I began my life after high school the way that many young adults do: I went on to a University, as expected. I kissed my family goodbye, swore to my friends that we would talk every day, and got excited for what would surely be the best four years of my life. It certainly started out that way - the freedom was incredible, but it was nothing compared to the access to new information, the diverse student body, and the profoundness of feeling like I belonged somewhere. Despite every positive experience I had, it all changed for a boy.
We had been sweethearts in middle school, and broke up when I moved from Florida to North Carolina with my family. I hadn't talked to him in years, so seeing the friend request from him on Facebook was a complete surprise. He was going to a school in North Carolina too! How incredible! We started talking immediately - first through instant messaging, then texting, then Skyping. We talked about everything, from studying abroad to seeing plays on Broadway, even one day vacationing in Europe. We had so many dreams and goals to talk about that we Skyped until the sun came up. I slept through all my classes that day.
Our need for each other grew until we could hardly stand to be apart. His school was three hours away, so we could only spend the weekends together. My friends kept asking me to go to parties or study with them, but I was always away visiting him. My grades slowly started to slip. One weekend, he asked me to stay another night. It meant missing my Monday classes, but "it would be totally worth it! And how important can missing one day really be?" I told him he was right, and I stayed. I believed it, too.
The day came when he asked me to move in with him. I laughed, of course, because of the distance between our schools. He was serious. "Please, baby? We would be together all the time. I will be amazing!"
And I really thought it was. Living with him and feeling so loved made me so happy that I didn't notice when a year turned into two, then three, then four... All of our plans of traveling and experiencing new things turned into nights in with Netflix, shut off from the world. We had no friends outside our relationship. When we did talk about doing new things, it was only ever plans for a few years down the road. Never anything for now.
I think what clicked for me was a conversation we had after work. We had moved back to Florida and he landed a teaching job at our old middle school. I saw an advertisement on TV for my favorite musical that had just been revived on Broadway!
"That looks amazing! We should go! We always said we wanted to go to Broadway, and here's our chance!"
"No, honey... We need to be responsible"
It was in that moment that I realized how unhappy I had been for the past four years. I realized that what I had been doing was just existing. That "responsible" to him meant living in limbo. And that I had been content with that. I had been content with throwing away my dreams and my future just to be with him. Suddenly, simply existing was no longer an option.
Leaving was the hardest decision I have ever made. He made all the money, so choosing to end the life that had been passively suffocating me meant willing choosing to be in the hardest financial situation I would ever face. I got my first job, which paid very little, but I was determined to start living the life that my brief stint in college had taught me was possible. I had no money, but I believed in myself for the first time in what seemed like forever, which was worth more to me than anything. Within a year, and with a lot of discipline, I saved enough to buy a car and pay for tuition and books at my new school, where I'm just finishing up my first semester. I made it to Broadway, and even vacationed in Europe. People have said that my success story was me getting the chance to start over. I just think it was me learning how to really live for the first time.
Heidelberg Castle, Germany