of his influence.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling guilty. I don’t think I’ll ever see the past through anything other than rose-colored glasses. I don’t think I’ll stop loving him. But deep down, I know that I did the right thing.
I had the opportunity to let the boy down easily, as intended and when intended. It would have been easier on my conscience at the beginning. It would have allowed me to keep floating through life, letting decisions happen to me and never taking charge.
Something as simple as a breakup gave me the reins in the relationship and the confidence to control the trajectory of my own life. Without a boyfriend, I’ve had to learn how to be myself by myself. I’ve had to love myself instead of relying on another person’s praises.
Since that day, I have grown immensely as a person. I have had highs and lows, wins and losses, triumphs and turmoils. But I wholeheartedly agree that the best way to spark a change is to light the flame. Dump him. Take control. Do it. You may regret it at first, but just trust me. It’ll work out.
Leana Reich is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Cultural and Linguistic Anthropology. She loves to explore cities, particularly by way of coffee shops and museums, and doesn’t properly understand how lucky she is to have lived at the beach her entire life. She does understand how lucky she is to have such an amazing mom as a role model and appreciates her every day.