navigating a college break-up

written by stargirl

I met my first love the first day of my freshman year at Cal Poly and it basically fucked up my life until the begining of my junior year. As someone who was always a bit of a late bloomer with a disdain for the romantic world, I was entirely underprepared for what college relationships could look like, and the damage a breakup could do. 

It was a short yet intense relationship between two best friends turned partners, and ended all too quickly with the classic “I don’t think I love you anymore” at the beginning of our sophomore year. These days I could roll my eyes until the sockets bruise, but I was 19, heartbroken and still in love, with no tools for healing. I was living alone and feeling isolated from the world as covid continued to push me into a corner. My brain was swallowed by anger, confusion, and depression.

The worst and hardest part was that there was no escape from his presence. Our lives were pretty much intertwined between all of the mutual friends and shared classes. How was I supposed to be able to “get over it” when all I could seem to do was stalk his instagram, see his countless new girlfriends, and obsess over spotify listening activity. That’s the shitty part about college breakups–there’s so much displayed on social media and so many opportunities to run into each other that you can’t get away from anyone. I would pour out into my journal wishing for my old self to be back, thinking that I had completely lost who I was. There was a pit in my stomach for a year reminding me of how badly I had been hurt.

I learned much later that what I was going through was grief, and took some time after that to own up to it. I was grieving the loss of my best friend, of the only person I loved, of the person who had gotten closer to me than I had let anyone get. I was grieving someone who I had to see every day, a ghost of the person I used to know. People don’t have to die for you to be allowed to grieve for them. I also realized I was grieving myself in a way. He had been such a suffocating part of my life for so long that I attached all of my nostalgia for my too short freshman year, all of the pain I felt from being forced home during the pandemic that spring. In my head I am sometimes still that 18 year old who hasn’t been hurt before, who is still in her freshman year winter quarter classes and falling for her dorky best friend. I grieve for her every day. 

I have to remind myself of everything I gained in these losses. College is an incredibly difficult time to navigate a breakup, but the freedom you have right now can lead you to so many emotional discoveries. I found the best friends I have ever had, going on adventure after adventure together. I explored my sexuality and attraction to women, something I knew I was hiding from my ex. I found new artistic styles and fashion that I fell in love with. I finally worked on my ability to be alone–to have my own adventures, to be patient with a slow life, to love myself for all of my skin and teeth. I reflected on what I need from future relationships, and what I know I never want again. 

So yes, it took a year before I finally woke up and didn’t think about him. It actually took a week or two afterwards before I realized it had all slipped away. But I want everyone to know that it’s perfectly normal to take your time with breakups. Healing from loss is incredibly difficult. So go through the stages. Scream and cry and gossip, sing loudly to angry songs and dance in your room after tearing up all the pictures. Cut and dye your hair, write shitty poetry. Go on bad dates and come home upset. What you will be left with is a clearer understanding of what you need, and a heart that doesn’t have to grieve anymore.

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