Dating Inspirational Lifestyle

The Break Up That Left Me In A Stronger Relationship With Myself

Breakups can be new beginnings. They are a chance to pause, re-evaluate your life, your goals, your strengths and your flaws. They can shape you, both by building resilience and by propelling you towards a new trajectory.

Before entering into my most recent relationship, I was traveling solo in a van, writing a travel memoir, hiking daily, and hovering in a state of perpetual bliss, most likely induced by my newfound freedom from life on the road. I had quit an unhealthy job in New York City, started a freelance digital storytelling business, backpacked Asia and the Middle East, then converted a van into my mobile home. I took my home through National Parks up to Canada, encountered black bears, moose, and life-changing mountains. I volunteered on a farm in Oregon, and circled back to my home state of Arizona to work on my mom’s political campaign as the Communications Director.

About that time, I started cautiously dating a friend of over 10 years. I was wary of allowing love and commitment into my busy and ambiguous new life. I was also hesitant to rock the boat, while at my peak happiness with myself. Despite my reservations, the relationship progressed quickly and seriously. He fit into my pre-established life well, already knowing my close friends, getting along wonderfully with my family, and best of all, his willingness to be nomadic with me, fulfilled my biggest relationship requirement.

So, in typical me fashion, I put the relationship to the ultimate test of backpacking around Central America, while volunteering in the places we visited, and with the added stress of filming a documentary together.

Shortly before our departure, a betrayal was dropped like an emotional bomb, unsettling my romantic fantasy of our future together, and planting seeds of doubt about our foundation. But the trip and documentary project were well in motion, and my instincts were slightly hazy amongst the backdrop of hopefulness and upcoming adventure.

We departed the United States, fractured and less united. The stresses of traveling ferociously boiled on top of resentments. Ugly fights with cruel words, ricocheted through each day, chipping away at our friendship, trust, and respect. Until one day, back on neutral soil, when there was no choice but to recognize how toxic our dynamic had become. We had backed ourselves into a dead end, and the choice was clear.

Of course, flights to upcoming trips had to be canceled, plans altered, and logistics made. It was no easy thing to untangle our lives, but as a seasoned life architect, I managed to keep my trajectory intact.

I’ve begun and ended many lives in my 28 years, often on different continents, with different jobs and purposes. Each challenge and obstacle, preparing me for the next journey. The most confusing adventure of all though, has always been love.

I grew up reading stories about love, printed in ink, and cemented into my mind. I watched as characters evolved with their environments and in spite of them. I studied their circumstances and choices thoroughly. I inferred that our society thinks a women’s life is complete when she meets her male counterpart. I took special note of each moment when the protagonist was faced with a decision to go in one direction or another. I realized I was more fascinated with the endless possibilities, then satisfied by the happily ever after.

These endings often felt static and linear, and I found myself craving alternate endings for my characters. Ones where adventurous women don’t stop adventuring when they meet a man, and they don’t make compromises that stifle growth. I wanted my endings to converge like a fork in the road in a harmonious and poetic fashion that created a fresh beginning, and a solid foundation for both characters.

Yet somehow, I have not found a relationship that does that. Leaving me wondering if my stubborn romantic fantasy exists in reality. Is it possible that my determination to achieve my career goals, will always supersede a deep desire for connectedness and stability with a romantic counterpart? I don’t know.

What I do know, is that for me, and I suspect for many other female nomads and ambitious women, most relationships will not be the plot of our story. More likely, love, romance and everything in between, will be the entertaining footnotes.

I wasn’t looking for a relationship when my last one found me. I was however, open to the idea of a love that doubles as a partnership, complementing the journey to achieving my goals. I convinced myself that a symbiotic partnership is what we had together. I thought that if I was blunt and honest about my priorities and ambitions, that would be enough to build a solid foundation. I thought that my honesty and self-awareness would trigger that in my partner. I thought that a decade-long friendship, equated to a deep understanding of one another. I thought that long conversations to establish truths, would become the compass for the relationship. What I misunderstood though, was how fragile trust is. I overestimated my ability to forgive, and underestimated the importance of respect.

In ten months of relationshiping under extreme and harsh circumstances, I learned that while happiness may come from within, an unhealthy relationship can poke holes in it. I’ve learned that while love and hope might blind me, my heart has a safety mechanism for toxicity. But most importantly, I’ve learned that while it may be romantic in theory, it is unsustainable to expect a relationship to help me achieve my professional goals.

So now, with three weeks of space and reflections in my rearview, I am eager to begin again where I left off in my relationship with myself. I am listening carefully to my body, and I am ready to trust my instincts, even if they contradict my heart’s hope for the best. I am focused on continuing to forge a path based on my passion for social and environmental justice, storytelling, and adventure, and I am not giving up on my dream to sustain a lifestyle where those concepts are at the core.

While most don’t understand this lifestyle, I think we are all driven by the desire to be our best selves. For me, that comes when I am actively exploring, creating, and learning. When I am tending to my relationships with friends and loved ones, when I am frequently exposed to high doses of nature, and when I am using all my remaining energy and time to capture my opinions and observations of the human condition through writing, photography and film.

While I am still very much in the middle of my journey towards self-growth, the thing that has become apparent through yet another emotional test of love and subsequent breakup, is my resiliency. So while I find myself frustrated by a failed relationship, I also find comfort in the stability it has lent me within myself. Each time I fail at love, the stronger I become on my own.

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Anna French

Anna is an optimist with pessimistic tendencies who enjoys making a short story long, her coffee black, and watching Friends re-runs. These days you can catch her in her natural habitats wandering through forest roads in her van or hiking to a waterfall or glacial lake.

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4 Comments

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    Kathleen H. says:

    You write beautifully, Anna, and I resonate with all of this. In short- I am 27 years old, currently building out a van, and am healing from the ending of a 7 year relationship. There’s been A LOT of reflection for me. But I have learned so much. I am growing exponentially. And I love learning to rely on myself- because I used to automatically turn to others. We’re stronger than we know ? There’s this metaphor of a tea cup sitting in a saucer and only giving to others what has overflowed into the saucer (I probably butchered that). Anyways, here’s to the lessons and experiences that fuel empowerment.

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      Anna French says:

      Hi Kathleen,

      I am happy that this story resonates with you, and that you are building out a van! I can’t fathom how it must feel to exit a 7-year relationship, but I can only imagine how much growth can come from your new beginning, and I can’t imagine a better way to explore the world and learn more about yourself on your own, than in a van! I like that metaphor too! Cheers to the experiences that fuel empowerment, and please do reach out when you’re on the road, I’d love to meet up!

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        Just seeing this – thank you and I certainly will 🙂

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    I think it will be good for you at Online Relation because it has rules for making friends and chatting with them.

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