“I’m not ready to move in with you. In fact, I need a break.” His tone was cold.
A wave of nausea washed over me, and I could barely keep myself sitting up straight. I couldn’t breathe; it felt as if my heart stopped, like all the oxygen had escaped my body.
“What in the literal fuck?” I thought to myself. “Is this even real life right now?” The movers were coming the next day. The boxes were packed. Oh, and what in the HELL do I tell people? This was not our first false start.
In Tarot mythology, there is a card depicting a solid tower struck by lightning, with fire bursting out of all the windows. It’s meant to represent destruction, crisis, and unforeseen change. I saw my hometown of Newport Beach through the lens of that Tower card – a town reduced to rubble, scorched earth where nothing new could grow. In my heart, I knew that staying would breed stagnation. It would eventually kill my soul.
So, what happens after a catastrophe? Making an impulsive and spontaneous decision, I booked a one-way ticket to Nashville. I had one word in mind: rebuild. Nashville felt authentic, welcoming, and, most importantly, like a place where I could heal and start over. After 10 days, I signed my lease. Phone calls to friends, colleagues, and family all started the same: “Big news… Let’s talk headline only… I’m moving to Nashville. Alone.”
And then a funny thing happened. No matter who I spoke to, they all responded the same. “Oh, you are SO strong and SO brave to pick up and move!”
“Am I really?” I thought. “What is it about this decision that makes me strong? And what IS strength anyway?” My decision was a matter of survival.
Up to this point, I had subscribed to the belief that strength was mental or physical toughness. It was the capacity to overcome adversity, to withstand great pressures with resiliency. I was eating one bowl of Kraft mac and cheese a day (if that even counts as a meal) and sleeping maybe three hours a night with the help of melatonin. I was navigating an ocean of disappointment, grieving the dreams of a marriage and family that would never come to fruition with this person. Nothing inside of me felt “strong.” I did not want to be strong. At least, not in the way I understood it.
“You’ll be alright.”
“On to the next.”
“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
The empty (yet well-intended) words spoken by so many felt like Band-Aids over my wounds. We seem all too eager to bat away uncomfortable conversations with glossy and safe comments. I didn’t want to “push through” or “boot strap” this healing…. I actually wanted to feel the anguish of my heartbreak. I wanted to let my sadness wash over me. I wanted to pull up a chair and share a cup of tea with my darkest emotions and for them to whisper, “What can you learn from this?”
“How did I contribute to the moments leading up to that phone call?”
“What stories did I tell myself about our relationship?”
“Where did I not love myself enough to fully live in my truth with him?”
“What if by asking myself these questions, I don’t like what I see?”
It would have been too easy to say it was his fault, that he backed out of our lease at the eleventh hour. The reality is a relationship takes two people – even when it fails. I knew I had to own a degree of responsibility. So, I sat in the messiness and rawness of my emotions. I cried on the bathroom floor more times than I could count. I felt nauseated every time I saw couples holding hands – it reminded me of my failure. I felt the deep disappointment of having to unwind my moving plans. I allowed myself to feel my emotions to the fullest extent. To my surprise, I found deep satisfaction in experiencing all of it.
I had given my heart and loved the best I could. I learned that sometimes the best I can do may not always be good enough for a person. And that’s okay. What I could offer him was not the vision of love he had hoped for. I wasn’t his mother, and I wasn’t there to do his healing. With that, I realized I would never be enough for him.
Love does not always manifest the way we expect it to. We can’t force our vision of it. We must choose to accept it as it presents itself to us. Before he could accept what I could offer, he had to first be willing to sit with his own shadow, embrace his vulnerabilities, and learn to love himself unconditionally. Once we can truly accept ourselves – all our messy humanness – then, and only then, can we accept the love offered by a partner.
Sitting in my shadow required me to stand naked and examine what I saw in myself. That was strength. Many days, I don’t like what I see. But I’m okay with that, because that is where my work begins. When we surrender our shields and embrace a state of vulnerability and personal responsibility, we can turn heartbreak into something beautiful.