Everything You Never Wanted

October 18, 2023

Graphic by Lucy Leydon 

I always imagined that I would ask my high school journalism advisor to be my wedding officiant. She observed my relationship blossom in glimpses, standing in the hall in between classes as my boyfriend and I hugged (maybe even kissed) hello and goodbye. Even after I graduated, I would visit her in the classroom I grew up in to trade life updates. Telling her that he and I were still together, years later, felt like such an accomplishment.

Mrs. Cole and I met up again this summer, this time at a coffee shop I had never been to before. She’s no longer teaching high school students, and I’m no longer in the same relationship. I had barely told anyone my recent news — our anniversaries had felt like successes, so our breakup felt like a failure. Instead of sharing my crystal clear vision for the future, the next five years laid out neatly in front of me, I delivered to her a resounding question mark.

I am a person who likes to plan — my outfit for the next day, my visits home each semester, my twice-a-year dental appointments. Everything in my life, whether monumental or miniscule, is both carefully recorded in my Google Calendar and penned in my agenda. When anxious thoughts roll in, I make a to-do list. When there are circumstances out of my control, I try to control anything and everything else. Being in a long term relationship gave me something more to plan — dates, a wedding, a future. When suddenly I couldn’t predict what the next year, six months, or even month would look like, my entire world crashed down around me.

Did I still want to move home after graduation? Was there anyone keeping me tied to a specific place, a specific state? Did I want to take time off after school and find myself while traveling the world? Or did I want to land a job in a new city and establish myself somewhere permanent? Did I still want to get married young and settle down early? Did I know how to be alone? Do I know who I am, really?

Questions filled my mind every moment in those first few weeks, faster than I had time to write them down or find an answer. Even though I was terrified, Mrs. Cole looked anything but. She wore the knowing smile that teachers tend to wear and told me that the best things in life happen when you stop trying to make them. If I could just stop holding on so tightly to what I thought gave me comfort, safety, and control, then maybe I could live the life that I was meant to.

I started to realize that no one who loved me saw my breakup as a disappointment. My mom, between wiping my tears and delivering me potted plants, told me to think about how many things I could accomplish now that I didn’t know what I wanted my life to look like. She tells me everyday, “You can do anything, you are capable of anything.”

While my friends rally around me, because I have the most amazing friends, I soak in their pep talks that are more insightful and mature than I could have imagined. Kamryn told me that I am now in the position of almost all my peers — no idea where I will live or work or who I will marry. And this is the time for it — our 20s give us broken hearts, and then wipe our feet from under us. I spent so much time planning that I landed in the foolish trap of thinking that I was the one in charge, that I could avoid pain just by willing it. Now that I’ve fallen face first into the unknown, I can see everyone else who’s right there with me. I can let them love me and comfort me, because I don’t have to do all of this alone.

Even though my heart is still sore, and my body is carrying the weight of a new routine, I don’t fear what comes next. Sometimes everything you never wanted is everything you deserve. My future, once a crammed timeline of shoulds, is now a clean slate — and it is mine. ■

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