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The six stages of breaking up with your high school boyfriend

Trace the rise and fall of a high school romance

an image of a couple standing in front of a green wall filled with cracks. there is a cracked heart between them, Artwork by Shrawani Bhattarai

One.
Step onto the worn, familiar carpet of your high school. Your backpack is surprisingly light. You left your prescribed and related texts on your desk at home, and have resigned to studying “tomorrow” and daydreaming today in class.

He greets you at the door of your roll call. Give him a quick kiss — he’s just so attractive in his blazer — and set your bag down. This is a time of hands clasped during walks down hallways at recess and lunch, of teasing approval from peers and staff, of being surrounded constantly by girls chattering about formal dresses.

A warm haze seems to enclose everything – even your least favourite teacher, the centuries of gum pasted on the underside of desks, and most of all, That Boy, looking so magnificent even as he participates in the sweaty pre-graduation tradition of handball. At this point, your late-night texting sessions have kept you from your writing and your adventures with Bilbo and Sam for two months. You ignore the gnawing feeling in your gut and promise yourself that you will make time for them when the HSC is over.

Two.
Get That Boy to don a tuxedo and a pair of starstruck eyes, you a midnight blue dress.  Do everything right – the gasp of mock surprise as he places a corsage on your wrist, posing for the fructose-corn-syrup-sweet photographs of you on the staircase. Smile when he mouths the lyrics as you dance to Ed Sheeran and Beyoncé’s Perfect, and grant each other the title love of my life. Since there is no doubt that you will win the Cutest Couple award, receive it with zero chagrin, to the unanimous shrieking of “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” from the crowd (which includes your Deputy Principal, by the way). Create a personal, handwritten journal entry for the evening that says, “It was a magical night beyond words…”

Three.
October. Set a countdown to D-Day on the HSC Discussion Group. Google “How to preserve a corsage,” apply the internet’s wisdom, and then turn into a practice-essay-producing machine. Allow the back of his head to melt into hundreds of others during English Paper 1. You snap in the last week of exams, finally resenting That Boy, but mostly yourself, because he has just taken too much. Watch as That Boy’s constant messages become muted nuisances, his repetitive jokes and the endless heart emojis suddenly feeling far less urgent than the list of things you will do once the HSC is over. To him, your plans for the future are “cool”, and you are uneasy but unwilling to admit that what he knows about you is limited to the few square inches that are your lips.

Four.
Leave the school hall after your final exam and step over the threshold that bears the school insignia, a long-awaited initiation into the ever-evasive real world. Relish the sound of everything that bears the label high school crashing violently into the bottom of a garbage bin, from your stiff uniforms to report cards and handwritten notes.

You find great joy in stalking the USyd website and Honi Soit, changing your UAC preferences every two days. Your schedule is filled with detailed travel plans, lists of books to read, live music to listen to, and trails to hike, none of which he is a fan of. The fan in your room keeps on blowing away the photographs blu-tacked to your mirror of you and That Boy.

Five.
Promise yourself that this relationship will finally be revived, but get carried along by the currents of the universe, that through numerous timely flight promos relocates you suddenly into the window seat of an aeroplane headed to your hometown, Dumaguete City in the Philippines.

Attempt the infamous long distance relationship for a month, until you come to terms with the fact that scheduled I love you’s, a lack of stimulating conversation, an apathy towards life in general, and forgetting your birthday hardly constitute a relationship. Admit to your lifelong friends that you feel as if That Boy has no place in the life you want to live when you return, to which they will reply, “You know what you have to do.”

Journal furiously on the plane ride back to Sydney with a newfound clarity of mind achieved by your long absence from the making-out bubble. Go on one last date, during which the conversation grates like sandpaper. Wake up the next morning to begin your latest, most difficult piece — a truthful, handwritten letter. Give it to That Boy to read on a rainy day on a park bench four days later. Become speechless as all he says is “I understand” and “I have to get to work,” rushing past your backup friend who hides behind a tree.

Six.
Aim to celebrate your newfound singleness, but end up weeping in your room for two weeks, watching The Notebook five times and forgetting what a shower is. Find out that he has blocked you on Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp. Remove Perfect from your Spotify playlist. Create a 118-item long list of why you were not meant for each other, as advised by a psychologist on a Ted Talk (because you’re just too broke for therapy), and read this whenever you miss him.

Realise that it is the 18th of February and you must, must, must make it to Welcome Week. Join 15 societies. Reclaim your late-night adventures with hobbits and dragons and pen and paper. Move and live and breathe, until you realise, as you are drinking gin and playing pool with strangers in the Lansdowne Hotel, that had you still been together, he would not have found a place in your new life after all.