Paint Yourself the Way You Like
I reached out to him for the first time since we broke up last October. Almost an entire year since I’d seen his name listed in my messages, since I’d written a story about us on this blog. Last October was our final goodbye, a heartbreaking final note from each of us wishing the other well. At that point, it was unclear if we meant it.
I think we wanted to mean it, but when you first lose somebody, there’s a part of you that wishes they’re hurting the way you are too.
For a time we couldn’t be social media friends. We didn’t want to keep seeing the updates of the new relationships, of the trips being had and the life being lived, through the filtered eyes of a bystander when we used to be part of one another’s stories. But over time it got easier.
We double-tapped each other’s Instagram posts when I saw his new puppy, or when he saw my trip to New York. But we had moved on. We remembered, but we forgot—no longer someone I thought about daily, our memories would cross my mind only once in awhile.
But when I saw news about surgeries he had been debating having since the day I met him, I reached out. I wanted him to know I was praying. Making good on our last words to each other, I wanted him to know I was still there.
I’ve had conversations with exes before. Under the pretense of catching up, there was always an underlying message. “I’m doing better than you,” we’d say through news of our new jobs, new partners. “I don’t miss you,” we’d say through family updates and showing off photos of our vacations.
But when I reached out to him, it was clear this was different. There was genuine love in that conversation, genuine prayers being said for the other. A real friendship, with no leftover hostility and no leftover romance. Thirty minutes was all it took to remind one another that we would always care, but we would never belong.
If only every goodbye could end with such sweetness.
My journey toward confidence began when that boy was a part of my daily routine. I was working my first adult job, writing a novel about my family, traveling to new places for the first time, strengthening old friendships and meeting new people. On weekends he would tell me how perfect I was, on weekdays I worked hard to live up to that faith in me.
When things between us got rocky, I spent more time with my friends. I went out dancing, a lot. I went to New York and ate a rainbow bagel. For every sad moment, there was something else to fill it with.
By New Year’s Eve of this year, the boy was gone for good. I spent that night with all of the people I loved in one place. I was one of the only ones without a date, but couldn’t summon any feelings loneliness when there was already so much love in that room.
I never thought I would be at a point in my life where I was comfortable enough in myself to spend a New Year’s Eve without a date, surrounded by couples.
We were all so positive, felt so strongly that this year was going to go our way. That we would grow more into ourselves and kick ass on resolutions we made together. I felt whole, completed. Didn’t spend the entire night swiping right and left on Tinder searching for someone to make me a worthier person.
But I didn’t know yet that the night was just the start of a year of hurricanes.
Heartbreak came strong in 2017. For myself, for my friends, for family members. It seemed as though everyone I knew was invested in someone who didn’t text back. Was excited about someone who lied—who wanted multiple relationships at one time. I wasn’t alone in being the person sitting by my phone, picking apart my faults waiting for him to call when he said he would.
I have conversations with people now that go like, “I don’t trust anyone,” “I don’t have faith in relationships.” I’ve said words along those lines. Entrenched in a world of casual encounters to keep our hearts out of harm’s way, we want to be proven wrong so badly. But we’re exhausted by the failed attempts.
Then I reached out to him, had a conversation filled with sweetness. Remembered that endings don’t always have to break you. Remembered that love can coexist with goodbyes.
Here’s what I want you to know.
You are the only one who can make yourself feel like you’re good enough. Compliments from other people help, being wanted by someone helps, nights with your best friends help. But confidence is something you clothe yourself in every day. You need to learn to apply it like makeup to your skin, the foundation of who you are and what you’re going to allow yourself to be capable of.
You give him the brush when you decide that he is what makes you important. Paint me the way you like. You let him mold you into something that pleases him, you emphasize the parts of yourself he recognizes in approval.
And then he stops calling. He makes you wait. He stops calling you beautiful and you feel less powerful.
You are more powerful than where you began.
Heartbreak makes you dig down into who you are and pull out the roots he planted. You plant new ones. Paint yourself the way you like.
You don’t need to give up on relationships. You don’t need to be afraid of heartbreak because you know you’ll bounce back. You don’t need to resent, or diminish, the person who leaves. He can give you a piece of the person you are—I’ll always have that boy from last October to thank for making me want to work harder on myself. But I did the rest of the work. In seasons of highs and lows, busy and slow, wanted and unwanted, I get to decide when I wash my face each morning: how am I going to paint myself today?
I personally like to go for unstoppable.