"I'm really sorry."
"No, don't be. I understand," Logan said, opening the door for me.
"Well, take care," I said, giving him one last hug.
"You too, Aileen," he smiled. "Maybe we'll cross paths again someday."
"Yeah," I paused. "Maybe," I said, before walking slowly out of his apartment and towards the elevator.
In middle school, I discovered myself to be an amiable person who always avoids conflicts. I've almost unconsciously maintained myself as a pacifist and trained myself to never lose my temper ever since. To put it simply, I'm nice, I don't get offended, and I don't complain; I tolerate other people's shortcomings, excessive rantings, and even wrongful accusations of me to the point where I'm making excuses for them. Up until now, I've never questioned why I am this way—I've told myself that this lifestyle works for me because it's easy. After all, conflicts only result in complications, right?
As I walked to my fridge, I saw my phone light up. It was a text from my best friend Kristin. Up for drinks tonight? it read.
I instinctively began typing to remind her of my Tuesday dinner dates with Logan before realizing with a pang that I'd ended that routine. I took out my beloved carton of chocolate ice cream before slamming the door of the fridge, curling up on my couch, and opening up Netflix on my laptop. Who would have thought that I would become that girl, sobbing about a breakup and re-watching a Nicholas Sparks film with ice cream dripping all over.
It was my 30th birthday two days ago on Sunday. That was when I had resolved to initiate a change in my life. So I decided to take a week off from work and figure out how to become happier. At the time, breaking up with my boyfriend seemed like a perfectly rational decision. Now, I have no idea if I took the right step or if I have regret yesterday.
I haven't felt truly happy or stress-free for months now. I've become increasingly annoyed at the most trivial things that don't go my way. Of course, I'm never outwardly frustrated since I've mastered my facade long ago. But whenever I'm alone, the nagging feeling of being lost and purposeless would consume me. Motivating myself to even perform simple tasks such as cooking or doing laundry became long and wearisome processes; similarly, I noticed my work ethic slipping—I was only doing the bare minimum to ensure my boss's satisfaction. It eerily reminded me of some of my more despairing days in high school, when I couldn't get myself to care for any of my classes but would still do what was necessary to guarantee my straight A's, because at least that was important to me. Back then, the only goal in mind was to get into a good university because everything after would just follow naturally, or so we thought. I laughed a little at how naive we were.
The credits for the movie began rolling, and I had to get another tissue. I'd met Logan at a small concert of one of my favorite indie bands. By some miracle, it turned out that we were classmates, both in our last year of business school. We've been dating ever since—that is, until now. I remember being ecstatic over how much my parents loved him the first time they'd met. After we graduated, we both moved out to New York City. It was perfect because he started working on Wall Street, and I landed a great job as a financial consultant at McKinsey.
My desire to end the relationship had nothing to do with him and was only based on my need for space to sort out why I haven't been happy recently. His understanding equally relieved and upset me. In the last few months, we've both become busier with our careers and grown so much professionally that our relationship has become less a source of happiness and more of a burden. We knew we'd lost our old passion. Yet I'm already missing the familiarity of his touch and the normalcy of spending Tuesday nights together.
I picked up my phone. Guess it's just me and the bartender. Thanks, Aileen.
"Shit," I muttered. I'd forgotten to text Kristin back.
But then I began thinking. Had I agreed to go to the bar with Kristin tonight, I'd have had to suffer through another round of her ranting. If I'm on a mission to find happiness, why should I have to continue tolerating her negativity? I've always been her garbage can, and I've never complained. Isn't it time for me to be done?
I prepared for bed with this thought in my head, ready to cut her out of my life too tomorrow. But as I pulled my blankets closer to me and closed my eyes, I wondered if I was ready to lose two of the only important people in my life in a span of three days.
"Are you busy right now?" I called Kristin.
"Surprisingly, no. I just got off a case. Why, you wanna over?" Kristin said.
"Okay, and sorry about yesterday, Kristin."
"Don't worry about it. See you."
In 15 minutes, I was 3 metro stations away from my apartment, sitting on the couch of my second home, sharing a bag of chips with Kristin.
"You look a little different today, Aileen. Do you need to talk about something?"
"You know me too well," I sighed.
I began explaining to Kristin how I'd taken a week off from work and how I'd broken up with Logan. She couldn't understand at first, and I couldn't blame her because our friendship has been suffering lately as well.
"I know we haven't talked that much recently. And no, those nights at the bar don't count because that's just you venting about work," I said before Kristin could object. "To be completely honest, yesterday I was considering cutting you and your negativity out of my life."
I bit my lip, as I watched Kristin furrow her brow, clearly taken aback. "I just don't know why I'm not happy, Kristin. And obviously you're my best friend, but I just, I don't know if I made the right decision ending it with Logan, I miss him and—"
Before I knew it, I'd let out a sob and there was no going back. I'd broken down in front of someone, something I haven't done in many years. Kristin quickly got up and passed me a box of tissues before sitting closer to me and pulling me in for a half hug.
