Adulthood, Round Two

Putting yourself back together when things fall apart

In the beginning of 2013, just after my twenty-eighth birthday, I thought I had it all figured out. I had a Masters degree and a steady job; I’d just published my first book with a reputable London house; I was finally independent financially; and my long-term boyfriend and I would soon be engaged and moving back to my home country to start our own American Dream. I was content, settled in my age and my accomplishments for the first time I could remember—if that wasn’t the definition of adulthood, I didn’t know what was.

Then, a few months into the year, the grown-up life I’d built started to unravel. My relationship with my family hit previously unheard of levels of strife and I stopped talking to my parents altogether; my brain was so burned out from writing and editing the book that I was convinced I’d never write anything of value again; and, worst of all, my fiancé started acting like someone I didn’t know, someone cruel, lying to me and flipping erratically between excitement about our upcoming commitment and extreme uncertainty about the one thing he’d been adamant he wanted for seven years (me, in his life, for the rest of it). Eventually, I discovered he’d been having an affair, and the betrayal went far too deep to forgive. I lost everything I’d held so dear, in one fell swoop.

As my life as I knew it disintegrated, so did my sense of self. Who was I if I wasn’t G’s partner? Where was my passion if I felt no motivation or energy to write? What would I do with myself if I didn’t have my job, my home, and my grown-up life? I was paralyzed, tormented by the destruction of a future I had come to rely on, and in the nightmarish month after we broke up, I had no choice but to plan to move back to the States alone, into the home of my parents, with whom I was still on very shaky terms.

None of it was ideal, but it was the only option I had. I couldn’t stay in London on my own—my visa would expire in a few months—I couldn’t afford our apartment without G’s share, and the city where we spent five years together had become a torture chamber—I had nowhere else to go but back “home.” When I arrived in San Francisco, twenty-five pounds lighter and an emotional wreck after a month of crying instead of eating, I felt like I’d stepped into a parallel universe. Somewhere out there I was still engaged, still happy and fulfilled and looking forward to our future. This was just a visit, like all the other times I’d come back for brief vacations from real life.

Of course, over the months that followed I eventually had to face the truth: I was alone. I was also jobless, living in my parents’ house, and still not writing—well, I was pouring my pain into a journal, and typing the odd bloodletting post on my blog, but I wasn’t writing anything structured, anything I felt proud of. I doubled over in sobs every morning when I woke up and realized it hadn’t all been a horrible dream, spent all day in excruciating emotional pain, and fell asleep every evening praying to wake up to a different reality the next day.

Then, so slowly I could barely feel it, I started to grow up again. The massive wound inside me scabbed over and cracked open again a thousand times, until the scabs started to pile upon themselves and I formed some sort of hard lump of determination. With the help of a good friend I found the right therapist, and with the everyday support of my loved ones—mostly friends, but some family as well—I began to have moments of feeling human. After a couple of months of moments, I even went whole days without tears. I started eating normally again, and then quickly worried about gaining back the weight I’d lost so unhealthily (that’s one way I knew I was recovering part of my old self, the rude part I fight every day when I’m not entirely crushed). I went on dates, so many first dates, and a few second and third. I also learned that I’m great at dates, and that people want to date me, sometimes more than three times.

I started writing again. I wrote an essay about my ex, and it was published by my favorite wedding site (the only one I still read now, over a year after the engagement ended). I was floored, thrilled, and filled with the kind of pure happiness I wasn’t sure I was still capable of. I wrote more blog posts, with a little less bloodletting and a little more thoughtfulness. I got surprisingly invested in yoga, after much snark about the “girls in yoga pants,” and found it helped my mood and sense of self immensely.

These days I cry pretty rarely, although I have my moments. I don’t go on many dates, but the ones I do go on are mellower and less focused on people-pleasing. I can touch my toes and hold a side plank. I socialize to see people I love, rather than to distract myself from my loneliness. I am still lonely, but I’m learning to sit with it. Most importantly, I’m writing. In fact, I’m moving to Italy in September to dedicate three months of my life (and my savings) to writing my next book—the book I would have sworn I didn’t have in me just last year.

A year and a half ago I thought I’d reached adulthood. I was happy, with what I thought was a beautiful future in front of me. But that future was picked apart by fingernails black with deceit, and as I watched it go I felt myself disintegrate too. Growing up all over again has felt impossible at times, but the only alternative was to stop living, so I kept on trying. Am I grown up now? Not hardly. But I’m getting there, and the core of fledgling-adult me is stronger this time, made of scar tissue that is slowly healing into something unbreakable—it might look ugly from some angles, but its resilience is beautiful to me.

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  • pumpkinpicker

    “Then, so slowly I could barely feel it, I started to grow up again. The
    massive wound inside me scabbed over and cracked open again a thousand
    times, until the scabs started to pile upon themselves and I formed some
    sort of hard lump of determination”.

    Yes, this.

  • Juanita

    Though I haven’t gone through this myself (22, on round one of growing up), but in an odd way it gives me hope. Hope that if things fall apart my heart will heal. Hope that no matter what happens, no matter who I have I can grow up and make a life I’m proud of. Thank you for sharing your story, it doesn’t sound easy at all. Thank you for continuing to write. I hope growing up round 2 is much more joyous for you.

  • EF

    Well, wow. That was an emotional start to the week.

    And it’s posts like this that keep me around APW. Life is so much more than just a wedding.

    • Stephanie B.

      “And it’s posts like this that keep me around APW. Life is so much more than just a wedding.”

      YES. Our 1-year wedding anniversary is in 2 weeks. APW got me through the wedding, and continues to get me through the rest of my life.

