Coming Home to Love and Friendship

Community, Friendships

Her Own Words is dedicated to amplifying the voices of everyday women. Each episode features personal stories that delve into the depths of love, resilience, and everything in between. This blog is a collection of all the stories featured on the show.

The Mission


Written by Grace Riordan

Experience the Podcast: Listen to the podcast episode or watch the full interview.

After fifteen minutes of listening to him spew utter bullshit into the kitchen air previously filled with steam and sunlight, I tell him to get the fuck out of my house. He grabs his keys – almost identical to my set – and I watch him walk out my front door for what would be the second-to-last time, as the jangly reminder of our life together swings from his trembling hands.

It was supposed to be a regular Sunday morning, until a close friend of mine sent me a screenshot of my boyfriend of four and a half years’ Bumble profile. I am so deeply in love and this is so far outside the realm of my reality that, at first, I don’t panic. There must be an explanation for this, I think to myself. Didn’t he just update his iOS? I hear the delusion now and my friend did then, though she showed me only support as I prepared to peel back the first layer of the world’s largest onion, rotten to its core.

I squint a bit closer and notice that the photo he’s using is one I took of him…a year into our relationship. We have never once gone on a break in the four and a half years we’ve been together. I look even harder and notice that his profile says he’s in grad school…which he’s only been in for the past year. Oh, so this is recent, I admit to myself reluctantly. Still, I don’t panic. I simply walk from my bedroom to the kitchen, where he is standing at the stove scrambling eggs for the two of us, and ask him about it.

As I do so, I watch him get increasingly flustered and nervous, tripping over himself and his words.

Wait a minute, I think to myself, I was barely even pressing him. I take a breath, put my interrogation hat on, and lay into him. I’ll never forget how the two of us sat there holding our breath as I made him redownload Bumble from the App Store to see if any of his old messages were there. They weren’t, but the way his hands shook as we waited for the app to load told me everything I needed to know.

The eggs were now cold.

It’s December, and we were supposed to spend the holidays with each other’s families. That won’t be happening anymore. We plan to talk after the holidays, and I remember asking him to please, for the love of god, show up with something interesting to say. This is a word that resurfaced for me a lot during this time – interesting

I tell my mom everything while I’m home for the holidays, so all hope of repair is clearly gone. And yet, I yearn for him to, at the very least, provide some sort of thought-provoking reflection. Anything that would add some dimension, since this whole debacle had flattened the four and a half years of love we shared.

And this was before I found out about the rest of it! 

Shortly before we plan to speak, one of my best friends calls to share that she learned more about what my soon-to-be ex had been up to throughout our relationship. I answer the FaceTime from my parents’ house and the look on her face stops me cold. I run up to my childhood bedroom to receive the news in private. She tells me about the physical cheating, spread throughout the years we dated, that accompanied the emotional cheating he had already been forced to admit to.

This new information, damning though it was, barely registers. The initial shock of the Bumble profile was so great because it yanked me from the la la land I had inhabited for four and a half years. Now, I just feel numb.

In this fog, I do remember my immense gratitude to my friends for doing the digging I couldn’t bring myself to do at the time. I needed the information but was so disinterested in the effort and humiliation it would require for me to obtain it. I signed up to be in a relationship with someone, not to conduct investigative work on the person who chose to be in one with me. Luckily, I was surrounded by people who would shoulder this burden for me, knowing there was already so much pain they could not take away. Looking at my friend’s face on the video call, I could see that my pain was her pain, too. There is no good way to learn of your long-term boyfriend’s infidelity, but there is real comfort in receiving this information from someone who has been by my side since kindergarten. Rachel Green’s voice rings in my head saying, “yeah, I got my girls.”

I followed through with the talk we planned and let him give his whole spiel before revealing the new information I learned over the holidays, laying it down slowly and deliberately like a trump card. He tries to deny it, but there’s no use. The explanation I yearned for didn’t come. I was expecting him to display a capability in the breakup that he lacked in the relationship; it was a fool’s game. Sometimes, this level of consistency is a gift.

Four and a half years since our first date, almost to the day, he walks out of my apartment for the last time. His hands no longer shake as he lays my spare key on the table before walking out. 

There are a few small mercies baked into having a relationship implode like this. For one, I never once had to question whether removing him from my life was the right thing. There were no ‘what ifs’ or ‘what could have been.’ In fact, it felt like the person I knew and loved never actually existed – I had created him out of my own love. So this new person, the one I met for the first time that day in my kitchen, was both a stranger and a monster. Not worth mourning at all.