"Aileen, I'm so sorry you feel that way. I know I haven't been the most pleasant friend these few months. I've had a lot on my plate at work, as I've been telling you," she paused for a while, thinking. "But I truly am sorry, I shouldn't have complained to you so much. I know you're the one who always listens, and I apologize for taking that for granted."
Gosh, this is why she's still my best friend after all these years, I thought as I looked at Kristin. "Yeah, I never really wanted to lose you as a friend. I've just been struggling a lot lately too."
"I know, I know. Let's just stop thinking about it for a little while, okay?" Kristin said, knowing exactly how to get me to stop crying.
In no time, we were reminiscing about our high school times—about that science teacher who everyone thought had OCD, that time we couldn't see our favorite band because it was the day before finals, our first time staying up over midnight to cram for a test, all the times our Tennis team went out to eat or had sleepovers together.
As we reached a lull in describing some of our best and funniest memories, we glanced at each other and both got heavier looks on our faces.
"Do you remember how often we'd talk about our fear of failure?" Kristin asked.
"Yeah," I smiled a little. "We were so concerned with getting into good colleges."
"It's funny because we really ended up getting what we wanted, huh?" Kristin said. "You got into UPenn and I went to Columbia. We're living our high school goals right now, have you thought about that?"
I laughed. "Yeah, imagine telling our old selves all about how I'd end up going to Booth and you Yale Law School."
"And how you're working for one of the best consulting firms in the world." Kristin held back a grin.
"And how you are a defense attorney at one of the top law firms in NYC," I replied.
We looked at each other and I sighed.
"You know what frustrates me, Kristin?"
"I haven't got my life together one bit, and yet at the same time I know that a ton of kids probably hate me because of how much their parents want them to be me."
"Yeah, I feel you. We are the epitome of success, especially in the eyes of Asian parents. If I were a kid, I'd hate us too."
"And the thing is, I don't want to hate our upbringing. We are so privileged that our parents could provide us the opportunity and want us to have great educations. I think that's what I can't wrap my mind around the most. The notion of being so privileged yet so unhappy despite all that I have. I don't want to be that snobby ingrate we hated at school."
"I understand what you're feeling, Aileen. I'm obviously not qualified to talk about the meaning of life, happiness or anything like that. But my advice to you, and I hope it helps a little, is to stop thinking so much about others. You're one of the most selfless people I've ever met, and your threshold of tolerance is truly beyond my understanding," Kristin said. "But you deserve to pursue your own happiness. Start putting yourself first."
I sat there for a few seconds, musing over what Kristin had said, before she slowly stood up.
"I'm sorry, Aileen. I have a meeting tomorrow morning so I should really get to bed. But I'm so glad we had this talk tonight."
I jumped when I looked at the time. It was already 1am. "No, I'm sorry. I didn't realize it got so late already. I'll just grab my stuff and go."
"Are you kidding?" Kristin looked dumbfounded. "You're staying. Here, I'll grab you a blanket, you can crash on my couch."
"Thanks. You're a true friend."
Kristin laughed and gave me a hug.
The next morning, I woke up to an empty apartment and a note from Kristin saying that she'd left me some breakfast in the fridge.
Soon, I'd grabbed my stuff, headed home to change, and walked to Central Park. Seeing the regular morning joggers pass me by gave me a burst of energy and motivation. It's been at least half a year since I've last exercised. With my dip in happiness came my inclination to stay at home and binge watch TV shows during my free time rather than to go out and be active. But today was different; this week had been about change. So I picked up the pace and joined the runners, the feel of my old sneakers bouncing off the concrete becoming familiar again.
As I matched my rhythm to the beat of the music I was listening to, I wonder why it had taken me so long to regain control of my own life. For too long, I was stuck in a hole that I now know I was responsible for digging and falling into.
The band that first brought me and Logan together started playing, and I couldn't help but relive Monday. However, this time it wasn't regret or sadness that filled my mind; it was relief and pride. I felt empowered and strong from taking action.
I thought about going back to work on Monday. Nothing will be different except for myself. I've always hated the superficial focus on "finding your passion" as early as possible; after all, that obsession did make my teenage years slightly miserable. I wasn't a Carnegie Hall soloist, a nationally-ranked athlete, nor did I even fall in love with a single subject at school. However, as I grew older, I knew to discard those unwarranted expectations, and I've now accepted that my passion lies in simply living. That isn't so bad, is it?
Right then, I also vowed to stop being preoccupied with the future, because it was distracting me from enjoying the present. Life is meant to be appreciated, and although I've strayed from my passion, I'm now back on track.
With a new sense of self and a new perspective on being, I kept running, breathing in the fresh air of the city I love.