    • Yes! This x 1000. I’m a month away from my THIRD anniversary and have been a reader for at least two years before that- APW grows and changes with you and somehow finds a way to be exactly what we all need when we need it.
      Love to Anne, and thank you for posting. I eagerly await your Italian saga. ;)

  • Bets

    I’ve been here, under somewhat different circumstances, once or twice in my life; I’m currently finding my way out of one such depression now. The days without tears, the inability to write… this really conveys how visceral the experience is, and I’m glad that you rebounded (quicker than I did in my situations.) Thanks for writing this, it’s so helpful to know that we’re not alone.

  • River

    Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing, Anne! I loved your first essay for APW as well.

    Hope you have a SPECTACULAR trip to Italy. Here’s to round 2 of growing up!!

  • ruth

    I really needed to hear this today – thank you!! As my husband and I contemplate having a baby, I sometimes feel so not at all grown up – and I realize I’ll probably never feel entirely grown up – grown up is an ever evolving state. Thank you for sharing – I was having a really terrible day and your piece really helped make it better.

  • Anne H Putnam

    Even after my engagement ended I knew I would keep reading APW, but it’s this wonderfully supportive and thoughtful community that encourages me to submit my own writing – I appreciate all of your comments SO MUCH! xoxo

  • Kara E

    I’m very glad you’re writing again, you have a voice that needs sharing. Best of luck as you continue to heal.

  • MN

    In the past 12 months I was let go from a job I loved after 6 years, I lost my father to cancer and I started divorce proceedings with my partner of over 11 years. Some days it seems as though I’m drowning and there is no amount of kicking that will let me break through the surface. But the next day always comes and there are starting to be moments, albeit brief, when life seems possible. Starting over again is terrifying.

    Thank you for this post. It was my moment for today.

  • This is beautiful. We may not all have the same story but most of us have some soul crushing starting over to do at some point in our lives. It’s so difficult but it does make us stronger and hopefully more focused and resilient. Traveling to Italy to write sounds like you are moving forward positively. Good luck and adventures and happiness!

  • Courtney

    Beautifully written and well-put. Thank you for writing this piece.

    Secretly I’m convinced a lot of people go through their life breaking apart at some point from 28-30, and it feels so isolating when many of your peers are “settling down,” whatever that means, to have your career/relationships/life cracking beneath you. It makes it much more difficult to not feel like you’ve somehow failed when it’s an age at which you were supposed to be reaping the fruits of the labor and self-discovery of your twenties.

  • Brit Anon

    In Dec due to an underlying absence of self-esteem, I sort-of self-destructed my fledgling freelance career and lost a good friend / new boss in the process. Afterwards it was like nothing was there to make me feel worth something. Now I go to counselling + am trying to look for work again, still I feel lost sometimes. Your article gives me reassurance + hope because I suddenly recognise the same new strength you mention at the end of your article- I feel it happening in myself – thanks. : )

  • Amanda

    This is beautiful. I too have had to rebuild my life from a huge blow to my identity. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, and now it’s one of my proudest achievements. I hope you find that pride in your experience someday.

  • “I was paralyzed, tormented by the destruction of a future I had come to rely on…”

    This is exactly how I felt when my first engagement ended. The scariest part to me was that I didn’t know what my future looked like. It was scary planning a few life, but my current life is much better than the one I was planning with him.

  • This was a great post. And so many of the parts about the pain are things I relate to 100% (the infidelity diet, crying, slowly beginning to feel human again, living in another country, etc.) I chose to stay in the foreign country I live in (that I immigrated to for my ex), but I am a permanent resident here, so that was a possibility for me.

    And I find it interesting that for you, Anne, the experience was a re-growing up for you. That thought never occurred to me at all. But maybe that’s because it happened to me when I was about ten years older than you and have felt “adult” for a while now. For me it has been a re-building, for sure, and I have learned lots along the way. And there have been moments of feeling like my life timeline is going in reverse (divorce instead of “forward” further into my marriage and possibly having kids and possibly buying a house, etc.), but somehow it’s never occurred to me to feel less adult (or that I have become more adult). For me, it’s just been a horrific life experience that shook my life to its foundations and has left me to rebuild. A reboot…but, for me personally, unrelated to adult-ness.

    • PS. I am really so sorry you’ve had to go through this.

      • Anne H. Putnam

        Thank you, Jenny, and I’m equally sorry to hear about your struggles. I completely relate to the feeling of moving backwards, and I hope things get easier for you – I have faith they will, with time, but in the meantime this community is here for you, myself included.

        • Thanks, Anne! Things are SO much better than they were a year ago. Time really does help, and I feel like I have reached a new normal. It’s a different life than I thought I would have, but I will make it a fabulous one anyways. :) All the best to you in your healing and rebullding…

  • anon

    Love this, loved your first piece for APW too — relate to both, strongly. So glad to read this follow-up and have a fabulous time in Italy!

  • anonymousforthis

    I understand this in a way I had hoped never to. My mother in law, previously regarded as well-intentioned if not always a balanced individual, definitely threw us out of her house that we’ve been in for 6 months…at four thirty on a monday morning. we had to go in through the window the next day to get my office supplies and our cat…because she wouldn’t open the door or get out of bed.
    so we’re starting over completely. falling back on the grace of relatives and loved ones. to build a place where we’re more than tolerated. it’s hard. it’s terrifying. the both of us are prone to emotional outbursts at the moment. But it’s going to be so good. We still have our tiny intact family. And nothing like an immediate crisis to show you who you can rely on. Don’t give up. Adulthood is hard but we can do it.

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  • Anonymous

    nice article.. my wife staying away from me.. and she is pregant

  • royalkazaar

    royalkazaar nice article… i needed the support… my wife about to deliver.. but the saddest part is she not staying with me because of her mother.. i miss and love her..