Why I believe in ‘right person wrong time’: A personal essay

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I’m a serial monogamist. I never intended to operate my love life in that way, but whenever I’m single, it’s only a matter of time before I end up in a committed relationship once again. For someone who generally considers herself a bitter person, the hopelessly romantic side to my personality has never been quite on brand. Still, it’s unmistakably present — and more often than not — that I find myself swearing to my friends that this girl is the one and I actually think she’s my soulmate. Having heard those words more than a few times, they were mostly ready to write off my declarations of love for the rest of my life — until, that is, they met my most recent partner, Jenny.

I started last semester off with a bang, thoroughly stir-crazy from more than a year of online school and limited personal interaction. For most of August and September, I went out far too often, slept through my morning classes and prioritized my social life above all else. I swore it wouldn’t catch up to me, but after a few weeks, I was inevitably burnt out. Exhausted and struggling to keep my mental health under control, I vowed to use the semester to focus on self-growth. For once in my life, I wouldn’t get into a relationship. This period was supposed to be about my cliche journey of reflection.

This period was supposed to be about my cliche journey of reflection.

I’d moved into communal housing at the beginning of the year, and Jenny’s best friend, Molly, lived in the room directly above mine. That was how I initially met Jenny, but I really noticed her for the first time when she sat across from me in class. Midway through the lecture, I looked over and immediately recognized her, and a weird feeling came over me that I wanted to know her. Over the next week, I actively pursued her, giving her my phone number after our discussion section and finagling a supposedly coincidental meetup with Molly’s help. By the beginning of October, we were spending almost every day together, and my goal of taking time for myself was effectively thrown out of the window.

Jenny was different from anyone I’d been with before. All of our interactions felt natural in a way that I’d never experienced. We could talk for hours about anything ranging from racial politics to homoeroticism in Taylor Swift songs. I was inexplicably drawn to her; through every minute that we spent together, I craved intimacy in every sense. Everyone who saw us together told me that they could tell that we were right for each other. Even the most skeptical of my friends admitted that there was something right about us that they couldn’t quite explain. I’ll never forget Molly telling me that this was the happiest she’d ever seen either of us.

As far as I could tell, the stars had aligned. I immersed myself in our relationship and savored everything we did together. We took an unprompted weekend trip to Lake Tahoe, where she willingly indulged my desire to help craft an overly-complicated charcuterie board. We screamed in tandem at the Phoebe Bridgers concert until we both thought we were going to pass out, along with every other queer girl in the city of Berkeley. When I caught the flu, she diligently took care of me for days, effectively wooing my roommate, who had been the biggest proponent of my “single semester.” Objectively, everything seemed to be perfect. I never had the sense that anything could go wrong.

You may remember earlier in this essay, when I mentioned I’d been having difficulties keeping my mental health in check. I, unfortunately, did not remember this. Captivated by my feelings for Jenny, I ignored the telltale signs that my well-being was taking a turn for the worse. Only when I began to spiral out of control did I realize that I’d been turning a blind eye to my declining mental state. Quickly, it started to impact our relationship. I went through intense phases of wanting closeness at some points, rejecting it altogether at others. I warned her I would eventually ruin what we had together. I told her without any explanation I was “the worst girlfriend in the world.” I started to self-sabotage at a rapidly increasing rate.

At my request, we took a break, only to get back together less than a week later. Not having taken the time to think things through, the state of our relationship only worsened from there. It was clear to both of us that I wasn’t OK, but our mutual desire to make things work at any cost prevented us from fully acknowledging the implications of this reality. After all, we were perfect for each other. If we just put in the effort required, I told myself, it had to be OK. Still, I had the acute sense that something was wrong. It wasn’t a lack of passion, feeling or compatibility. As it turned out, it was simply my inability to healthily navigate a partnership.

Eventually, Jenny did what I wouldn’t: She broke up with me. It was the kindest breakup imaginable, with her assuring me that the circumstances just weren’t right. She explained that she wanted the best for me and that it was evident I couldn’t fully heal while in this relationship. Maybe, she suggested, we could try again someday. In response, I was sullen and closed off, exhibiting none of the dignity she’d maintained throughout the conversation. Though I knew everything she was saying was true, I was gutted. I’d wanted more than anything else for things to work out. It killed me that they hadn’t.

