New Life, Who Dis?
You are not your job. You are not your boyfriend. So get up, brush off the dust and move on.
This past summer, after three years, I left behind the job that shaped the beginning of my career. About a week later, my boyfriend of the better part of those three years dumped me. In a matter of ten days, the majority of my known adult “identity” was completely unraveled, half at my own behest and half decided for me. Both of these scenarios were long overdue – it’s almost comical how parallel the relationships were, both in terms of their effect on me as well as my investment in them. While they both were vital in my development as an adult, they were both the most stressful paths I could have chosen.
As a young person, your career and your relationships often become a large part of your identity. We are programmed to believe success is the main component of normalcy and happiness. We define ourselves within these parameters, because not only are they taking up most of our time, but they are also the primary substitutes to orient life around when you haven’t figured out who you are yet. And that’s why they are so easy to fall into and so hard to leave.
The difference between “quitting” and “giving up” seems negligible, but I felt it. Quitting implies you are in control, regardless of circumstance. Giving up denotes feeling helpless, resigning yourself to passive participation until something happens. I quit my job. I gave up on my relationship, and then my ex basically quit me.
I began my career with an internship that turned into a marketing assistant position, which then turned into a marketing director position at age 22. I had a modest salary, but I justified it with the perks of connections in the creative industry and having permission to be very hands-on. I liked my co-workers and bosses and, for my age, I had a very “cool” sounding position. I made amazing friends and connections, and saw projects that originated from my ideas come to fruition. I was usually tired and broke, but I loved what I did and all the access it provided gave me most of what I wanted at the time. Like any young New Yorker with a college degree, my main discontent with my career situation was money, but I still felt this sense of loyalty to my company and that I needed to stick around.
I felt this same sense of loyalty to my relationship. We met through my job in 2012, and while we spent nearly every waking moment together and laughed a lot, our relationship was not healthy. We depended on my credit line to survive, as we both made barely enough money to live. He left the company we worked for, but then we worked together at a second job that I secured and then set him up with, furthering the imbalance of dependence on each other.
When we were alone, we were just being ourselves and were happy for the most part. Everything was different when our separate lives collided. He would shame me for partying with my friends, saying it was disgusting when we frequented clubs or after-hours warehouses. He refused to come to most events with me, and often referred to anyone I knew in nightlife as a douchebag DJ or called them trashy. He tried and genuinely liked some of my friends, but there were times when he told me they didn’t give a fuck about me and that they were shitty people. I felt the same about some of his, seeing a pattern of him doing favors for nearly everyone else in his life without getting anything in return. I spent many nights wondering where he was, and later I would find out that his excuses only covered up some new incident. I let almost every fuck-up slide, justifying indiscretions, rudeness, and general apathy towards me and anything I mentioned that upset me with him not being ready and needing space to figure things out. But then I became paranoid, and no matter how much I hoped he would fix everything, I began to just expect him to fuck up. He did what he wanted, and I could only blame myself for thinking this would change.
We fell into a pattern of breaking up and making up, sometimes not speaking for months at a time, sometimes basically remaining together without the title – common to our generation, which is why I trust you understand the frustration. We fought about everything, but then we would seemingly resolve problems after a few discussions and end up dating again. We even moved in together at one point.
What happened in the spring and summer of 2014 sums up our entire saga. We separated, didn’t contact each other for months, reconnected with insane emotional arguments, and started hanging out again, only to hate each other in the next set of arguments and cut each other off again. When I started seeing other people, my ex freaked out on me almost every day, and we somehow attributed it to needing to be together again and finally do things right, instead of holding onto the “never again” mentality that seem like the obvious solution after the fact. Our relationship improved for the most part, but then backslid again. Wrongdoings from the previous tenures of the relationship would creep back up on the present one, and while the last leg of our time together was in some ways the best, it was also in many ways the hardest. Whoever we had dated in-between and whether or not they were still in our lives constantly hung over both of our heads; knowing one another too well to fully trust each other again.
I’m not sure when exactly, but my workplace culture shifted around the same time. Suddenly the rose-colored glasses I’d had went dark. As the only female remaining in the head office, I felt distanced for months from people I sat next to every day, even the ones I’d known for years. A coworker I had considered not only a good friend but also a mentor left. I felt like I was constantly being personally attacked in a male-dominated industry, and that I needed to watch my back. Making any sort of statement or decision led me to being labeled as a bitch. One of my bosses relocated, and while I generally had a close relationship with the other one with whom I worked more intimately, I felt him growing increasingly cold and sensed that my ideas were being met with more apathy than before. The prejudices that I felt in the industry in general seeped into my day-to-day work.
