They say the best revenge is living well, but I know an even better kind. And that’s achieving exactly the things coveted by those who screwed you. In the literal sense at first, and then the metaphorical.
That’s right, I’m talking about your exes.
Say what you want. It’s a glorious feeling, and something you can only enjoy in solitude. Because gloating makes you immature.
Writing about it, though. That’s fine.
Picture me, age 23. Heartbroken by a guy everyone saw as perfect. He was the first person I ever told, “I love you.” His talent and looks made it worse. We aspired to all the same things — a career in writing, teaching, and publishing. At the time, everyone worshiped him. He was destined for greatness. And I was the arm candy. Until I wasn’t.
That breakup especially hurt, because it ended with a feeling that I’d been used. More than that, though. Disposable.
You see, my first real love dumped his girlfriend for me. Months later, he started talking about how guilty he felt.
He didn’t think our relationship had any worth because it arose from dishonesty. He even said something like, “You can’t build anything on a foundation of lies.” As if I’d cast some kind of spell on him.
My friends still adored him. We tried to hang out, but each time left me feeling small and pathetic.
Turns out, I didn’t just want to date him.
I wanted to be him, too. This desperation must’ve wafted off me like some sad, sour musk. Soon he started ignoring my calls and texts, and it became clear he didn’t even want my friendship anymore.
Little did I know, I’d go on to date truckloads of aspiring writers with secret girlfriends and mom issues.
I’d even get engaged to one — who was keeping an old flame alive behind my back. That flame returned twice to burn me alive.
Serves me right, I guess. For some reason, the story of my 20s was attracting the kind of guy who took you on a wonderful date, then mentioned over pancakes the girlfriend they were preparing to dump.
Guys, you’ve met women like this too.
They would dump said girlfriend, then feel guilty and dump me later. Or they would keep dating the old girlfriend and lie about it.
Each time, the pain did something unexpected. The heartbreak motivated me. I’d work harder to make sure nobody could ever make me feel that worthless or unwanted ever again.
We’re talking about some very Scarlett O’Hara moments in the bathtub on Saturday night, with ice cream and a romance novel.
Who am I kidding? Frozen yogurt. That’s how much I hated myself.
I’m not suggesting you chase after superficial goals or status symbols, only to shove them in front of your ex a few weeks after they dumped you. That leads nowhere, except pity.
Not that I know from experience. I swear I’ve never tripped and spilled a martini on an ex while slurring brags about a new job.
The last half of my 20s involved an overhaul of everything about my life. Think of it as an extended cocoon period.
Now I’ve found everything the younger me was starving for — a family, a house, self-respect, and my dream job.
Along the way, I learned that gaining and holding onto all of this involves a lot of hard work, and trade offs.
You can have your dream job, but maybe not your dream salary. Your dream house, but not your dream car.
Your dream spouse, but she’s allergic to dogs. And you really wanted a f*cking french poodle. Oh, well. Too bad. You can have a fish.
You can pretend it’s french.
You also wanted to live in Manhattan. Well, your dream spouse wants to live closer to family. So deal with it.
Your dreams also have upkeep costs. You don’t just retire and live on the beach. You have to continue grading those awful papers on Saturday, and going to the occasional pointless meeting.
I’ve learned all of this and more. Meanwhile, what have my favorite exes been up to — the ones who cheated on me and made me feel like a sock they jerked off into and then didn’t even wash?
None of them managed to fulfill the prophecies of their twenties. One entered a prestigious doctoral program and dropped out. Another one gave up writing and became a lawyer to make his parents happy. And a third one works as a part-time teacher and trailing spouse. A fourth one…well, I can’t figure out what he does exactly. But his first consultation is free.
All of them did more than just aspire to that status of best-selling author, Broadway actor, or Ivy-league professor.
People actually believed in them, while not believing in me.
Sometimes, they actually said as much. Some of my old professors, the ones I looked up to the most, even compared us to each other.
And found me slightly wanting.
So I gotta tell you, it’s an awesome feeling to realize you’ve achieved more than any of the guys who cheated on you. The ones who even declined your friendship afterward. The ones who showed up at your parties, because your friends invited them — because you weren’t enough.
No, you can’t use revenge as a guide for success.
Revenge shouldn’t even occur to you on the nights and weekends you dedicate to your work.
Revenge shouldn’t pump through your heart while you’re running five miles a day along the Mediterranean sea.
Revenge shouldn’t compel you to have one night stands with fascinating people you meet, because you’re single now. So why not?
Revenge shouldn’t drive any decision you make.
But underneath your efforts might lie a simple and somewhat embarrassing truth. Some of us work so hard for one reason. Someone made us feel like a fast food wrapper once. Maybe a few people did.
So we devoted ourselves not just to proving them wrong, but to ensuring that feeling could never happen again.
We built a quiet, inner confidence by focusing on what we’re good at, and letting all the heartache go — along with other people’s bullshit, their rules, their lies, and their one-way expectations.
We began living a fearless life doing what we’re meant to do. And nothing else. Well, maybe some video games every now and then. But mainly the fearless life thing. And so we won, and we’ll keep winning.