To the Guy I Thought I’d Grow Old With

A few days ago my friend Meghan reblogged this article written by Anna Bashkova and reading through it gave my heart a pang. I’m not the type of person who likes to openly hurt myself; I am no masochist. So it is not very often I try to think about my past. Sure, I’ve learned from my choices and the people who have come and gone throughout my life, but to actively consider these things every day? Not a chance. However, when those rare occasions happen — and they are bound to through social media postings, run-ins, and flashes of memory — it is sometimes hard to connect my current self with the former.

I have been in love twice. For some of you reading this post, this is old news. I’ve spoken about these loves in bits of Peonies ‘n Mint (okay, so maybe more than “bits”), and as you might know, I loved these two with my whole being. I even accepted a ring at one point. Thinking about how strongly I felt about these two people brings back a lot of mixed emotions. At the time of our romances, they were each my world. I loved them and a future together was all I could imagine. Looking back, though, I remember feeling that a future was set but I cannot always remember why I felt that way. Too often hurt feelings and sad memories block this aspect, the why did I see a future, and I’m left clinging to the reflections, dazed and confused. Then I read Anna’s post, and most specifically the Elizabeth Gilbert quote she used as an introduction, and it was as if a light was shone on these moments…

If you haven’t skipped to Anna’s post yet, let me share with you the quote that shook the dust from my mind:

A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave A soul mate’s purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master.

After reading this quote and considering my relationships, I am certain of one thing: X was my soul mate. At least, in the concept that Elizabeth Gilbert talks about here. We may have been young, we may have been naive, we might not have had a full grasp on what a future meant, but in the complete meaning of this quote, there is no doubt. During the nine years of our friendship, X was the one person who tore down every single wall I had ever built. I was adamant I didn’t want to date, but in all honesty I was scared of commitment. X pushed enough to knock down that wall and I had an incredibly meaningful relationship for four and a half years. I consistently doubted myself: my intelligence, my worth, my appearance. X chiseled away at those bricks by continuously telling me how much I meant to him, how beautiful I was, and making attempts to show how much he cared. When I was wrong, he’d point out my flaws. When I was right, he’s stand behind me. When I needed support, he took my hand. X shook me up, tore apart my ego, showed me my obstacles and addictions for the majority of our relationship… and then finally, he broke my heart.

There was no way X and I could have lived forever together. Even though he had torn down so many of my walls, if we had been allowed to stay together, there would never had been someone to rebuild me. It was not until our break up that I emerged this “desperate and out of control” creature. I transformed my life, and in turn myself. X truly introduced me to my spiritual master: me.

It was not until X and I went our separate ways that I was forced into control of my own life. He was someone I had relied on for so long, and then suddenly I was alone. No longer did I have someone to tell me my worth; I had to prove it to myself. No longer did I have someone to pick me up when I was down or congratulate me when I succeeded; I began to do so on my own. With every new experience, I questioned my intentions, weighed the outcomes, and ultimately grew. I slowly began to piece together the woman I am today, and this was due largely to X, the man with whom I had once thought I’d grow old.

There’s no way to say who I would have become had X and I continued longer than we did. Given enough time, too many of my walls may have been torn down, and I could have been an entirely broken individual. As grace would have it, the timing was perfect and here I am: strong, independent, and blessed with a bit of wisdom.

The breaking of my heart was exactly what I needed in my life. Love is a silly thing. It can start slowly or it can act as a whirlwind. My two loves were polar opposites of one another, but both were essential for my growth as an individual. Now my past is simply full of strangers with memories, but at least the majority of the memories I have are happy ones. Anna says, “When someone touches your heart, they will infinitely be there.” How brutally honest this statement is. Where there was once so much anger and resentment, there is now a peace. When I finally realized that the love I once thought I had wasn’t the kind to result in the fusing of our lives into one, but rather the kind to give me new life and necessary life lessons, that’s when I received the calmness I desired.

