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The College Sweetheart

Published 2013-06-24

(Cross-posted to Medium)

I dated The College Sweetheart for three years: from our Freshman through Junior years. Early one Saturday morning in May, 1992, she showed up at my dorm room. This was totally planned; she was there to help me move into my new Big Boy apartment. And the first thing she said was: “I think we should break up. It’s not you, it’s me.” That was totally not planned.

It took me all of two days to conclude getting dumped was the best thing that ever happened to me. I wondered: why didn’t we break up a year ago? Two years ago? I realized I’d been thinking of dumping her at least that long.

If you’re thinking of dumping The College Sweetheart, chances are s/he’s thinking of dumping you.

By September 1992, I had changed my major, bought a bicycle, and moved into a huge house with all my friends. I had found three things I loved intensely, in a way I had never loved The College Sweetheart. (Those would be archaeology, bikes, and beer, respectively). I grew more in the three months after we broke up than I had in the three years before it. A better person lurked inside me, but he was blocked by old habits, only some of which revolved around The College Sweetheart.

She wasn’t a horrible ogre suppressing the better person inside me. She didn’t not want me to dig square holes, or ride bicycles, or drink beer. But those things weren’t on her radar and I was too lazy to put them on mine. Hell, I didn’t even know I wanted them on my radar.

Three months ago I left the best job I ever had.

For six years I designed fundraising websites for Mercy Corps, an international humanitarian nonprofit. For six years I described that job on my LinkedIn profile as: “all my previous jobs were secretly preparation for this job.”

Technically, I did the dumping, but there were Extenuating Circumstances that didn’t make it feel that way. In my farewell letter, I described the situation thus:

The holes got rounder and I stayed square.

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

I still support Mercy Corps. Morally, and financially. I’m still a monthly donor. I had a great run there, I did the best work of my life. I don’t want to put anything else in my portfolio.

But! I’ve had more professional growth in the last three months than I had in at least the two years before it. New techniques, new technologies, new projects, new people, new ways of thinking. A better designer lurked inside me.

So am I telling you to quit your job? How well is this metaphor translating?

If you’re thinking of dumping The College Sweetheart, chances are s/he’s thinking of dumping you.