When I got back to that old flat and smoked cigarettes with him, for two hours, I was travelling back in time and reliving the bittersweet memory of being madly in love with him. It felt strange because everything was kind of the same, but it clearly wasn’t.

So I asked him the most cliche question of all time, ‘Do you think I have changed?’

Without much hesitance, he said, ‘No, you haven’t really changed. You still look the same to me.’

It was probably meant well with that sweet voice and tender gaze he locked on me but really, I wasn’t pleased because well, who likes to hear that they still look like their awkward teenage self with the tomboy hair and no sense of fashion.

Though, to be fair, I had to agree with him a little bit there. Maybe now I’m more mature-looking, more well-put together, but you know, I still have that same old kiddo face that hasn’t lost the baby fat.

Fucking tragic, isn’t it? I keep thinking by then, at 22, as I compare my current and old photos, I would see myself becoming something so much more, so much better, so much ‘wow, look at her’, like maybe from a 6 transforming into a solid 8, even without make-up and high heels, but basically it’s just different clothes, different hairstyles, and a whole lot better camera.

Anyway, when I asked him if I had changed, I didn’t actually refer to my appearance. I mean it’d be great if he, or well anyone, thought I was prettier but I didn’t really give a shit about that. I just wanted to know if the way I looked at him then had changed. If I still had that mad love in my eyes like I used to 4 years ago.

I bet not.

He probably realized it too when I kissed him goodbyes and didn’t look back. When he asked me to stay over but I told him I had to go. When I could’ve easily settled in the comfort of his arms but I found my way home anyway. When I could still recall being in love with him and how it hadn’t been much of a choice but leaving him that night wasn’t an impossible one.

Even when I got home and broke down into tears at 3 am because I realized how overwhelmingly I used to love him and how great it felt to be held by him again, my desire to be with him now weighs so much less than knowing that realistically we have no future.

As it turned out, I have really changed, even to my own surprise. It isn’t just some sort of one-liner advice I read off an internet article then conveniently forget. It is real now. I was able to get past impulses and take action that might be hard at first but I know would do me good in the end.

In retrospect, for all these years and through all the epiphany moments I thought I had grown up, I did not. For sure, I was fast to learn what was right but when the same shit happened again, I didn’t do anything better. My course of actions didn’t improve one bit. I was still the same old me setting myself up for heartbreaks.

The highlight was the year 2014, the lowest point I’d ever been in my life, which I still vividly remember. As I was picking up my pieces from a failed relationship that had marked my first ever anxiety attack, I was so convinced I was done with all the stupid mistakes and had finally become wiser and more in control. But really. I shouldn’t have brought my own bullshit.

Soon I met another guy and the second it didn’t go the way I’d expected, I immediately lost my shit. One minute, I managed to remind myself of all the lessons I’d learned and the next, they all became a blur and I would make the same damn mistake I’d done before while being tortured by the guilt of having known better. I was just like a kid that keeps touching a hot kettle THEN remembers it hurts. In other words, my action hadn’t evolved at all.

Needless to say, the ending was inevitable – I was left with deep wounds that didn’t just bring me tears but also destroyed my self-esteem. That year, I was so severely damaged that I feared I would never feel alright again.

Fortunately, I was wrong. Since then, little by little, I have rebuilt myself and found a way to feel comfortable in my own skin so that my self-esteem is not based on external factors but comes from within me. Most significantly, I’ve learned to love who I’m. This self-love has led me to believe I deserve a happy ending, which stops me from cheating myself out of happiness and allows me to consciously make good choices.

For sure, in the beginning it’s always hard, and good choices are not always the easy choices. Sometimes I still lapse back into my old self and make wonky judgment. Nevertheless, since I love myself and want positive changes, I accept the challenges and continue to choose long-term benefits over instant gratifications. And the evidence of that of course will be my everyday life action.

If you want changes too, if you wonder whether you have learned any lesson at all, look into your own action. It’s the manifestation of your thinking. Have you done anything differently? Have you seen any different result? If the answer is no, start from somewhere now. One day, lessons will no longer be just words that go into one ear and come out the other but internalized into your character and way of being.