I remember the next few months feeling incredibly full – of tears, of laughter, of anger, and of many firsts. My first time on a dating app since I was 18. My first time having a “roster.” My first time going on a date with a woman. I had realized I was bisexual during the relationship and spent months grappling with the tension between wanting to explore this and being madly in love with my boyfriend. In this and many other ways, the universe had handed me a get-out-of-jail-free card. Simultaneously, the first COVID vaccines were rolling out, and it felt like the world and I were reawakening together.

I would find out much more about my ex in the months after he left my spare key. About a year later, someone came up to me at a party and confirmed that the dating profile was just a drop in the bucket full of genuinely despicable behavior. Right there in someone’s dimly lit living room, I once again re-calculated how big of a lie my life with him had been — with my friends standing behind me, ready to catch me or ride out at dawn.

Let’s just say it was a miracle that I exited that relationship without a full panel of sexually transmitted diseases and some legal troubles to boot. Though a year ago it had felt like someone shot me in the heart, I had actually dodged several bullets.

So, in a sick, twisted way, he had given me something interesting after all. And I thought long and hard about what to do with this information. Do I send in an anonymous tip to his employer? My abolitionist praxis held me back. Do I take his mom up on her open-ended offer to grab a coffee and catch up sometime? I considered the power I wielded to permanently alter the trajectory of a mother-son relationship. I was tickled by this, but again I held back. Through conversations with friends and my money’s worth out of therapy, I worked through my rage and laid it to rest. 

It’s three years later now. I was recently at my parents’ house again for the holidays, and I stumbled upon some old journals from this tumultuous time in my life. I squirreled them back to my apartment to dive down rabbit holes in peace. Some of what I found sent me reeling – distress over this relationship before I knew it was doomed, heartbreak when it went up in flames, unyielding self-criticism and doubt, and anxiety so palpable I had to close the journal a few times to avoid getting caught in my own crossfire. It felt like watching my frontal lobe develop in real time as I flipped from realizations about my sexuality to reflections on world events. I was compelled to write answers to some of my own questions in the margins, as if I could comfort the version of myself on the page. 

There’s a lot of chaos in these journal entries, but what rings louder is the steady and unflinching hum of the friendships and community that anchored me throughout. Despite not having the first clue what we were doing with our own lives, we still managed to surround and uplift each other in such profound love, I could write about it for a lifetime. This, much like the pages of my journal, is a love letter to them.

When I think about the last three years of my life, there’s so much more to be grateful for than my ex’s absence. I think about the three sets of keys I carry around at all times – none of which he shares. One key for my apartment, one for my parents’ house, and one for my three best friends’ apartment, all within a one-mile radius. I think about how sometimes when I’m working at a coffee shop nearby, I will let myself into my parents’ house at lunchtime to peruse their fridge. I think of the door code to another three friends’ house, permanently etched in my brain from the million times I’ve shown up both announced and unannounced and been met with a smile either way. I think about how my friends and I hug hello and goodbye and say ‘I love you’ each time, as if the next time we see each other won’t be tomorrow. I think of my long distance friends who, despite sometimes going years without seeing each other, maintain a palpable, daily presence in my life. I think about how we never get tired of making each other laugh and the extraordinary lengths we will go to do so. I think about how there hasn’t been a single moment in the last three years in which I have not been aware of the bounty of love that surrounds me.

Recently, I let romantic love back into my life. I met someone whose presence and place in my life felt so natural, it was confusing that they hadn’t been there all along. Call it ‘invisible string theory’ or inyeon, but it feels like we’ve been dancing around one another, sometimes even crossing paths directly, all leading to the moment in which I’d be ready to let this kind of love back in. And what I found is that my previous experiences have changed how I love, but not in the way I thought – I am still a lover girl and I still choose to trust. But what I know now that I didn’t know then, is that romantic love is the cherry on top of a full life. My life will always be full of love because I give it freely. I know unconditional love because my friends exist and I hear their laughter. And every time I reach for a set of keys in my purse, it feels like coming home.

Grace is a 26-year-old native Bostonian who loves to talk politics, gossip with friends, and journal her every thought. As a Cancer sun, she has a deep love of community and finds herself most at home when surrounded by close friends and family. This is her first time sharing a personal essay, though her writing can be found on HealthCity and Commonwealth Magazine. She prides herself on being someone her friends turn to for advice and hopes to one day write her own advice column.

Connect with Grace at her website.

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