I was dead for over 29 years.
My body might have breathed, moved, consumed—but not quite lived. I have simply been walking down the most obvious pathway that the universe revealed. Born to an average Indonesian family, I grew up into a typical first daughter whose main mission is to make her family proud and exceed expectations, got one opportunity after another that piled up into a wonderful-but-very-much-expected career, and married the very first person who asked. When interviewed about my biggest failure a few years ago, I barely knew the answer, because if I’m being honest, I never really failed, not in a way that mattered anyway, and mostly because I never took a risk—not in a way that mattered.
This year everything changed.
It started with the biggest loss I’ve ever experienced, one that I didn’t think I was capable of stomaching. The person I (used to think I) loved the most decided to leave, practically in a blink, and at the worst possible moment—although perhaps there’s no such thing as a good time to end a marriage.
The first couple of months was the worst: the titanic pain seeped from my chest down to my torso, limbs, and all corners of my physique. Sometimes I literally couldn’t move out of the bed or floor had it not been for the kindest souls who kept me company. Even then, I was still lost for a little while longer, reaching for worldly things that I thought could help ease the pain. I was too clever to fool myself that they would cure my open-flesh wound of course, but back then I’d take anything just to survive another day.
I’m not quite sure how (perhaps writing my feelings down, talking to my friends, and regular check-ins with my therapist) but slowly and eventually the hurt subsided.
Once that happened, came this long and deafening quiet where I was left alone with myself, bewildered at the sight of an almost completely new person. Something told me she had gone through a war and came back stronger. I could sense that her emotional container expanded, reaching new depths capable of understanding and empathizing better—more so a gentler heart that forgives fully.
It’s the kind of bloom that could only happen through passing seasons.
It came with a brand-new, crystal-clear sight, so sharp and spot-free it’s almost like I never saw before in my entire life (even some things I thought I already knew):
- Being with someone is not a prerequisite to, nor an assurance of, happiness. If anything, I learned that loving is all about sacrifice. If you are not ready to let go of a certain degree of comfort and compromise on more than a handful of things, let me remind you that being single has its perks. I was pleasantly surprised to remember the refreshing feeling of making my own decisions and owning the consequences, in lieu of having to reach a consensus with another human being every single time.
- Being with someone shouldn’t mean losing yourself. Entering a relationship often means colliding two previously separated worlds, and when you let it unfold on an auto-pilot mode, soon enough one will be completely swallowed by the other. That will almost always lead to a certain feeling of loneliness or isolation. I finally understood the importance of friendship beyond the one with your partner (even when they’re your best friend) and having your own little territory—literal or figurative—like an activity or circle where you could anchor the self you were before you met them. Remember that you are responsible for taking care of yourself before anyone else.
- We are bound to project our ideals on our partner, and it takes courage to see what is real. Our deepest urge to be happy often means deflecting our glance from the person in front of us, to a much prettier reflection of them on the pond. But once we rid of that fear and allow ourselves to be honest, both about who they are and who you are, that is when you could truly decide whether you would continue to love—and love fiercely—or not. It is a truly rare thing, to see someone naked in their entirety (literally and figuratively) and still love them as a whole.
- Compatibility is the work you put in, but there is such thing as a minimum threshold for it to work and self-awareness is a necessary tool. This might not be exactly scientific, but I find this framework quite useful to assess (and therefore achieve) compatibility in a romantic partnership. First, compatibility is comprised of five separate ‘tanks’: intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, and material (not necessarily in that order). Having one of your tanks full is not enough if any of the other tanks are empty. Intellectual compatibility doesn’t mean being in the same academic field, spiritual compatibility doesn’t mean sharing the same faith, and material compatibility doesn’t mean coming from the same socio-economic background. They simply mean understanding and appreciating each other intellectually, having a similar attitude towards faith, and somewhat corresponding visions about worldly possessions. That being said, above anything else, being at the same level of self-awareness is critical. Even when you’re complete opposites in certain areas, having the language and toolbox to talk about it would help a lot. Without it, even the most earnest effort to make it happen is likely going to fail.
It is with these new tenets, that I am starting 2022, whether by myself, with a partner, or something in between. I have promised myself to not just let myself be but actually make the mindful (often difficult choice) every single day, meaning my every ‘yes’-es and knowing when to say no. Listening to my guts and newfound conviction about the kind of fulfilling love I actually deserve.
And with that, I wanted to thank him for leaving, for giving me the once-in-a-lifetime chance for a radical start-over. Today, I am the happiest I have ever been, completely engulfed in the kind of contentment that I would never have discovered had we still been together.
Today, I am taking charge of my own life and actually start living.