In the weeks following a somewhat messy breakup, I did what any self-respecting college senior would do: I cleaned my apartment from top to bottom, bought a goldfish and applied to teach English in China for the better part of the summer.

It’s funny how it’s often the most tumultuous events in our lives that make us realize who we really are and what things are genuinely important to us. What’s even more funny is looking back on everything and finding that what we were holding on to was, in reality, holding us back.

I sit at one of the round tables in the back of a restaurant in Westfield with some family members I haven’t seen in awhile. I slide an orange slice around the rim of a red sangria while my cousins discuss what I’m missing.

“Do you know what I think you need?” Christine asks me, leaning her elbow on the tabletop. I shake my head – the older I get, the less I seem to know about myself. She spears a cherry on the little plastic sword in her drink and holds it up, examining it as she talks. “You need somebody like you, who’s fun and enthusiastic. You need somebody who can pick up on a moment’s notice and go places and see the world. You’re 21. You don’t need anybody’s baggage to hold you back.”

I open my mouth to say something, but oddly, I begin to find myself agreeing with her. I take a long sip of my drink instead.

What’s so bad about flying solo for awhile, anyway? As I sit and let the conversation flow around me, I realize that this might be the first time in my life where I can finally start to focus on me.

As college seniors, we talk a lot about “finding ourselves,” like we’re going to have some sort of epiphany while backpacking through Europe. Maybe “finding ourselves” is just an excuse to take advantage of the fact that this may be the last time in our lives where we have no real responsibilities. At this point in my life, I have no job, no family to support, no mortgage. Even if I come back with no real handle on who I am, at least I will have had a great experience, and maybe learned a few things about myself.

In just a few short weeks after receiving my new-found freedom, I’ve reconnected with old friends, made plans with family who live in the area, and have begun planning what’s looking like one hell of a summer. Maybe the key is to have something to look forward to.
While I’m certainly sad that a relationship that I put a lot of time, effort and care into didn’t work out, in a way it’s also exciting and freeing (once the initial mourning period ends, anyway).

I have my entire life ahead of me and absolutely nothing is set in stone. If I want to work on a cruise ship in the Caribbean for a year, I can. If I want to move to Germany, I can. If I want to climb into my mini-van one day and take off on a three-week road trip across the U.S., I can. Will I? Probably not. But it’s pretty exhilarating to know that the opportunity is there if I want it.

I’ve accepted that there will be ups and downs in this journey, but really, what part of life doesn’t have them?

For every morning that I stand under the shower staring at the wall and wondering where it all went wrong, there will be a night out with my friends or a great spontaneous trip that I wouldn’t have taken otherwise. When I’m feeling lonely, I have a pretty goofy-looking goldfish in my apartment to give all my love and affection to.

“You’ll never tell me you need space, will you Lennie Small?”

Lennie looks at me with his big telescope eyes and gobbles up some goldfish crisps. That’ll do, fish. That’ll do.

As I write this, it’s a little after 11 a.m. on Valentine’s Day.

Part of me is sad that I’ll be alone this holiday. Part of me still hurts a little bit when I think about him. It’s a little difficult to ignore the clusters of heart-shaped balloons creeping their way over the divider from the Florham Programming Committee’s office.

But the day isn’t all bad. Noon begins the registration for summer trips to Israel, and it’s been fun trying to coordinate all my different trips together.

And if all else fails, I just have to make it to tomorrow, because all the chocolate in the retail world will be half-price.

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