The last three months of my life have been a trying period with the inconvenience of holidays, work biting down harder with the busy season, futile attempts to be a better son and brother, and watching my 3-and-a-half year relationship come to a close. It’s been a lot to take in. I have wanted to write so badly in this time. I could hide behind the guise of exhaustion, but truthfully I’ve been scared — scared to be alone with my thoughts, scared to transpose those thoughts into words, scared to sleep in my own bed. As one who prides himself on his autonomy, it sure has been a tough time to be alone. This slight onset of neurosis has manifested itself in industriousness, hard work, and the sinking tinge that I’m shedding part of my humanity in the process. That’s not to say that corporate America is draining my soul, but I’ve been acting more robotic in a way that I can only assume is a coping mechanism.

This weekend I saw my ex-girlfriend at a local beer festival for the first time since we split. We smiled, and hugged, and gave each other the 60 seconds of awkward chatter we owed one another — due diligence and all. A few minutes later I overheard a woman nearby use a phrase I frequently bemoan: “I’m closing one chapter and starting another” after lamenting a situation comparable to my own. Books are a great metaphor for life, I get it, but what happens to that chapter once we finish it? I was a bit buzzed but couldn’t get my mind off that question as I walked around the festival that afternoon, the warmth of the day tapering off as the hours went by. I thought of all the times I’ve heard others utter the phrase. More frequently than not, spouted off by a jaded, rancor-ridden, newly-single individual who is eager to prove to the world that the past is behind them, and they are ready to see the dawn of the new day. That’s not me. Still, unequivocally, a new chapter has indeed started in my life. Seeing my ex clinging to someone new was a reminder to look back on what we wrote, dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s, before jumping into what’s next. A chapter, after all, serves no purpose unless it changes the course of the story.

It feels weird to think and write about it in the past tense. There are no more actions to be taken. The words (memories) that were wrote (made) are immortalized, and I cannot change them. I can, however, go back to read and, more importantly, learn from what was written. As with most relationships, the beginning seemed so childish. There’s a dazzling bewilderment in experiencing things with someone new. It tingles the senses and makes you think, even if for just a moment, that there is harmony, joy, and purpose in life, and that it’s within your grasp. Those feelings only deepen with time. Given ample water and care, their roots will spread for miles, and they did. Over time, I felt a flame growing within me, not of animosity, but of conflict. Is who I am compatible with the life I am trying to create? It was not. I think this flame existed within us both — suppressed for a while, waiting to boil over.

There comes a certain point in every relationship where you have to ask yourself the hard, important questions you’ve been putting off. Thankfully time was set aside on more than one occasion to do so and it opened the door for what was hard to admit was necessary: departure. Time was given to think (but not dwell) on the situation, and the hard part was done in earnest, with respect, and out of self interest [for us both]. I said what I needed to say and listened when it was my time, and walked away reminding her that it was worth it.

My time was not wasted. I became a better person. I now have a better picture of what I want in my life, and in another. I set the bar higher for my future. Those are the reasons I can type this with a smile, free of regret, sorrow, and confusion. I’m glad I left enough light on the path behind me to be able to look back, but for now, forward.