“I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me?”
— The Beatles, Norwegian Woods
Some years ago, I had a girlfriend. We’ll call her Mary.
Mary was a distinguished student, a career-oriented girl, a strong-willed woman, an ambitious person, a firm holder of her beliefs and convictions, an incurable enthusiast, a smart cookie, a bookworm, a chorister, and a passionate designer.
My relationship with her was also special. You see, for the first time in my life, I was dating someone with complete approval from her parents. They welcomed me from day one, and, although they didn’t live together and didn’t always get along well, mom and dad were always nice to me. They liked me. Her siblings liked me (I think). Hell, even her pets liked me. It was great.
Mary and I would meet about three times a week, watch movies together, and recommend books to each other. We would also talk on the phone for a few minutes every evening, go on occasional trips, and have lunch at her house every other Sunday. Oh! And we had a rather exhausting tradition of giving overly-elaborated hand-made gifts to each other every month.
We used to talk about a future together, too. Someday, we didn’t know exactly when or how, we would get married and have a nice house full of cool things. We also had plans to move abroad together and travel the world. Then, we would have children and a dog, and we would love each other forever.
Needless to say, I was overjoyed with the prospect of sharing the rest of my life with Mary, and I wasn’t afraid to shout it from the rooftops. My Facebook timeline was full of photos of us and every little occasion we celebrated, every food we had together, and every corny love phrase we could find online.
Back then, it was like a dream come true. For the first time in a really long time, I felt alive. I was optimistic. I wasn’t afraid. I felt genuinely happy, like my life was worth living. Mary was everything I had ever dreamed of.
Which is why, of course, she left me after just eight and a half months.
The huge mistake a lot of people make: Delegating the responsibility of their happiness on a partner
Mary had been a bit distant during the last few weeks of our relationship. Every time I asked if everything was okay, she would just say she was tired and stressed out. And so, one November afternoon, after about three weeks of the same old, same old, we decided to have lunch together in the food court of a mall.
That’s when she dropped the bomb.
Mary said she’d had enough with me and my self-pitting attitude, my lack of vision, my non-existent ambition, my abysmal self-esteem, my low career standards, my never-ending whining and complaining, and my perpetual tendency to put off my personal projects.
But there was one other thing she mentioned that day. One key element to her decision to break up with me: My over-dependence and needy attitude toward her.
I, of course, could not believe what was happening. Mary, the girl I loved and wanted to marry someday, was dumping me. Nothing could have prepared me for that. I never saw it coming.
I asked her if there was someone else. She said there wasn’t, and insisted it was all on me. She said she could no longer see herself by my side in the future, and that she didn’t even love me anymore, at least not as a woman can love a man. And then, with a painful “I’m sorry,” she made it official.
So much for my happy ending.
I stood up, left the food court, and walked out of the mall like a zombie. Upon arriving home, I took it like a champ. And by that I mean I curled into a ball and cried my eyes out.
In the days that followed, I called her repeatedly, wrote her a bunch of letters, bought her flowers, and tried to take her out to dates. I also dropped a mountain of presents upon her feet and begged her over and over again to reconsider her decision. Basically, I was spending up the last shreds of dignity I still had left, all in a desperate effort to “save” the relationship and make her fall for me again.
Nothing worked. It was over. Mary didn’t want to see me anymore, and there was nothing I could do to change that, no matter how hard I tried.
As the weeks went by, I lost considerable weight and spent most of my days posting gloomy and depressing status updates on my social media sites. Now, I had had my heart broken a number of times before, of course, but on this particular occasion, it was different. I had reached a new low on my own scale of wretchedness.
To make matters even worse, Mary took out all of our photos from Facebook and started posting new ones. And let me tell you: They were painful to look at. She was always smiling, her eyes shining, always in the company of friends and family, and looking radiant. I, on the other hand, was depressed, lonely, and sorry for myself. I couldn’t even have my picture taken unless I was wearing a silly Darth Vader mask (don’t ask why).
This contrast left me confused as hell. I simply couldn’t understand why she seemed so unaffected and care-free, while I was basically the living embodiment of misery. In my mind, it seemed completely unfair.
I started listening to sad romantic music and watching videos about relationships, trying to understand where things had gone wrong. You see, I needed to know why and how I had so massively failed at having a long-lasting, significant relationship with a good girl.
