I’ve been thinking a lot lately about something a coworker said to me the day after my breakup. “I promise you will like your life, too.” It is hopeful but realistic; I don’t know that any of us go around loving our lives. After all, there are doctor’s appointments and bad hair days and bills to pay and that one ex who still texts you “Hey stranger” even though you never respond.
In 2019 I learned that not only could I like my life but that I deserved to like it. I was fresh off a breakup and a death in the family when the worst semester of my academic career began, catapulting me into a routine of sobbing in a heap on my couch nearly every day after school, unable to deal with anything in a meaningful way because there were cases to read and papers to write and jobs to look for. I learned that I could like my life that summer as I wandered around Kansas City on the weekends (convinced as ever that anything is walking distance if you simply believe in yourself), did legal work at my dream nonprofit organization, sang karaoke and made new friends while reconnecting with an old friend, too.
Yet again, I have been thinking about what it means to like your own life in the aftermath of a devastating breakup I didn’t see coming. As Hanif Abdurraqib so gorgeously explores in his column “On Breakups” about HAIM’s “I Want You Back,” “The thing I never learned to understand about breakups is that, even at their largest, the moment of the break itself might not be the hardest part. If you have no children together, or no assets worth squabbling over, or no other reason to hover in each other’s lives, the breaking itself can be sudden, with an entire world of grief to stumble into after.”
The breakup came in the form of a two-minute phone call I didn’t see coming on a random Wednesday night. It’s hard to even know how to begin putting yourself back together in that situation. This particular ending had at no point seemed like an even remote possibility to me.
I deleted all the texts and pictures right away, proud of myself, only to be completely undone weeks later when I went to look up an old license plate number in the Notes on my phone and came across the running list of gift ideas I had compiled for my now-ex-boyfriend. It didn’t make sense that the pictures and texts were somehow easier to delete than a list of inanimate objects, random little things he had mentioned to me over the course of nearly a year.
I tend to be the kind of person who defaults to the sentiment of “My life is a complete disaster!” when, in fact, it’s just one or two aspects that are in some sort of disarray. I have been working on this with my therapist. After all, I am nothing if not a recovering perfectionist, and it’s tough to unlearn the (usually wholly arbitrary!) timelines I impose on myself, as well as those that oppressive systems of patriarchy and whiteness and cisheteronormativity impose on all of us.
Things had seemed to be working out for me this fall in a way they never had, not all at once. I took and passed the bar exam on the first try. I started my dream job as a public defender. I was dating the only person I have ever really loved.
Then part of that was gone, exacerbated by pandemic loneliness and isolation, in a new state and new city where I knew no one. In the immediate aftermath of the breakup, as I struggled to sleep or keep any food down or stop spontaneously sobbing, it seemed impossible that I could like my life.
Since then, I have been trying to adopt and implement a gentler, more forgiving definition of what it means to like my own life.
For a lot of reasons, I would be absurd not to like my own life as it currently stands. I have my first-ever office (with a door!). My degrees are on one wall, my law license and a law school service certificate on another. I recently hung up a Kansas City print, and a framed print of a Passionfruit LaCroix can bursting with succulents rests against a wall on the floor. It’s next.
I get paid to be an attorney, to stand up for my clients in court and advocate for their freedom and constitutional rights.
I love my apartment, and my collection of fabulous shoes continues to grow. I bought a silk robe to celebrate my admission to practice law in Wisconsin.
Liking my life, it turns out, doesn’t mean liking every single aspect and realm of it. Breakups are still breakups, I still lose cases, and there’s always that one blazer I inevitably can’t find on the exact day I want to wear it. But in all the brutal post-breakup moments, when I remember the road trip to the Black Hills my boyfriend and I had talked about or the list of movies we wanted to watch in a now-deleted shared Google doc, I think of other things I want to do myself, like finally finishing the stack of for-fun books that piled up during law school. Or maybe running a marathon. Hell, I might even try to get into skiing (don’t hold your breath on that one).
As my coworker said as I cried in my office while I pet her dog (bless her for bringing him to work on that particular day), I promise you will like your life, too. Not “you could like your life” or “you might like your life.” But you will like your life.