It’s an oft-repeated phrase. It’s so ingrained into the culture of relationships and breakups, that it’s become a cliché. I remember when I first heard one of the characters saying it (or something like it) in the 1939 classic The Women. I believe the actress was Rosalind Russell (as Sylvia Fowler) and the line went something like: “I gave Howard Fowler the best years of my life.”
When I saw my own marriage end, I found myself thinking of that very phrase over and over again. But what did it mean? What had I given my ex? What had I lost?
When the other women ask Sylvia what she lost, she replies: “my youth,” but I wasn’t really worried about that. And it’s not because of that old saying about men getting better with age. It seems to me that most people – men and women — seem to be aging better today than they did in the era of The Women.
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Did I give up happiness? No. I realized the happiness — even the happy moments I had shared with him —would be mine to enjoy from time to time as memories. So they weren’t gone.
Nevertheless, the phrase still resonated with me: “I gave him the best years of my life.” I would catch myself saying it over and over in my head — almost reflexively. Finally, about six months after the breakup, I realized what it meant to me. It wasn’t about losing my looks to age or the good times we’d shared together. It was about the fact that in those five years I went from being socially active to someone with a very limited group of friends. I feared my days of being surrounded by a big, boisterous crew (as I had been before him) were gone. What if I was now too old to make new friends? To get invited to parties? To meet people downtown for drinks? I was worried I had given him the last of my friend-making years.
They say it’s harder to make friends after 30. When I met my ex, I was still regularly getting together with gay friends and talking about boys. Was I now too old to do that? More importantly, would there be anyone left to do that with? Was that all gone?
Now, a year and a half after my breakup, I’m happy to say: it is not gone. I have made friends: We go to movies. We meet for drinks. We talk about boys. Happily, I have realized that I did not give up the best years of my life. I’m living them now, again, anew, and better than ever. And it’s worth noting that — had my ex not left me, I might never have gotten these years back.
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Last modified: February 14, 2019