My closest friends all agree that emotional strength is not my forte. Below my calm and indifferent façade, internal angst churns where feelings of euphoria and ennui vacillate with the reliability of an extremely amplified sine curve. So this notion of a Quarter Life Crisis, that in my mid-twenties one lone bombastic episode will fundamentally force my life’s hand—creating the adult I need to be and unveiling the route he should walk down, strikes me almost as adorable. Have one meltdown a decade? I have four a day.
That said, I do keep with me a moment from a month before I turned 27. In the moment it was a repetition of an action I’d performed a dozen times before. But it’s grown so poignant that every year since, I mark the day by dining alone, toasting myself with dry martinis and steaks laden with béarnaise.
It’s a tradition I intend to maintain for the remainder of my life.
I spent the first half of my twenties intimately involved with a lone woman. Unfortunately, while intimate is the right word, it’s also a misleading description. Yes we were reflexive sources of strength and love, but for the final three years of our engagement, we were never closer than 3,000 miles apart.
Distance didn’t matter, as it never should for the idealist. What mattered was the unfathomable passion we shared, the kind so unbelievable that the majority of denizens of this spinning sphere are—by whatever Creator—deemed unworthy of experiencing.
It should be noted that we were also horrific for each other. Two bitter and insecure young adults, who found relationships enjoyable because it gave them a focal point on which they could project decades of raw and repressed emotions.
It was undeniable from the earliest days that we could not handle each other. Not for the rest of our lives, not for an entire school year. Really, not even for another date. But because of our collective scars, wounds never cauterized, we both were determined to believe we’d found the one.
Our love hurt. More often then it didn’t. But I believed that was normal. Love is a physical emotion, it really is. And at 24, 25, and 26 I knew that loving your soul mate meant sometimes waking up in the morning and wishing you were dead.
We became too enmeshed, too engrossed, and too entangled. None of our intentionally spiteful efforts, on either of our part—of which there were many—were enough to cause us to splinter.
We tried, but after every break up, one of us followed with a the phone call. Detente began. Before we knew it, we were together once more.
It became so persistent, so pervasive and prevalent, that I knew the remainder of my adulthood would be defined by this penurious partnership.
Less than one month before my 27th birthday, she and I were in an uncharacteristic off-phase. But she was in town for the week, and I knew it. I spent 96 straight hours alone in my room, my phone at arm’s length. Waiting. Expecting.
The call came on her last night in town, around midnight. Intoxicated. In fairness, I was too. She’d discovered I’d gone out with a friend of a friend of one of her friends. That I thought this tangential connection wouldn’t eventually work its way back to her was an error on my part. Or it was another indication of the ways I actively tried to hurt her.
She was livid. We fought and screamed until my cell phone died. I sat tethered to a wall outlet as we fought some more.
As I rolled in bed the next morning, my anger percolated. I called her back with the intention of picking another fight. I did, and when an opportunity arose, and the perfect line conjured up in my head, I delivered the meanest sentence of my life. Biting and incisive. Intended to make her feel like someone wrapped their fingers around her gut and tugged it straight down.
I don’t remember the words. If I did I would share. I promised you that.
Before she could speak I hung up. Then I gathered every item I knew to be hers—shirts, books, gifts—and hurled them down my condo’s aluminum trash chute. They fell twelve stories, at least a hundred feet. When I heard the finite thud, I immediately called back. She didn’t answer.
I waited five minutes then tried twice more. Ten minutes passed until my phone finally vibrated in my palm. I spoke first.
“We’ve been together too long and mean too much to each other for those to be my final words. I want to say goodbye to you. ”
With every other break up, at every other time, I always told myself this was it. That this was the time I’d forever remove her from my life. But that speech didn’t organically develop that day. I distinctly recall thinking I would speak to her again.
But I waited a day, and then a week and then a month. Thirty days later was my birthday. I was expecting an email and indeed it came. But when I saw it and had no immediate desire to respond, I knew it was over.
I think often about the slow pace of that decision. The active process of refusing to care, slowly letting the new parameters of your life solidify. Like an orthodontist setting a teenager’s braces. A change is forced, and from that, structure develops.
It’s the opposite of how things should work. It’s harder that way.
The reason breakups in high school are brutally painful is because in any relationship, no matter what, some of your identity becomes intrinsically intertwined with that of the other person. So at 17, when you don’t have a fully formed sense of self, and you lose someone, it feels as though literal organs are being removed from your chest cavity.
Eleven years later, I know I don’t ever want to lose that feeling. I want to know that someone can become such a part of my life that I’ll no longer be able to function as a human without them. I like to believe that’s love. But I don’t have an understanding of what love is. I only have my opinions on what it might be, which are shaped by my experiences of discovering what it is not.
But what I’ve learned about my decision that day had nothing to do with love. It took a quarter of a century, but I realized something I should have intrinsically known at birth.
What I discovered when I slowly began to never call her back, was not that the remainder of my life would somehow be different and more difficult because she wasn’t around. No. What I came to know is that my life would be the same. Because that regardless of every situation pulsating around me, I will forever exist as only one entity.
And whatever that me is—placid or torrential; angry, thrilled or devastated—is always going to be there. And he will always be alright.
Brett Hannons (a pseudonym the author abhors) writes the blog MeetingGirlsOnMetro.com, in an attempt to alienate every woman that lives in this fair town. He swears he’s a better person than he comes across in most posts. Follow him on Twitter: @MtngGrlsOnMetro
If you are interested in contributing to the Quarterlife Crisis series feel free to contact me.