Falling in love with your best friend is not a suggestion worth heeding, no matter how good it looks on paper. Unnecessary complications are likely to ensue, which can ultimately lead to the dissolution of a beautiful friendship. But being the hard-headed hopeless romantic I was, I took a leap of faith and gave it a try. (All those love songs and made-for-TV movies I loved so much did say it would be easy anyway.)
Looking back, my heart was the most broken and bruised it had ever been; it’s amazing how I was able to gaslight myself into thinking I was happy. I genuinely thought we were going to last forever until the day I was dumped. Through muffled sobs, I watched as my ex broke up with me over text, spewing the typical “we had the right love at the wrong time” bullshit yet still managing to reel me in hook, line, and sinker.
The breakup seeped into all aspects of my life until it completely corroded me. I couldn’t talk or think about anything else for weeks. At some point, I sank so deep into depression that I was incapable of feeling any physical sensation until a friend of mine discovered that my ex had started dating the very girl he’d told me not to worry about. I’ll admit the process wasn’t instant; betrayal is a bitch and healing is anything but easy, linear, and free of alcohol. But the minute the rose-tinted glasses came off, there was no turning back. I didn’t know I was in a toxic relationship until I was out of it.
I had known my ex for years before we got together so I had full confidence that I knew exactly what I was getting into. But many of his insecurities only manifested in private. We both applied to our dream university and, when I was the only one of us who got in, he was indifferent to my success. In an attempt to gain control over some part of my life, I had to give him an inordinate amount of attention as some juvenile test of loyalty: I was to reply to messages even during class hours, and spend my breaks either traveling to where he was or thinking of ways to see him again.
Through the nine months we managed to last, red flags popped up frequently and I chose to see them in shades of pink and orange. When our time was finally up and I no longer had to report to a boyfriend who felt more like a supervisor, everything started to fall into place. My grades finally went up because I could focus on my coursework. I found myself endlessly interested in class discussions on philosophy and psychology now that my eyes weren’t fixated on a phone screen hidden in the pocket of my jeans. I had time to make friends and go out.
Best of all, I thrived in my writing in a way that would have driven him to the point of insanity. I was finally free to dabble in my craft and share and talk about my work on social media as much as I wanted. I lavished in the praise I was given and allowed myself to celebrate my success without having to fear anyone’s misplaced bitterness. During this time in my life, I was probably the happiest I had ever been—so much so that everyone took notice and made sure to remind me every chance they got. I was often told that my ex was going to regret what he did. “Won’t be long before he comes crawling back,” I’d hear from well-meaning friends. These comments only grew more frequent when he started begging me to talk to him again.
Normally my affirmation-deprived self would have been stunned—perhaps even flattered—to know that my very existence could cause someone to get down on their knees and beg for a second chance. But there’s something fundamentally wrong in thinking that the person who broke me in the first place was the reason why I pieced myself back together.
This “glow” I was said to have is the internet’s favorite way to make exes regret their decision. There are articles, movies, and even an entire reality show about getting the perfect revenge body, scoring a new S.O., and maintaining radio silence. Around the same time I got dumped, Ariana Grande released “thank u, next” which revolutionized the post-breakup mantra: being vengeful is out, and being grateful is in.
Both approaches proved to be effective in others’ healing process, but neither of them sat right with me. Was I really not allowed to function without taking my past lover’s existence into consideration? Was I not permitted to be my own person without him? Must everything be done to elicit a reaction from him? “If you are changing…for someone else, you are the one that loses in the end because you are still letting that person dictate your life and your body,” says fitness coach Michelle Elman on the paradox of the revenge body. “You are doing it for their approval.”
If anyone cared enough to know the real reason behind the glow I had, I would have gladly explained it to them. For the first time in months, I didn’t feel like a mere concept or supporting character; being ordered around like a personal assistant and subjected to manipulation was no longer my reality. I had the freedom to do the things that made me feel whole and I could surround myself with people who honored this freedom. I was my own person: not better than ever because of someone else, but just as good as I always had been.
Photo of Rina Sawayama