The Truth About Falling Out of Love

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I fell in love with a girl during college.

While we shared a penchant for Mexican food and a commitment to health and fitness, we were an unlikely match.

Whereas she grew up in a stable home, sported liberal ideologies, and had a kind disposition, I struggled through poverty, adopted the conservative values of my grandparents, and let my anger at the world shine.

Despite our differences, Cupid still found a way to land his arrow.

We started dating during our first year of college, and shortly after, we fell in love. For the next four years, we were best friends and partners in crime.

When we graduated, we decided to move in together in a small apartment in Manhattan. We both had demanding jobs, but we made it work. Without her support and Sunday dinners, it’s unlikely I would have survived my grueling life of an investment banker.

After living together for a year, I landed a new job at a startup that allowed me to work remotely. With the flexibility of the job, I developed a burning desire to travel the world. I was 23 years old and deeply curious about life outside the United States. I knew that I would regret not going.

So I made a decision.

I broke off the relationship, moved out of our apartment in New York, and headed to the coast of Colombia. Within weeks, I went from living with the girl I thought I would marry to an unstructured, single life of work and travel.

For the first year on the road, we stayed in touch. I still loved her and thought about her every day. I wanted to share the beautiful moments and new experiences with her, and I often questioned whether I made the right call.

But I didn’t turn back. I listened to the internal voice that told me to keep going. And while I naively held on to the idea that we still had a future together, she did what anyone but myself could have told me would have happened – she moved on.

When I saw her after a long stint of travel, she told me that she was happy and wanted to pursue a future with her new boyfriend. I had missed the train and needed to move on. The narrative of our future together was nothing more than a delusion in my head. So I began the painful process of letting go, and eventually, I moved on.

Reflecting on this experience, I now realize that it took nearly two years to fully “fall out of love” with my college girlfriend. Below, I share a few lessons from that process of falling out of love.

I hope that you can learn from my mistakes and experiences.

Falling out of love is a process

While breaking up is a one-time event, learning to live without your partner is a process.

Transitioning from sharing your life with someone who loves you to spending life with yourself is a process that requires you to break old habits and patterns. Whether it’s learning to sleep alone, losing your idea buddy, or dealing with painful life circumstances solo, you will need to overcome the difficulties inherent in the separation.

As I traveled, I wanted to tell my ex-girlfriend about my learnings, new foods, and fun experiences. During the first year, I spoke with her often.

While these conversations satisfied my short-term need to share my life with her, they slowed my process of moving on. Had I fully accepted my decision to break off the relationship, I would have much more quickly learned to live life without needing to share it with her.

The hardest moments are unpredictable

My ex-girlfriend is the only person who understood the complexity of my relationship with my mom. They met in an institution where my mom was recovering from a psychotic break.

When my mom committed suicide, I needed my ex’s support. The problem is that she had another partner at this point. So while she gave what she could to help me face my painful reality, she couldn’t be the person who held me while I cried or who helped me through the darkness of the months after my mom’s funeral.

Family can create unique challenges

My family knew and liked my partner. While this dynamic was great when we were in the relationship, once it was over, it made the process of moving on more difficult.

When I would call my family, they would inevitably ask me how my ex-girlfriend was doing as if nothing had changed. I would politely answer, but it took two years before the questions stopped.

Weirdly, my family’s non-acceptance of the end of the relationship slowed my process of moving on.

The tendency to compare is dangerous

After experiencing a healthy and loving relationship of multiple years, I unfairly compared new potential partners to my ex-girlfriend. No matter how amazing a person was, I always thought about how the new relationship didn’t have nearly as much depth as my former relationship.

The reality is that depth and familiarity with a new person take time. So by constantly comparing, I created an unnecessary obstacle towards developing connections with other people.

Fully cut ties, or you’ll struggle to move on

Because my ex-girlfriend was my best friend, I naturally wanted to continue speaking with her. I wanted to share the highs and lows of life. I believed that we could still be friends even though our romantic interactions had ended.

While I now believe in the long run that you can maintain a healthy friendship with your ex, in the short term, it would have been better to cut off ties until we were both ready. When you keep a connection in the first few months or perhaps even the first year, inevitably, one or both of you will be drawn back in ways that make it more difficult to move on.

Final thoughts

“The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying; the only thing more impossible than staying was leaving. I didn’t want to destroy anything or anybody. I just wanted to slip quietly out the back door, without causing any fuss or consequences, and then not stop running until I reached Greenland.” – Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love

There’s no easy to way to fall out of love. It’s emotional. It’s painful. It’s complicated.

Regardless of why things don’t work – timing, life events, different growth trajectories – it’s important to remain grateful that you had the opportunity to love.

The movies want us to believe that love with one person is an infinite and unbreakable journey of bliss. It’s not. But whether you love for a night, a year, a decade, or a lifetime, it’s pretty damn cool that you can feel that way in the first place.

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