We all have a story to tell. We are all connected. But sometimes, those who love us and that we love stay only a season. A chapter may end, but with it, brings a new beginning.
My story is that when I was in high school, I was thirteen dating a seventeen year old. His name was Dan, and he was from Milwaukee, Wisconsin while I was from Pittsburgh, PA. We had met on a self help forum where I gave advice to people twice my age.
It wasn’t meant to be a longterm relationship, and in fact, we stayed just friends a few years after breaking up. I stayed with him all the way up until he was in college. He even mailed me a Promise Ring.
I lost that ring. I left in the bathroom in my high school. When I walked out, I immediately realized I no longer had it on. I turned around and went into the bathroom and walked by the sinks. It was no longer there. Stolen.
I took this as a sign and broke up with Dan the next day. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time. Not necessarily because of the age difference or the distance but because well, I have a belief that you must move on from your first love to experience other things.
We stayed friends on and off through the years. And then I turned seventeen. I became angry at him. I couldn’t imagine being with a thirteen year old. I stopped replying to his messages, and stopped appreciating what he had been in my life.
Time had been taken from me. I realized that season had to pass, but I had connected with him emotionally and intellectually. I was confused. Was I different?
Outgrowing people became a pattern for me.
I would learn to love and then at a certain point, need to let go.
This happened until I entered my twenties. I was engaged to someone I thought I would spend my whole life with.
Then, I went away to summer camp to be a camp counselor. I had no time to text or even email but I was able to mail letters. I sent one, and I never heard back. So, I didn’t send anymore.
I began to think of Dan again how he would send me things all the time during our long distant relationship. It was a confusing experience, but he made me feel valued.
I looked at my engagement ring and thought about throwing it out onto the water. And that’s when everyone I was leading came into the cabin to see me crying. I lied and said I had been hoping my parents would visit me and that they were not able to. But it was more than that.
I had found love again, and it was failing me.
I still loved him though. My fiance and I didn’t have one big falling out. We broke up over time, and he didn’t fill my needs. He would often try to take credit for me or break up with me just to prove I needed him. Strange games like that.
That’s when I forgave Dan. A love that wasn’t meant to last because of how it began- with an exceptional age difference at such a young age. But he influenced me. He influenced me to see that people need attention, cared for, respected and more. He never mistreated me. It was just wrong in itself.
That example led me to learn that I wasn’t happy with my fiance. Somehow, Dan had served my life in setting that bar. He made me recognize I wasn’t meant for a mediocre love story. I was meant to be adored.
And now, single, I sit here writing that my fiance and I ended it and I didn’t want it to end. I was in the middle of wedding planning, desperately holding on besides the bittersweet example set by Dan. I got a text that it was over and a disappearance act from my fiance’s side.
I let go. I sold the ring. I payed the deposits to my wedding even though my fiance was also responsible. MY name was on the contracts. He wouldn’t pay. His father would contact me to tell me that. Thank God it was only the deposits for the cancellations.
It was over. I looked into writing a book, modeling, brand consulting, writing self help, speaking and more to find myself. I even left a teaching program that I went into right after the breakup to find ME.
Departures. When you give in but you don’t give up. I mean that in terms of relationships. You let go of love but not of the concept of love. You let go that person but not the idealization of relationships or what they should be. You give into life’s flow.
Dan was a bittersweet experience for me because it set the stage for my future relationships. I made sure I found sincerity and always started on a blank page which each new person, leaving baggage behind.
Dan haunted me, too. I was so young when I met him that he was all I had known. Due to our age difference in our teen years, he won every argument. I barely had a voice or a say but I learned so much from him. I go through grief, wanting revenge, anger, love, loss, regret and more at the memory of him as my first love that was too soon and too much. But it saved me from my fiance’s lack of character. Dan had given me attention after all. My fiance had not. My fiance’s test had been when I went away to camp. He wouldn’t adapt to my independence. Having known a long distance relationship, I knew what to do to make it work. He refused to recognize that relationships take work on both sides.
