When my boyfriend and I broke up after almost two years, I had the strangest reaction. I was relieved. More accurately, I was happy.

I really loved him, so I was a little caught off guard by my own response to him ending our romantic relationship. I thought to myself, “Wait, shouldn’t I be sad? Isn’t this the sort of thing that breaks people’s hearts–going through an unexpected breakup? Shouldn’t I be crying or something?” Of course I was going to miss him and our relationship, but that sadness was overshadowed by the undeniable freedom I was feeling. Something was off kilter.

After a little soul searching, I realized that since I began dating at the age of 16, I hadn’t shown up in relationships as, well… me. I wore a mask–or better said, I had a representative. My dating representative was still very much me, except she was always cool, sexy, and mysterious. She was all the “good” parts of me without any of the “needy” parts. She was extremely confident and fiercely independent. There was no situation that caught her off guard or scared her. She was alluring and compelling (think Lara Croft, Sarah Connor, or Wonder Woman).

Basically, if I wanted to be in a relationship with a guy, I showed up as the coolest chick ever–never needing anything and confident in all situations. I knew how to seduce and intrigue men. I played the game well. In fact, I can’t think of one man I failed to get when I sent my dating rep after him. It was indeed a game for me; a challenge–to learn what he wanted and adjust  the insecure parts of me to become what he desired. I didn’t feel like I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t, because I hadn’t ever actually decided who I was to begin with. It felt more like I was “trying on” different roles and parts to see if any of them felt true or authentically me (think Runaway Bride).

It wasn’t that I had multiple personalities (although I soberly evaluated this possibility for an hour or so before coming to this conclusion). I just had different versions of myself. My dating rep happened to be the strongest one (she got the most practice and attention). Some of the other reps in my REPertoire were: party rep (chipper, friendly, upbeat, gets along with everyone), work rep (assertive, confident, didn’t take shit from anyone, could handle all kinds of people), travel rep (unapproachable, preoccupied, slightly annoyed by everyone), and I even had a sex rep (having no needs, accommodating, fun, inticing). Every time I sent a rep out to cover the date, the party, the meeting, I had to split myself into two me’s: the authentic me and the perceived me. This was a tricky little web to weave and it took a lot of thought (a lot of overthinking, actually). When I was with whatever guy I was dating, I had to filter through my rep–what would “cool me” say? How would “laissez faire me” respond? What would “flirty me” do? The amount of energy this took was overwhelming and consumed my mind almost entirely.

So, when my boyfriend broke up with me after nearly two years, it wasn’t that I was happy the relationship ended, I was just happy that I didn’t have to use my rep anymore. Using reps in lieu of being my authentic self was exhausting. Historically, I just had short term relationships (5 weeks max), except for my ex-husband. I accidentally let him marry my dating rep. Yikes. 

Here’s the thing, I have always been a genuine person. I just haven’t always lived as my authentic self. When I lived split in two (the real me and the perceived me), I hadn’t fully discovered who I was yet, so I genuinely thought my reps were me. The longer and more frequently one uses their reps, the more separated they become from their true self. I wasn’t consciously aware of how disconnected I was from myself, but I felt the discord in the incessant thoughts about the relationship ricocheting inside my head. I was up and down and back and forth on the daily about my boyfriend and our relationship through its entirety. Unbeknownst to him, of course (because my rep would never allow the true state of my heart to be revealed which was at its core, total chaos). He is a good man and I really did care for him, so I didn’t want to break up with him just because I couldn’t figure out who I really was or if I even wanted to be with him or not. That would be crazy, right?!

When he broke up with me, I literally thanked him. I hadn’t realized how tired I was of always playing it cool and pretending we were awesome when our relationship was clearly causing me a considerable amount of emotional torment. My decision to take the time to figure out what that emotional torment was ended up being the best decision I could have made for myself. What started with a little bout of curiosity turned into an awakening. Not only did I fire all of my reps, I found my authentic self. 

Once I discovered I was housing a slew of lesser (albeit, cooler) versions of me, I said, “To hell with the house of reps!” and I cut them all out, cold turkey. Then I spun out trying to figure who I was without them for a few weeks before I began my journey back to self. I eventually gave up on distracting myself with relationship-hopping, drinking when I felt sad, or scrolling and texting friends when I felt lonely. I learned how to nurture myself and process my feelings. Now I get to live my life fully expressed, centered, and congruent in all areas: dating, parenting, work, parties, traveling… I’m just me. Sometimes I’m energetic and excitable and other times I’m reflective or melancholy, but it’s always fully me. There’s no mask, no alternate version of me, no representatives standing in place of the real deal. 

It was the most beautiful year of my life. Not only did I learn how to live whole and free, I’m a better mom, friend, lover, and person.

There really is nothing like the original… turns out, that’s true about humans too.

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