I’m Jillian Anthony, and this is Cruel Summer Book Club, a newsletter about change and living well.
The Cruel Summer Book Club podcast launches in two days, so keep an eye on your inbox for a special announcement from me on Thursday!
There are a few rules I try to live by to honor my higher self. “Don’t hurt your own feelings” is one of them.
You hurt your own feelings when you consciously make choices you know aren’t in your best interest. When you keep people around you know don’t deserve to be there. When you know damn well the best way to take care of yourself, but you choose to do something else, something self-destructive. You hurt your own feelings when you abandon yourself.
Our twenties are a notorious period of time when we hurt our own feelings—we’re trying a lot of identities out and fucking a lot of things up in the meantime. One of the last times I plunged headfirst into hurting my own feelings was about six years ago. I was 27ish, and it had been eight months since I’d stopped talking to the most toxic man I’ve ever dated, Devin*. Then, one drunken night, I called him up. I got into a cab with him and sped to his place in the Bronx, crying the entire way, so angry at him for how badly he’d always treated me, so disappointed in myself for being there. But I chose it all.
We started seeing each other again. I told a friend, “He’s not good for me. But for right now, he’s enough.” At my birthday party at Sing Sing karaoke on St. Mark’s, Devin arrived hours late. My attitude was, at least he showed up! My friend pulled me aside and said, “You know he’s not it, right?” My chest aches when I think of how little I loved myself during this time.
When Devin finally ghosted me for the last time a few months later, it wasn’t the pain of the breakup that stayed with me for so long—it was knowing how completely and willingly I had abandoned myself. The damage I had done to my self-trust took a long time to heal.
I would like to think that after the hard work I’ve done to know and love myself, that was the last truly toxic relationship I’ll ever find myself in. I can’t know. But I do know I practice choosing myself all the time.
Last summer, I got a message request on Instagram. It was really long, so I started skimming through it. I caught just enough words to understand that this was a message from my ex-boyfriend Mark’s* ex-girlfriend. I immediately closed the message out.
I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to know what that message said. Just the fact that it existed raised my heartrate for about a week and made my mind race with curiosity and fear, a clear sign that to read the message was to invite chaos into my life. It had been a year since Mark and I broke up—I’d done my grieving and closed the right doors, and there was no good reason to open them again. I was also quite certain that whatever reason my ex’s ex was reaching out to me, her outreach was meant to help her heal or come to some conclusion she needed, not me. I doubted any conversation we might have would bring me more peace than it would anguish.
I deleted the message without ever reading it. I chose not to hurt my own feelings, and I’m still really proud of myself.
There are some rocks that shouldn’t be turned over. I learned that lesson enough times that it finally stuck. I no longer knowingly put myself in places I shouldn’t be. I guard my peace aggressively.
There are curiosities that should be squashed, and many things that should be left well enough alone. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Don’t look them up on social media. Don’t return that text from the breadcrumber trying to worm his way back into your life. Don’t give people your attention (your greatest resource) who don’t deserve a second more of your time. Don’t let curiosity bring information into your life that will wreck your mind and heart. Don’t reopen that wound.
Choose yourself and choose peace. Every time.
*Names have been changed to protect the sort-of innocent.
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