That’s when I stumbled upon 500 Days Of Summer, which is currently my favorite movie. The film, in combination with this whole experience, made me realize I had made a really (and I mean, really) bad mistake. And since this is also one of the most powerful lessons I’ve ever learned the hard way, I’ll type it in bold:
If you aren’t happy, then you’re not ready for love. Starting a relationship before you find happiness in your life will only bring misery upon your partner and subsequently upon yourself.
To illustrate my point, I will now compare Mary with my former me.
- Mary was passionate about her career choice and personal growth. Me, I had a job to pay the bills and save some money, whenever possible.
- Mary was enthusiastic and willing to try out new and exciting things. Me, I would call myself a failure over a badly cooked patty. I’m dead freaking serious.
- Mary directed all her efforts into her studies to someday ‘take the world by storm’ (in her own words). Me, I used to express plans to look for a scholarship abroad and go to graduate school, which I never got around to doing.
- Mary believed in herself and would persist in all efforts to succeed, even against all odds. Me, I would usually just quit before I even tried anything.
- Mary could deal with criticism and learn from her mistakes. Me, I would take criticism to heart and kick up a fuss based on it.
You get the picture.
Now, why would someone like her be the girlfriend of someone like the back-then me? Well, I guess it happened because at some point we found each other somewhat attractive, shared a number of hobbies and interests, and agreed on most points of view about romance. Also, we both came from failed relationships and were willing to give love a new chance with someone new.
As it turned out, however, those reasons, while relevant, are just superficial. I discovered you also need to know where you’re headed in life in order to have a successful and happy relationship. Someone with a clear vision of the future won’t be happy sharing their life with someone who doesn’t know what to do with theirs.
Point is, I was an unhappy bastard. I entered the relationship believing that love alone would make me happy. Having someone special by my side was enough for me to believe that my life was worth living. I thought love would give meaning to my existence, however pathetic it was. Somehow I masked all my shortcomings and frustrations by fooling myself into believing all I needed was love to make sense out of everything.
Mary, on the other hand, entered the relationship as a happy person. However, she was getting the happiness sucked out of her soul because of my needy attitude, so she had to do something about it. She broke up with me, and since her happiness wasn’t based merely on being by my side, she was able to go on with her life, happy as ever.
If you want to be loved and happy, you have to love yourself and be happy by yourself first.
The day we broke up, Mary put her finger on a huge mistake I had made while we were dating.
It was something I said. You know, a phrase of the incredibly-stupid kind. In my defense, though, I really don’t remember whether I actually meant it, or if I said it just to “impress” her. Either way, it was moronic of me to say it.
WARNING: You’re in for a cringe-fest.
One day, after lunch, we were alone sitting, talking about the upcoming Christmas and New Year, when I came up with a brilliant idea. I wanted her to remember that day, and what better way to create a magical moment than uttering an over-the-top, excessively corny, and terribly ill-timed love statement?
I turned around and said something like:
“I really don’t know what I’d do without you. You’re the only thing that makes me happy, and I have realized I love you more than I love myself.”
I know: Ugh.
If it had been a romantic movie, especially a bad one, Mary would have fallen into my arms, kissed me passionately, and started crying, touched by my words. Instead, she opened her eyes in horror, froze for a second, and told me, in a very serious tone, “I don’t think that’s okay”, and asked me not to say such things again.
I was confused, but I agreed. My perfect love statement hadn’t produced the results I was expecting, but I decided to put the incident behind me. Little did I know, however, that I had just shot myself in the foot. That’s right. My stupid phrase had backfired colossally.
As it turned out, that particular exchange raised a huge red flag for her, and ended up playing a significant role in Mary’s decisions to leave me.
Which takes us to the second lesson I got from all this:
Your happiness is your responsibility, and yours only. If you think a person can, or should make you happy, you’ll be placing an unbearable burden upon their shoulders, one they won’t be able to carry long, and will eventually put down.
Happiness is personal, and no one can give it to you. It is also a life-long struggle: You aren’t born naturally happy and you can’t reach a state of perpetual happiness. Fundamentally, happiness is a habit, and you won’t find it exclusively in love. You constantly have to make a conscious effort to be happy where you are with what you have while you fight to reach your goals and get to the next milestone in your life.
My point is, love won’t make you happy. You need to be happy to start a relationship, and not the other way around. That will enable you to enrich your relationship and your partner’s life by sharing your happiness with them, not by demanding it from them. Expecting your partner to be the sole bringer of happiness in your life is an infallible recipe for disaster. Trust me on this. Burdening your partner with the weight of your happiness is like stepping on an ant while trying not to crush it.