As I move forward, vaguely looking back on my love and loss from time to time, it is comforting to know that though there is pain  and sadness in my memory, there is also the reassurance that the guy I thought I would grow old with was not meant for me. Instead, he helped prepare me to become a better person for when the right guy steps into my life. Isn’t it funny how life takes unexpected, yet happily blissful paths?

So this is for you, the guy who I thought I would grow old with: thank you. Thank you for being my soul mate, and allowing the opportunity to pass in order for me to prepare for my true future.

The Year I Grew Up: A Talk of Faith & Faults

Today is my 24th birthday, but before you feel the obligation to wish me a happy day of birth, let me stop you. There is no need. I’ve walked into today with no feelings of excitement or anticipation. Instead, I look at it as just another day in the routine of life.

Now, I’m not saying this with any sort of disdain or ill-feelings towards my birthday. I am glad that I was born, after all. As every year passes, the special ambiance once felt as a child regarding my birthday dwindles. The presents become more scarce, their usefulness more logical, and becoming another year older just means you’ve gained more experience than what you had last year.

This experience is the only reason I have a spark of enthusiasm as my age ticks another number higher. This past year was one for the books. I had so many new experiences and unexpected twists and turns as a 23-year-old that I look back over the last year and marvel at the person molded before me in the mirror.

On October 13, 2014, I was on my way to growing up but I had not quite reached the point of Adulthood. Don’t get me wrong; I still have wavering thoughts, make questionable choices, and worry every day about my future. However, somewhere over the past year I crossed the line of Young Adult to Real Adult. There are several reasons I say this and I’d like to compare the Then 23-year-old Girl to the Now 24-year-old Woman through some examples of what I’ve learned over the last year…

When it comes to love and relationships, I am not dependent on another person for happiness.

Last year when I turned 23, I was just beginning my relationship with Army. (Literally just beginning, we had only made things official a week prior.) However, I approached the relationship very hesitantly for two key reasons: I didn’t believe I could love someone as much as I loved X and I honestly didn’t want to put as much effort into making my SO’s family happy as I did with X. In retrospect, I wasn’t sure if I was ready for a new relationship when I met Army.

Now my infatuation with X was gone by this time, but the emotions of how he and his family made me feel were not. These were both very warring emotions for someone who was still attempting to find her individualism. Though I dated during the time between X and Army, I did not have any lasting relationships in which to change the only way I knew to act as a girlfriend. This included being dependent on the guy and a pushover and coward to his family. As someone who was discovering herself, entering into a relationship where my mind was screaming, “NO! WE AREN’T GOING BACK TO BEING THAT KIND OF GIRL!” was terrifying.

Cue Army and his family. As our relationship progressed, my entire view of relationships and family interactions changed. With Army, I could remain independent. He urged me to keep up with my other friendships, he encouraged my hobbies and interests, and he made a point to intertwine both our lives together while keeping them apart. I never became the dependent, clinging, subservient girlfriend when I was with Army. As for his family, they accepted me from Day One. They were actually a large reason as to why I fell so hard for Army; I was part of his family. So as my feelings grew for Army and his entire family, the thoughts that I could never love someone again diminished. I opened my heart, and though it was ultimately crushed in the end, I became a stronger woman with the knowledge that I could love, lose, and find love again. I was not dependent on another person for happiness; I simply found myself happier with someone to share life.

A year later and I look at love and relationships in a new light. I might not have the intimate love I’ve known in the past with X or Army at this time in my life, but I’m happy. I am happy with myself, and in turn happy with my relationships of all those around me. Right now I am focusing on strengthening the friendships and relationships in my current life situation, and also continuing to build myself into the sort of person necessary for a functional, loving, long-lasting intimate relationship.

