A month shy of 18, I had sex for the first time. It was nothing like I expected it to be; It was fast and not particularly fun but not awful either. It didn’t hurt like people tell you it will and when it was over I was relieved. I hadn’t gone over to this boy’s house thinking we were going to have sex, but when it happened it felt right. I liked this boy a lot because I felt as if we fit together. We had spent nights talking about things like depression and our relationships with our parents, he told me things that he said he had never told anyone else and I told him the same. For the first time in my life I actually felt wanted. I told him I knew I was pretty but I never really thought I was. I knew because people always told me so but when I would look at myself I didn’t see someone I found pretty and he told me I was wrong. After we had sex we laid on his bed for an hour just talking, and that memory meant so much more to me than the sex did.

After that, however, things went silent. He wouldn’t talk to me for weeks at a time and I would only see/hear from him when we had group gatherings. We ended up at a party together and I drunkenly asked him, “what are we?” He told me I was being too clingy, that I was acting like a girlfriend and that’s not what he wanted. I thought he was right, I was crazy and I shouldn’t be acting this way just because we had had sex. A month later he tried to force himself on me at another party and I was so scared. Thankfully one of my friends walked into the room and stopped it from happening. The next morning he acted disgusted, and said something along the lines of “I would never do that with Emily.”

I think that was the moment I broke.

I spent my first year of college severely depressed. It was hard for me to get out of bed, it was hard to find motivation and I hated every single day. I made out with boys I shouldn’t have because I needed attention to feel desirable and wanted. To feel pretty. I was too fat, I was too needy, too blonde, my teeth weren’t straight enough, I wasn’t smart enough and I spent too much time crying and being weak. My first year of college it was impossible for me to drink without sobbing. I felt like nothing was every going to be okay and I thought I deserved it because I had pushed away a boy who I liked and who I thought had liked me.

January of 2014 I started going to therapy and got put on antidepressants. I told my therapist all these things that had hurt me and how I didn’t feel like I was good enough and slowly she made me realize that I wasn’t the problem. I’ve been going to therapy semi-regularly for two years and a half years now and have watched myself grow. I came to the realization that the boy I lost my virginity to could’ve liked me and still could’ve pushed me away and that has nothing to do with me and everything to do with him. I learned that confidence really is more important than any actual physical attribute and that you don’t need to beat yourself up every time you have a minor setback.

In February of 2016, I went on a date with a boy I had met on OkCupid and I really liked him. We had sex on the first date, which wasn’t a huge issue for me because most of my sexual encounters have been hook-ups/one night stands. But then after he slowly pulled away, texting me less and less until one night he texted me telling me “he didn’t want the same thing as me,” which was a pile of bullshit because we had never even talked about what either of us wanted out of the relationship. I was hurt and accused him of using me for sex. Maybe he had been using me or maybe he really did realize after we went out that he wasn’t ready to be dating. All I know, is that after taking a day to calm down, I did just that, I told myself it wasn’t my fault and it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him and it felt like growth.

Now it’s July of 2016 and last month my first real boyfriend I’ve had since high school broke up with me and told me he never actually loved me. That stung and it still does because I truly think I love(d) him. I see his name and my gut wrenches. The break up happened because I confronted him about issues I was having in the relationships and feelings I thought he still had for his ex. He told me he didn’t think he was ready for another serious relationship and I told him I wasn’t there to be his comfort blanket. I deserve more than to be someone’s crutch in the getting-over-an-ex process and what I didn’t understand was why he kept stringing me along when he knew he felt this way. He was a coward, he didn’t cut me off because he didn’t want to face hurting me and didn’t care if in the long run he was hurting me more by continuing to date me. It made me feel as if he never really cared about me, and it still really hurts because now I know I am emotionally ready for a relationship.

But the most overwhelming feeling I have from the break-up is hope and love. I truly love myself, something I haven’t felt since I was 11. I stood up for myself, I saw my limits and I accepted them. I didn’t fight to stay with a boy just because I knew when he left I was going to feel lonely. I didn’t blame myself for the way things turned out. I’m proud of myself for opening up to someone and trusting them even if it didn’t work. I’m proud of myself for realizing how incredible I am and for no longer putting all the blame on me. I’m proud of myself for taking the time to get to know myself and truly and completely fall in love with me. I’m proud of myself for knowing that even though I will still be mean to myself and have my doubts I can talk myself out of them and remind myself of how amazing I truly am. The way I feel right now is the way I felt when I would go to the doctor as a child got told I had grown a few inches. I feel brand new.