Breaking Up with Myself

How talking to strangers changed my life.

Photo by Charles Postiaux on Unsplash

At around 3 am on a Saturday night in October I met a stranger on the streets of Taiwan. Unlike most interactions, ours happened because we had both been crying. Lost enough to feel alone, but still aware of where we were, we stopped one another. Asking for directions, then names, and finally sitting down to get to know each other. It was here, with this man named Kuan, that I had a conversation that would change my life.

Kuan was a medical student, in his mid-twenties, studying to become a surgeon. He was due to sit in on an open heart surgery later that week. Two years previous, he had gotten engaged to the love of his life. The night we met, she had given back the ring and ran off with an American.

I had gotten into an argument with my friend group because of some deep, unresolved insecurities that made it difficult to enjoy the moment. Cast off on my own through the city, and directed home with the help of strangers and a dead mobile, I found Kuan.

In the grand scheme, and in correlation with many other things, of course, I have this woman and my poor self-esteem to thank for introducing me to Kuan, the heartbroken cardiologist.

Sitting downtown on a sidewalk curb under the florescent glow of Taipei, we spoke about everything. Love, life, loss — the stories that are easier to talk about with strangers. In this conversation, I realized that I was shaping the way I spoke about myself in hopes of being praised. I wanted this doctor to think that I had done something amazing.

It was a strange feeling that came next, but more than anything, I didn’t want to be missed. I hardly wanted to be known. So I stopped speaking, mid-sentence, I had nothing left to say. This had nothing to do with my company, but more with the fact that I had spent so much time telling my stories while travelling that I was sick of speaking. Kuan noticed my hesitation to continue, and he said to me,

“If you wrote a collection of stories for all the moments of your life, it would sound like one hundred different people speaking. And that’s a lot.”

At the moment, we laughed. Today, I realize that Kuan, the medical student who’s fiancé had left him for an American English teacher, was telling me that I didn’t know who I was. He helped me to realize that I had been living as different people, suitable to situations, but I wasn’t building a life.

I was trying to figure out how I fit best into the world around me instead of giving way for the world to get comfortable with who I am.

Photo by Andrew Leu on Unsplash

So together, Kuan and I sat down and made a list of everything we had learned about one another that night. Nearing 6 AM, the sunrise teasing our tired eyes, I thought it was a good idea. We shared some common traits, like a sense of humour, compassion, and an interest in learning. Kuan, as I had come to know him, was focused, used to disappointment, and driven by his work. He was also one of the funniest people I had ever met and he taught me more about Taiwanese Films in sixty minutes than a lifetime of exposure could have given me.

To Kuan, I was egotistical, I expected too much, and I had trust issues. He also thought that I was incredibly funny, a natural leader and that I had the capacity to love so deeply that it could change the world.

Both of us noticed that neither of us found happiness within the other — unless it came with the prospects of moving on from who we were; from who others needed us to be for them.

So there we were, sitting on the ground in Taipei, the buzzing neon 7Eleven sign growing into the morning the sun. Convenience store cappuccinos in our hands, life lessons in our wake, we made a pact for our mutual destruction. Kuan and I decided, that in the pursuits of our own states of happiness, we needed to break up with ourselves. We had to forgive our mistakes, leave our bad habits, and take time to learn our lessons. We were moving on so that we had room to grow.

We weren’t leaving behind the lives we had known — just as one never forgets their first love. Rather, we decided to dedicate our time to get to know our true selves. We promised this to one another.

Nearly half a year later, I have received an email from Kuan telling me that he had secured a brilliant cardiology residency. He’s also entered into the dating world very casually, but without caution. He thanked me for reminding him to spend time doing things solely for himself, then attached a list of books that he’s read since we last spoke. I hope to read them all this year.

He’s asked me how I am doing, too. And while I am unsure of exactly what I have been accomplishing, I know that all I am doing is for my pursuit of happiness, just as Kuan would have wanted.

This story is one of many of the impactful moments that came from talking to a stranger. Read more here.

Editor-in-Chief | Journalist | Creative Director. Everything here is inspired by conversations with friends.

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