“I’m going to go blog about my feelings,” I joked as I left the apartment this morning. My keys jingled as I put them in my backpack, and I slammed the door shut behind me. (If you could only see the door, Your Honor, you would agree that the force was necessary!) I walked around; I got a little lost; my backpack made me sweat in really weird places. My left shoe broke halfway to the coffee shop, and then it started raining. Now I’m sitting here watching a woman in the restaurant across the street chew her food. It’s been a weird morning…
I came to blog about my feelings, but the truth is, I’m not 100% sure what those feelings are. My friends in committed relationships like to remind me that I’ve never been in love, that I’ve never had the experience of sharing a life with another person, all your interests, hopes, and dreams. Out of respect for their opinions, I’ve refrained from calling any romantic engagement I’ve had with another human “dating.” I’ve refrained from calling any ending a “break up.” What I say is this: “We did stuff, then he rejected me.” I even called one instance “A Mutual Dissolution of Something That Was Bad,” or AMDSTWB for short, to avoid taboo terminology. I did this because I heard my friends, and I agreed with them.
I don’t agree with them anymore.
I’m going through a break up now, and you know it’s real because I’m calling it a break up. For a few years now, we knew it wasn’t working the way it should. The love was still there, so we tried to make it work. I think we succeeded…for a little while. I had something to talk about to strangers in bars. I had a reason to get up and get dressed in the morning. I was proud of it, of how much I knew, of how special it made me feel. We saw each other every day, and it was almost spiritual the connection I felt we shared. The more we kept it up, though, the more I realized that something was missing. Most of the important places in my heart were full to the brim, but those that weren’t were empty and meaningless. I cried sometimes for no reason. What we had couldn’t help that. What was staying giving me? I felt thin and old, stretched too far. My wants and needs echoed unanswered in the emptiness. I knew it was time to leave.
Yes, Oberlin is the closest thing I’ve had to being in a relationship. Did we go on dates? Of course not. Did I get weak in the knees thinking of the well-manicured streets and cute historic homes? Don’t be silly. But for upwards of six years, being an Oberlinian has been a defining part of my personality. I loved walking through the streets knowing who had walked there before me. I loved chatting with the bartenders and baristas that I knew, not only by name, but by having actually worked with them. I loved everything about it, and I still do. That’s the thing: I still do.
You may think I’m crazy for comparing moving to a new city to breaking up with a partner, but hear me out. What I had in Oberlin, I can’t have anymore by virtue of not living there. We’re not strangers, but whenever I walk the streets, it will just be temporary now. The storefronts will change, the kids I taught will grow up, and we won’t share that experience. I’ll visit, of course, but it won’t be the same like I want it to be. We’ll make casual small talk. We will part amicably and promise to see each other soon, but I can’t wrap myself up in its familiarity on a cold, lonely night anymore. The intimacy that existed between us is gone, and my future is unknown.
As scary as it is, I think separation is okay. If movies have taught me anything about break ups, it’s that the love is still there, but you’re better apart. There’s a lot my deep connection to Oberlin prevented me from experiencing. This is a step forward, but it is so hard not to look back. For the next two weeks, I will be filling my unemployed hours with things I haven’t yet planned. There’s nothing I want more than to go back to Oberlin, to drink where I know I’m safe, to make old jokes with good friends, to be somewhere where my crazy knowledge of local history adds to a conversation…
It’s hard to describe my feelings because, like most of my knowledge, I find myself suddenly displaced and irrelevant. Cleveland is a small city, but my experience of life is minuscule in comparison. I know I’m smart and talented and independent and all those good things people keep telling me. (That’s another similarity to a break up. My friends are rallying around me, validating me, and rehashing all the bad things about my relationship to Oberlin like that will help me forget I ever loved it.) I know I’ll be okay. I know someday I’ll find what I couldn’t in Oberlin. But for now, I’m going to randomly start crying. I’m going to miss it with all my heart. And I’m going to call it a break up.