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Back in middle school, I "dated" a handful of girls. Six or seven, if I recall correctly, including a ridiculous off and on "relationship" with a girl who grew up to learn she's a lesbian. Fortunately for me, you can't really turn someone gay, but that didn't stop the jokes from being made. But let's be honest, middle school relationships basically amount to two close friends who freak out because, "oh my god, we hugged!"

Fast forward a few years to the end of high school, and things look a bit more serious. I was your stereotypical, desperately alone nerd who couldn't help but come across as creepy to most girls. Hardly an ideal dating scenario. I did, however, date a girl my senior year of high school, marking my first real relationship. It was a valuable one, even if it did come to end. It was a victim of timing more so than anything else: with me heading off to college and she staying in high school, a long distance relationship didn't seem to be in the cards. So I called things off.

Shortly after arriving to college, I met a girl who became my friend very quickly. Within a couple months, our friendship took a turn to the romantic side. It was then I learned that dating in college is dramatically different from dating in high school. The lifestyles are practically opposites. It's the difference between "do we have permission to do this?" and "do we want to do this?". And when summer came this time around, I stuck with it. And for the most part, it all worked out. Coming back into the relationship in the fall felt a little weird after spending nearly three full months apart, though. But high school me was a very different person. I'm not so awkward anymore (at least, not in the same way), and I was talking to her about it. Hell yeah it was hard, but I respected this girl enough to be honest.

Ultimately, I ended the 9 month relationship. Whether it was due to the strangeness I felt upon returning, or because of an interest in another girl, I'm still not entirely sure. I think the combination of the two factors is what really brought me to call things off when I did.

And it's there at the start of my second year of college that I met the first girl I feel I genuinely loved. Our relationship kinda just... happened. She caught my attention by trying to not be noticed at all, and I somehow fell in love with her in a matter of weeks. But we were very different people. I'd like to think we challenged each other in the best of ways and could help each other grow as people, but after 7 months of being together and spending 3 months apart, she begged to differ.

When we both came back to campus a few days ago, everything seemed fine. By the end of our first day back, she revealed that she felt very awkward around me. The next day, she told me that she felt we have nothing in common; that we sit in a room and don't talk, and that we're heading different directions. Rather than put some work into an obviously committed relationship, she chose to walk away. And while I could have made comments about how communication is a two way street and she's not the most talkative person herself, I (shockingly) chose to bite my tongue. And that's how I know I really loved her. My tendency is to strike back when I'm hurt, but I stopped myself. I chose to let her decide on her own. I let her do what she felt like she needed to. And that was a huge moment of growth for me.

We walked away with few words, but I was certainly in a state of shock. I was upset. Deeply upset. But no matter what I did, I couldn't bring myself to cry over it. I was so overwhelmingly sad, I couldn't express anything at all. I just felt dead. And the first couple days thereafter were rough. I relied so heavily on the distraction provided by my job as an Orientation Assistant, and the support of my wonderful new friends to get through the long days. And only now do I get it.

For the first time, my relationship ended on terms that were not my own. For once, I was on the other side of the fence. And it sucked. In my previous breakups, moving on was so much easier because it was all on my terms. I was always sad, but not wounded the way I was this time around. But after a couple days of living with hurt, I simply stopped hurting.

It sounds ridiculous, I know. To go from being hurt to feeling okay and optimistic in such a short time sounds impossible, but it happened. I simply decided that instead of being sad, I could be awesome. I owed it to the new students I was about to mentor to not be sad, but to be genuinely able and willing to help them start the next big chapter of their lives. And perhaps most importantly, I owed it to myself start the next big chapter of mine.

The beautiful thing about working for a college Orientation is that every year is like another fresh start. Why not take the opportunity to start something new yet again? I mean, Orientation had already done it for me twice, why not a third time? The only thing that was stopping me from doing so was a conscious decision to remain hurt instead of seeing the new opportunities before me. So I changed my mind.

It didn't make losing the first young woman I've genuinely loved any easier. The initial loss was still awful. But by merely shifting my perspective on the situation, I quickly came to terms with what happened. She chose what she needed for her. She decided that she could walk away from the one real, healthy relationship she's ever had and move on with her life. Likewise, I decided to walk towards the next portion of my life with nothing but lessons learned, and a newfound sense of adventure.

I can't label this change as a full recovery - that will still take time. But I can mark it as a giant leap forward. With one simple, conscious decision to not be sad and to instead be awesome, I've put myself into a far better place than I imagined I would be a few days ago. And that, at least, is something I can be thankful for.