I was sitting on my bed last summer scrolling through Instagram, when a curious notification slid onto the top of my iPhone screen.
First of all, it was an email, and who in god’s name sends personal emails anymore? Secondly and thirdly, it was an address I did not recognize, and it had no subject. The preview of the message revealed only the first line: Dearest,
Nobody has ever called me “dearest” save one person, so I knew immediately where this was headed. Maybe it had something to do with Venus in retrograde, or maybe just my unforgettable charm, but my ex-boyfriend had emailed me—emailed me—a lengthy, eloquent, and utterly devastating declaration of his everlasting love.
Now, naturally, I responded as any normal Person Who Has Been In Love would: I froze, my jaw dropped, and I read it again. And again. I read it at least four more times. The message included choice lines such as “I miss the way you held me,” and “I miss having you as a home,” the stuff of movies, I thought, or at least "How You Get the Girl" Taylor Swift songs. Emotional lasers.
After my initial reaction, I had a while to think about the craziness of this email (not the craziness of the method itself, though I do wonder why a text or call wasn’t his first instinct?).
The feeling that struck me most was also one that surprised me: it was not a feeling of I love him too! rejoice, or why is he doing this to me? anger, or even if only we had wanted each other back at the same time sadness. It was confusion.
I was truly baffled about how he could say that he still loves me. It has been over a year since we have seen each other, and we do not speak. He’s blocked from my Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, so he doesn’t even have access to the manufactured, performative image of my life. This boy loved me once, and he loved me well. But he doesn’t even know me anymore.
It’s disconcerting and strange and frankly terrifying to think of a person you love eventually becoming just a person that you share some memories with. But it happens all the time. “Forever” is such a silly word. We are not built to stay the same; our selves are constantly in flux. (“I am large, I contain multitudes.”)
This seemed so counterintuitive to me when I was growing up. A major part of this confusion seemed to be because of what girls are taught from a young age.
Girls are either smart or pretty. We are cute or we are bitchy. We are the mother archetype or the heartbreaker archetype. Girls are not allowed to contain multitudes because we do not have rich backstories and intricate personalities like leading men in movies or the superheroes in comic books. Girls cannot be complex because we are this or that, we are here for male consumption; we are put into boxes.
Now, of course, this is a load of bullshit. But I internalized this from a very early stage of development and so I always thought that I was supposed to stay the same. I was supposed to be the same person my whole life, and I was uncomfortable with internal inconsistency.
When Email Boy and I broke up over a year ago, I was torn apart. The “self” I identified with was ripped from my physical body; I was desperate and out of control, but I could finally see my obstacles and addictions clearly.
Once I began to collect all the scattered pieces of myself and put them back together, I was scared when the mosaic I made did not match the picture I had seen before. I needed to come to terms with a whole new me. It took a long time, and a lot of growing.
But that’s the whole point! People need to grow! There is open-endedness about the human experience that is beyond summary or simplicity. I work every day to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, to find calm in the impermanent. Nothing is permanent! And that’s awesome!
In becoming the person I am today, I have collected experiences and endless sets of dualisms: the graveyard of Almost Happy’s and seeds planted in my hips; art for art’s sake and pain for pain’s sake; getting dressed just to undress; moments of warmth; flora of Alaska, and a wishbone; fireweed; prototypes.
The girl that Email Boy loved is still here. She will always be his, and will always belong to the time when we kissed on top of his pool table, or made dinner together in the kitchen while slow dancing to Iron & Wine.
But the person I am now has also been to college and lived in a new city. I have found my people at school—the best and most influential people that have ever come into my life. I have interacted with the world far beyond that relationship, and I have found simultaneous grounding and expanding.
The trick is to embrace your war between old selves and new. Embrace your falls and embrace your heartbreaks; the cuts and cracks will allow new light to flood in. Be human. Be flawed. And fight to be present in your growing and healing.