When it comes to my ideologies, I’ve jumped off the well-groomed trail of my entire childhood and begun to trek into the murkier parts of the world.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I grew up attending a private school where religion was discussed every day. My home church was adjoined to this school, so my weekly Bible classes usually were focused more succinctly upon during Sunday’s sermon. It came to the point where I knew my Bible stories so well and the teachings of my Lutheran faith so clear that I took advantage of the grace by which I was saved. God’s Word, church, and my faith played a small part of much of my college life. I maintained my strong morals, mostly out of fear instilled in me by  I only attended service when forced to do so by my parents. I only prayed when life became too stressful.

Then X and I broke up and I found myself clinging to the only One who I had been taught was always there for me — God. I prayed for strength, I prayed for success, I prayed for healing of the pain. Then I met Army and life was good again… except the fact that he was a self-claimed agnostic. I wrestled with this fact throughout the entire relationship; yes, I loved him, but could there potentially be a future with someone who openly mocked my faith?

By the end of the relationship, I had made up my mind. My recovery time over our break up took less time than with X because I knew, truthfully, there had never been a future for Army and me. I never wanted to take advantage of my faith again. I wanted to retain and be proud of my morals. I chose eternal grace over earthly love.

Upon our break up, I also made the choice to refocus on my faith. I didn’t want to revert back to clinging to God as my only source of support and I didn’t want to pray only for my own needs and wants. I wanted to be a better person and a better believer.

So I broke out of my comfort zone and went to my first Bible study group meeting at the beginning of August. The group, called House, has become my closest network of support, friendship, and spiritual encouragement. A group of 20-somethings all struggling to gain footing in a world focusing more internally than externally, House not only allows me to explore God’s Word in new and enticing ways, but it has given me examples of peers who are going through life at the same speed I am. I no longer am focused on being single, but I am content knowing I have friends to spend time with and experience life. I no longer feel ashamed of my faith or scared to be mocked over my morals because I have the support of similar faiths surrounding me. It truly is uplifting!

Joining House and attending church with this group has led me away from my Lutheran religion. Though I happily wake up every Sunday to go to service, it is not to my parents’/home congregation. Rather it is with a Church of God congregation. The first service I attended was incredible — it was contemporary, relative to my every day life, and different than my typical church experiences. I was in love. Now after a month of sitting among my Housemates, I still find myself soaking in the day’s sermon. My mind doesn’t wander, I don’t feel my body trying to sleep; instead, I am focused on God’s Word, the grace shown to me every day, and the strengthening of my faith through Word and fellowship.

It’s strange to be studying and worshiping in a new environment, but the one which I have known for over 20 years was no longer fulfilling my heart and soul. I’ve grown into a person who is not content with being told how her faith should look, but rather someone who wants to delve deeper into what religion is and establish what she wants her faith to say about her.

When it comes to life, I’m focusing on living a day at a time and enjoying every moment given to me.

As I look over the past year, I am able to comfortably say that I am a very emotional being. I loved with all my heart and I cried when it was broken. I laughed with every fiber of my body and I felt anger when a friend betrayed me.  I’ve lost a dear friend and mentor, began a new career, and moved into the apartment living style of life. Every day brings about a random string of emotions and feelings, and I’m perfectly happy with my life. I am continuously learning from my past while looking towards my future, but my ultimate focus is living in the present and enjoying every moment that has graciously been given to me.

So here I am, a more mature, optimistic woman who has grown a ton in the span of only one year. I’m amazed at how much I’ve changed in 365 days, but you know what? I’m going to be just as amazed by how different I am next year when I turn 25. Onto bigger, better, and brighter things!


 

And the cool thing is, I’ve been able to share the past year with all of you. I’ve kept my promise to myself to keep Peonies ‘n Mint striving, and since 23-year-old Ashley, the site has boomed. I love growing my blogosphere relationships just as much as my in-real-life ones. You are all fantastic and it has been wonderful not only getting to know you but also abiding by your advice and gaining strength when you share similar experiences. Thank you, lovelies. Cheers to another year!