As a coping mechanism and in retaliation, I started acting in ways I normally wouldn’t, both at work and at home. I came in late nearly every day, but felt it was fair because I sometimes stayed late and had those night and weekend meetings and events. I used my lunch breaks to schedule workouts, because I felt like if I did not let out my aggression or focus on something else for a little while, I would crack. I cried in the bathroom all the time, sometimes purely out of frustration, other times because I was truly depressed that nothing I did mattered. I felt everything that I contributed was either being ignored or that my suggestions were being recycled and I received little to no credit for my creative efforts. I felt like my team had abandoned me, and I didn’t want to be part of it anymore.
I would lie awake at night, next to this person who I had once loved, but now felt pure resentment for. It became harder and harder to convince myself that I should stay, that things would get better. It’s hard to explain, because at the end he wasn’t outright cheating on me anymore, but I still felt cheated in a way – out of the basics of a normal loving and trusting relationship. Sometimes it felt more like we were old friends that needed time apart. But for the most part, our routine felt numbing, and while I couldn’t imagine anything that would improve the relationship, I fantasized about ways my life would improve without the relationship, and if I quit the job. No matter how much time I invested in my own happiness, I realized the two things I was most dedicated to gave me very little in return. But I was still unable to differentiate whether the immense sadness and anger I felt came from my work life or my home life.
So I picked the easier one. I set a deadline to quit my job by my 25th birthday, in October 2015. I scheduled projects and planned to complete as many as possible before my departure. I interviewed with my dream company, and suddenly felt like I could breathe again. Interviewing and searching for jobs made me feel high, like anything was possible, and that the next step towards the life I wanted was within my grasp. I was in a better mood, and worked harder than I had in months to make sure I was leaving behind a positive legacy and structure. Even though I was mentally checked out for the most part, I wanted to maintain a good relationship with as many people as I possibly could, and still felt a sense of responsibility for the success of the brand.
Everything seemed to be going really well with my newfound sense of purpose for my career, until just a few days before I handed in my notice. My boyfriend and I went away for 4th of July, and in the presence of his friends and family, I was constantly reminded that I was not his priority by seeing him act childish to be the center of attention while completely ignoring me and taking zero notice to how the difference between us and his friends and their girlfriends was painfully obvious. I was waking up to what I had been ignoring for so long: that we were never going to grow. That night, I decided I needed to break up with him, but I was hundreds of miles from home with nowhere else to go, and convinced myself to just wait it out, yet again, until a better time. We got through the next couple of weeks without any incident, mostly because of the happiness I felt from quitting my job and having the opportunity to start fresh. He was away for a work trip, and when he returned, what started out as a standard discussion escalated into seven simple words.
“I don’t want to do this anymore.”
Instead of the weight off my chest I expected to feel, I felt the weight double. I went through most of the stages of post-relationship grief within the hour. I felt the typical you can’t leave me, I should leave you, you’re the shittier one but I also knew that it was finally over, and when I left, I can’t say I felt much of anything. I just went through the motions of the next few days, almost on autopilot, as if nothing was different. I worked out, I went to the beach with my friends, I went to birthday parties, and I went back to my ex’s to get my things a few days later and he helped me move back into my place.
I started my new job that Monday. He asked me how it was going, and we kept it civil. For five months, we were on-and-off forced polite, then bitter enemies, and then almost friends. I figured out who he was seeing, and told him about the bare bones of the dating issues I’d had that summer. At one point, actually seemed like we wished the best for each other and could be friends without the cycle repeating. Unfortunately, this was not the case and blowouts and accusations reentered the picture.
I was direct with my feelings and opinions, hoping to in one way wish him and his new girlfriend – which he, by the way, lied about for a month – the best but also express my distaste for his apparent 180 in terms of relationship publicity, seemingly only on display out of spite to me. I couldn’t tell if I was jealous at first, but then I realized I was just bitter that I had to be the training wheels to the shiny new bicycle that is his new life. I had to go through all the mud, the scrapes, the falls, and then get told I wasn’t needed anymore, after all the work I had done, the support I had provided. And that was what infuriated me.
Then one day ... we were just exes.
Looking back, I know that it wasn’t fair to anyone involved to take it as a slight against me that it wasn’t working. But it did take a while to recover and come to that realization. It’s over, and for the first time since I met him and was hired by them, I don’t feel like I owe either anything other than the respect for the positive experiences they provided and acknowledgement for the lessons about life and my own identity and self.
I didn’t feel invincible overnight, but I stopped waking up with a sense of dread to start the day and going to bed feeling defeated. The feeling of clarity that comes with understanding that our past experiences don’t need to overshadow our future ones is truly the weight that is lifted when we quit, give up, or simply move on.
We are not our jobs. We are not whomever we are dating. We are meant to weather the struggles, and though we might not get our shiny new bicycle right away, we could be saving up for a dope matte black Ducati that leaves that bicycle in the dust.