For the next week, I was a nightmare to be around. I bemoaned my situation to anyone who would listen, taking up residency on one of the downstairs couches in my house, where I sat curled up in a blanket for hours on end. Although my friends had the decency to act sympathetic, they had all seen this coming from a mile away. Gently, they suggested that I use this time to really work on myself, like I’d promised I would do months prior. Of course, I didn’t want to hear that; I just wanted to continue complaining without actually taking any action to rectify the state of affairs.

Luckily for everyone who endured my presence right after the breakup, I’d impulsively booked a cheap flight to Puerto Rico back in September that was set to take off just three days later. That trip — and the forced distance that it provided — turned out to be my saving grace. I spent the entirety of dead week in San Juan with a group of friends, snorkeling through the ocean and jumping off cliffs in a rainforest. As I did, I took the time necessary to reflect on the past several months and the corresponding tumultuousness in my life. I was able to realize that my biggest mistake had been refusing to take the time and space I needed to work through the obstacles I was facing. I spent roughly zero minutes studying for my final exams, but I returned to Berkeley with a stability more salient than I’d felt in as long as I could remember.

Over the course of the next month, I finally spent time with myself. I started journaling; I forced family members to let me give them tarot readings; I went for long, aimless drives on my own. As I did, I reflected on my experiences with romantic relationships. Since high school, I had felt myself drawn to companionship for all of the wrong reasons. For me, romantic encounters were a way to externalize the emotions I had never fully learned to deal with on my own. Each relationship I’d been in had been deeply meaningful, but they had also been partially fueled by a lack of self-understanding. My serial monogamy was a way for me to gain the validation that I was worthy of being loved when I wasn’t able to access that love within myself. When I took the time to be alone, I was able to cultivate a level of self-gratification that I had never achieved before. Only then did I finally reach my goal of nurturing love for myself.

My serial monogamy was a way for me to gain the validation that I was worthy of being loved.

It was on New Year’s Eve when I realized that, without actively attempting to, I had reached a point where I was happy being single. I felt no need to seek affirmation from others because I had everything that I needed within myself and my friendships. I had the intense revelation that I could be complete without a relationship. Had I not still been stricken by my feelings for someone, I would have been content to remain single. However, now that I was finally in a place to think about it, I felt my mind pulled back to Jenny.

After our breakup, I had mourned my relationship with her. Jenny deserved better than what I had been able to offer her at the time, yet I had found myself in a place where I truly believed I was capable of caring for her and myself at the same time. I knew that, given the chance, I would be able to show her what it meant to be with someone in a positive and healthy way. And, more than anything, I wanted to do that.

So, I did what any self-respecting person would do: I groveled. I wrote her a painstaking letter apologizing for the situation and acknowledging that she had done the right thing. I made endless promises that I would take care of her fully and completely. I swore I would never hurt her like I had done before. Above all, I made an effort to show her that I was getting better. Yes, it would be a continuous process, but I was well on my way to being comfortable with myself. As wary as she initially was, she still listened; she saw the authenticity behind my words, and several weeks later, by some miracle, she decided to take me back. Taking care to pace myself in our relationship and ensure that I was tending to my mental health, I was as happy as I could be.

Love doesn’t come or go when you want it to. Often, it strikes you at what feels like the least convenient time possible. I’d always thought that to love someone meant having them at your side through everything. The past few months have taught me, though, that there are times in your life when being with someone else brings more heartache than healing. To truly love someone is to understand the importance of prioritizing yourself — only when you do so can you truly reap the benefits of everything that a relationship has to offer.

As I sit in reverence of the girl whom I can once again call my partner, I’m not struck by the idea of fate. Instead, I’m struck by that of commitment, not only to her, but to myself. As enraptured by love as I am, I know now that I am not defined by my relationship, but by my ability to value myself enough to consistently seek personal growth. I just happen to be so lucky as to have the right person next to me as I embark on this journey.

Contact Olivia Rhee at [email protected].