In short, Mary left me because I was a needy, whiny, and lackluster wretch. And I needed Mary because I had deposited my happiness on her. She was everything to me.
Simple logic 101: If your everything goes away, then what are you left with?
Why do we believe happiness can be found in someone else, then?
If love won’t make you happy, why do most people believe the exact opposite?
Hard to say. I have a hypothesis, though.
In the world of entertainment, especially in the music business, there’s an overabundance of lyrical content alluding to love and a person to love as the formula to make life worth living. They basically sell you the idea that you need to find love to be happy, complete, safe, and sane.
After all, All You Need Is Love, right?
You know what I’m talking about; but just in case, I’ll now list a few examples of famous song lyrics to illustrate my point:
Have you ever needed someone so bad?
Have you ever wanted someone you just couldn’t have?
Did you ever try so hard that your world just fell apart?
Have you ever needed someone so bad?
And to the girl I gotta have:
I gotta have you baby
Def Leppard, Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad?
Meaning: “I’m a needy wimp and I’m entitled to you, whether you want me or not. You have no choice.” Not what I would call romantic. Cool song, though.
What? Too old school? Then, here’s another example, this time translated from Spanish:
That’s why, when your love beats harder,
I feel like living my life, I need you right here by my side.
That’s why, when your love beats harder,
I cling harder to you, for only you make me happy.
Only you make me happy.
Benjamin, When Your Love Beats Harder
(Original Spanish title: “Cuando tu amor late mas fuerte”)
Meaning: “My life is pointless without you.” That’s not romantic. That’s actually really, really sad.
Never heard that song before? No problem. Let’s get mainstream:
The bed’s getting cold and you’re not here
The future that we hold is so unclear
But I’m not alive until you call
And I’ll bet the odds against it all
Save your advice ’cause I won’t hear
You might be right but I don’t care
There’s a million reasons why I should give you up
But the heart wants what it wants
The heart wants what it wants
Selena Gomez, The Heart Wants What It Wants
Meaning: “You might want to talk some sense into me, and convince me I’m better off without you (which I already know), buy all I care about is my obsession with you.”
I could go on, but the list is endless. If you listen carefully, you’ll notice how verses like these are all over the place in the lyrics of popular pop songs. It’s been like this for decades.
How many songs containing the verse “Love won’t make you happy” do you actually know? I honestly can’t think of any myself. On the other hand, you’ve undoubtedly and repeatedly heard phrases like “I need you”, “I need your love”, “I’m lost without you”, “Only you can make me happy”, “I need you by my side”, “Love is like oxygen”, “You’re my obsession”, “I will follow you wherever you go”, “You make my life worthwhile”, “You belong to me”, “I’m yours”, etc.
These verses sound nice and romantic on the surface, but they also carry a deeply unsettling meaning underneath. They basically tell you the only way to be happy and have peace of mind is to have the object of your obsession by your side.
And the problem is, we’ve all been exposed to lyrics like these, ever since we were kids. No wonder we grow up with the idea that love is the missing ingredient we need to turn around our messed-up lives!
This begs the question, of course, why? Why is the music industry so hell-bent on producing songs containing such intoxicating lyrical fallacies? If love won’t make you happy, why are they constantly trying to convince you otherwise?
It’s simple. Music is a product, and music corporations sell you the music you’re willing to buy, not the music you need to grow as a person or be a better life partner.
Our brains crave for music to accompany the ups and downs of our daily lives. When you’re happy, you listen to upbeat hits. You go for slow, melancholic tunes when you’re sad. And when you’re heartbroken, or madly in love, you’ll almost inevitably listen to songs like the ones above. The music industry is aware of this, and since they are in the business of selling music to you rather than educate you, they will perpetuate the commercialization of songs with lyrical content that reflects what you feel, whether they’re good for you or not.
It’s like soda. It’s terrible for health, but we can’t stop consuming it!
And it’s not just music. You’ll find similar themes in movies, books, short stories, poems, and even fairytales if you just pay attention. This romantic bullcrap is everywhere, spreading like a virus, infecting the minds and souls of innocent people who don’t know what love is yet. Take it from me. I was one of them!