I miss him. I miss him everyday though. There will be no other like him. Each person adds to the seasons of our lives in different ways and in different lessons.
We must never settle though.
I departed from each experience in life a stronger, more independent woman and always thought about Dan and the example he set in expectations which my future fiance would not meet.
One day, I stopped blaming Dan for stealing something from me- that time in my life. Instead of making friends, I was extremely committed to my then boyfriend in high school. I only made time for him, school and volunteering. Girls were not good to me either. I modeled and rather than being happy for me, many got jealous and caddy.
And that’s when I realized I had a consistent support system in high school from an older boy even my parents did not understand but did not interfere with. His role in my life was complex. He was the friend I had always needed, but he played the part of the one in control of everything.
And then I think of the promise ring that I had lost, given to me by him. If I had not lost it, would he still be here? Was it a sign? I’ll never know.
Most of us will never know the outcome of past lover’s lives. But the details don’t matter. It’s the bond that was built even if the bridge had been burnt. I was burned. I always knew I had to let him go. When I was thirteen, it was comforting to have someone older to turn to. When I was seventeen, I became disturbed that he had courted me at so young an age. When I was twenty, I learned my fiance did not love me the way Dan had so I had to end it. When I was twenty one, my engagement officially ended, and I found myself thinking of Dan’s bittersweet legacy in my life.
I am twenty six now, and I am still confused by the curveballs of life. What seemed magical almost now seems mundane. When I had loved had turned into loss. Departing from me always, I learned people were meant for certain seasons.
At the time I was with Dan, I was a student who was gifted in some areas and struggled in others. Dan helped me to prosper in high school, and he even went to dances with me flying all the way from Wisconsin. I used it to isolate myself though from trying to make friends in high school and at these events. I used it as a shield. And so it served its purpose for me.
When my fiance came into my life, we balanced each other out at first until I became more independent. I needed to breathe. I had been with someone since I was thirteen years old.
I had never been alone.
And yet, I was always alone because I did not know myself and therefore, others could not know me.
I learned the hard way to give up, let go, breathe, live and find independence and self worth when I was finally twenty.
Dan comes to mind less and less these days, but his absence is both a blessing and a curse. He was someone I could turn to rather than solve problems on my own.
We all have that someone we need to say goodbye to in our lives. Sometimes, we don’t say goodbye even when they are gone. We wait to get over them before we live life. But it is in the living of life where we find strength to start over.
Starting over single is one of the toughest things a person can do. When someone departs our life in whatever manner, we are reluctant to let go. We hold onto the memories and idealize the person or the past or both. For me it was both. The person became more powerful when I held onto them after they let me go. I needed them more than when I had been with them.
What I didn’t realize — until now — is that even more so, I needed myself.
Finding myself has been the journey of my twenties. Letting go is the key strength and struggle of this time period. Realizing people serve a purpose in our lives that may be temporary was the biggest wakeup call I’ve ever had. And I’ve had many.
In order to prosper, we must learn to let go. In order to breathe, we must learn self worth. And in order to love, sometimes, we must depart. Departing is a sign and signal of resiliency. It means you are able and capable of living your own life without need of someone else. That’s what Dan taught me. Once I let him go, I learned to fend for myself and pick better partners. I learned how to be a person with boundaries who picks up on red flags sooner than most. I learned how to be a better friend and forgive my enemies. I learned not see everything as black or white. Dan and his departure from my life was bittersweet. He taught me time and distance do not matter with love. He was the child blanket I held onto.
I learned attachment isn’t always love. When I was leaving my childhood at the age of thirteen, I found attachment. It became a pattern.
That pattern can be broken when we learn to give without expectations, set boundaries for ourselves and find patience. Departures don’t have to break us. The bittersweet legacy someone leaves is a gift. Until you truly let them go or let them be for the season that they were meant, you will not receive that gift. You will not prosper.
Let them depart and for once, stand tall. You made it without them a moment more than you thought. Let there be another moment and the next. Baby steps.
Originally published at medium.com