By Hannah Renee Paasch
It was a lazy, scorching summer day—the kind of day where you walk outside and just get assaulted by the dragon-level fire breath of an Arizona July—when I stormed onto a local Starbucks patio and said the last words I would ever say to my ex-boyfriend. I was overcome with a sense of personal pride at how direct, how eviscerating I could be—how the words came right to me and marched out of my mouth in perfect formation. (Cue Bey hair-flips.) I swelled with pride and power. I imagined that everyone walking in and out of those heavily misted doors with their iced trenta passion tea lemonades could tell what a majestic force they were in the presence of and were awed into taking great zig-zagging lengths to avoid crossing my path.
I felt regal.
I felt righteous.
I felt right.
This ex-boyfriend of mine had called off the nebulous non-dating thing he was doing with my not-yet-roommate the minute that I decided I would date him, only to run into the next bedroom and throw himself at her the minute I decided I was done with him. The audacity! I had never imagined this man capable of such pettiness, and I told him so in no uncertain terms—and then got up and ceremoniously walked off, allowing him not one moment to get a word in edgewise.
In retrospect, while I realize it was still a dumb call on his part to do what he did, what I didn’t take into account was that… sometimes dumb calls work out.
Just because I wouldn’t do the thing he did if I were him and just because I wouldn’t have taken him back if I were my roommate and just because nobody should probably ever encourage a friend to do any of these things either of them did, didn’t actually mean that their relationship was doomed. In fact, these two humans are now very happily married to each other, and despite my utter disbelief, I can manage—through the lenses of time and my processing of my own grief—to wish them well. All that bullshit about “building the right foundation” or starting things “the right way” in the long run, is just that—bullshit.
There are rules, and then there is always somebody in your life who is an exception to those rules. Only you can know who and when that is in your heart, and ultimately, nobody else can tell you otherwise.
Not even a really regal, really righteous, really right ex-girlfriend.
But let’s talk about the reasons I thought I was right for a second though. Because let’s be honest, you probably think I was, too. I mean, that was shady, right? GIRL CODE or whatever! But here’s the horrible, awful, no-good thing I’ve learned as an adult human:
GIRL CODE IS NOT REAL.
You know why? Because no one belongs to you, not even your ex. What happened between you—your story—you own that. You own yourself. You are the point of you. (I’m gonna say that in every Flawless post I write for the next year, probably. Get used to it. Memorize it. Tattoo it on your body somewhere. Wait, should we all do that?! Flawless Project tattoo party?! The POINT, Hannah! Get back to it.)
Nobody is yours.
Not because of that magical kiss you shared under a moonlit sky, not because of those three glorious years you spent together, and not because you gave them the most precious, intimate, heart-wrenching moments of your young life.
I know. It BLOWS.
We know that it’s wrong for men to take away our agency and act like they called “dibs” on us. We know that it’s wrong for men to dehumanize us, to objectify us and turn us into a prize to be won, but what does it say about us when we do that to them? What is with this double standard? And of course, it doesn’t even necessarily fall along gendered lines. Former partners of any gender can fall prey to the temptation to treat others like they somehow owe them something by virtue of having once been in a relationship.
I realize that it helps us to feel secure and brings some kind of sense to our stories, but in reality, it’s not fair for me to be able to dictate the future decisions of the people around me because of the past I share with them. Obviously, you need to “stack your wants,” as my best friend Emily would say: if someone is attracted to a recent ex of mine but her relationship with me is more important, she’s probably gonna say no to a passing attraction because she wants to stay close with me. But that’s exactly what my ex-boyfriend and my ex-roommate did too! They decided that their connection was more important than their friendship with me, and that was perfectly okay for them to do.
I read this beautiful, horrible quote on Instagram the other day, and this is how it went:
People are allowed to leave you.
People are allowed to break up with you.
People are allowed to love you but not want to be with you.
People are allowed to not want to talk to you.
People are allowed to put their happiness before yours and do what makes them happy even if it does not include you.
People are allowed to move on.
People are allowed to fall in love with someone else.
People are allowed to not want you in their life.
People are allowed to do whatever they want to better themselves and become the version of themselves they are trying so hard to love.
Obviously, I hated that.
But I screenshotted it and I go back to it from time to time because I need to remember that the very principles of AGENCY and AUTONOMY and PERSONHOOD that I ascribe to so whole-heartedly for myself and for my girls apply to ex-boyfriends and ex-roommates too—and the sad news is, darlin’, that they apply to yours, as well.
We have to learn how to let people go.
We have to learn to let people be.
We have to learn to let them live and love and flourish exactly as they need to flourish, even if we don’t like the way that they picked.
We have to learn to let them find their exceptions to the “rules.”
Maybe we have to throw out the rulebook entirely.
Hannah Renee Paasch is the co-founder of The Flawless Project and lives in Nashville, TN with her two cats Ruth and Earl. Hannah is also the housing outreach navigator for a local non-profit that helps people experiencing homelessness, and the frontwoman of feminist-blues-rock ‘n roll outfit Ida Grey, whose work can be found here.