The best vaccine against it is knowing the immutable truth: Love won’t make you happy. A person cannot give meaning to your life. You have to find happiness and meaning before you find love. Period.
You can actually live happily ever after — just not because of someone else.
So, what choice do you have after someone’s dumped you?
Well, you suck it up. Plain and simple.
In my case, the breakup with Mary left me devastated, and not just for a few days. I missed her really bad for at least a couple of years afterwards.
But what about Mary? Don’t think it was easy for her. Breaking up with someone is a hard pill to swallow for both parties. Mary felt tremendous guilt over the breakup. She knew she had smashed my heart to pieces, but there was nothing else she could do. I wasn’t the person she wanted by her side anymore, so she had to do it, and painful as it was for the both of us, it was also necessary.
Can you imagine what would have happened if she had allowed the whole thing to continue? The result would have been two very unhappy people being together, one looking for an exit route but too afraid to leave because the other one needed her desperately to go on. That doesn’t sound like a relationship. It sounds like a growing cancerous tumor.
So yeah, Mary had to pick her poison. Me, I had to face the music.
But hey, in the end, sucking it up is not the only thing you should do after an ugly breakup. You have to make sure that, whatever the hell it was that didn’t work, doesn’t happen again in the future. You need to understand where things went wrong. In other words, you have to learn a lesson or two from your own mistakes. In my case, the lesson was simple: Love won’t make you happy.
I distinctly remember getting up one day, sitting down on a couch, and grabbing a pen and paper. Thinking to myself “I’m never, ever, going to go through this crap again,” I started writing down every reason I could think of for the failure of my latest romantic relationship.
I discovered that there were, indeed, a fuckload of things that were wrong with me, not only as a boyfriend but as a person in general. Opening my eyes to this first realization felt liberating, invigorating, and empowering. In fact, it became the first step into changing who I was back then, into the person I am today.
Little by little, day by day, I took steps to overcome my insecurities and expand my working ambitions. I stopped complaining, and I started to focus on what I really enjoy doing. I also invested in my personal growth, improved upon my social skills, and began setting realistic and feasible goals. In other words, I did all I could to stop being a whiny loser.
I discovered happiness isn’t something that can be bestowed upon. It’s something you have to earn through constant efforts, all directed to the fulfillment of your life’s personal project, whatever it may be. And most importantly, I learned that you don’t need anyone else to be happy. I’m aware it sounds selfish, but trust me, it isn’t. When you realize that love won’t make you happy and that you can be happy by yourself, then being with someone else becomes a matter of choice, not necessity.
And guess what? Eventually, I started a new relationship with the woman who is now my wife. A relationship I began as someone who was contented with his life and where it was going. I chose a wonderful person I could share my happiness with, instead of someone to demand it from; and I’m really pleased to say that my wife also understands and practices this principle. As a result, we’re both happy, as we work together, every day, to enjoy life to the fullest, with its ups and downs, and through thick and thin; all without losing sight of our goals and dreams.
In short: We’re both happy with each other, not because of each other.
Yep. I married a responsible woman, an amazingly-gifted artist, a book lover, a great teacher, a family-oriented girl, a loving parent, a sweet kisser, a creative thinker, a good advisor, a great cook, a self-taught dressmaker, an entrepreneur, and my very best friend. She’s also the sexiest mother I know.
So, what happened to Mary? In all honesty, I have no idea. We’ve lost touch.
I hope she’s doing fine, though.
You see, the whole experience made me a much better person. Think about it: If I hadn’t met Mary, I would still be a needy manbaby. I would have never learned this important life lesson, and I would have screwed up my relationship with my wife by now.
In hindsight, the breakup with Mary, albeit painful, was a real blessing. It made me sink to the lowest point in the history of my own immaturity, from which I rose as a much healthier person, emotionally speaking. And now that I’m looking back, I’m glad it happened. You see, after hitting rock bottom, the only way to go is up. And up I went.
Bottom line: You don’t have the right to burden your partner with the responsibility of your own happiness. The sooner you realize that, the better. That’s when you’ll stop feeling incomplete. You will discover that you don’t need anyone else to be happy. And when you finally do, the right person will walk into your life when you least expect them. I can tell you that much.
In the end, no matter what songs, books, soap operas, or romantic movies tell you, a partner is meant to enrich your existence, not define it. Because love is a beautiful and amazing experience; but love alone won’t make you happy.
So, Mary, if you’re reading this, thank you.