My name is Brianna Dumas and I am nearly a quarter century old. If you would have asked me 5 years ago, where I saw myself at 24 or 25, my answer easily would have been married (or just about), purchasing my first house, etc—you know, the “American Dream.”
I’m not sure how I came to idealize that kind of dream. My mother raised me by herself for years until my stepfather came into the picture. She taught me to never rely on anyone and that success was determined by my choices alone. But somehow I still grew up loving the idea of the nuclear family model — and even in spite of my recent heartbreak, I still do.
To me that meant finding a husband, building an amazing career, and having kids by the time I was 30. When John and I met I thought that it all might be possible. We immediately hit it off—I mean just absolutely head over heels for one another. Our interests and future goals were so similar that I was for sure one of us was lying about it to impress (and sometimes I wish that was the case!)
For the first time in my life, I started to see marriage at 24 as a realistic plan and I started to dream of that old American nuclear family ideal again; John was my first true taste of love.
John was a nurse but preparing to leave for law school in Fall of 2016—we had just about a year and half before we might have to say goodbye to each other. But, early on we talked about how I would likely leave my job to relocate with him for law school.
I can’t count the times we looked at houses and dreamed of what every day would be like when we lived together. Every time I looked at his blue eyes, I saw my husband and the man that I would happily walk away from my AMAZING job for. Did I question it a lot — leaving a great job to follow a man… absolutely I did! But, when you love someone, you have to make sacrifices, right? That’s what the fairytales tell us, at least.
But, of course, the reality wasn’t always a fairytale. John had an admitted-jealous side. When I snapchatted an old fling a picture of my dog he flipped out and broke up with me. I apologized, took responsibility, empathized with his point of view, and we got back together — this became our pattern. We would get in big fights, say angry and vulgar things to each other, and post manipulative social media messages. I would go on harmless dates with other guys, but we always came back together. He did not like that I would go on these dates and then run back to him -- but what he never could understand was that I was running back for a reason: him. It was always him.
We were back together last fall when I interviewed for my dream job. It was the job I had wanted since I was 19 — a competitive position that attracted 120 nationwide candidates. When they called to offer me the position I should have been jumping for joy, but all I could think about was John. He was preparing to head to law school out of state very soon, and this job was in Georgia.
I called him and said, “Okay, babe — this is it. I either accept and stay — or — decline for you. I love you and I will give this up for us.”
I will never forget his response, “I can’t tell you what to do but you know I want you by my side at law school.”
I had lost him too many times before and I wouldn’t let this get in the way. Was it smart? I didn’t care. I called and declined the position of my dreams. John and I were off to wherever law took us.
Or at least that was a plan — until 3 weeks later, when he called me at work. He said he couldn’t trust me, because I had been on other dates when we broke up. We were off. Moving with him to law school was off. Everything was off. My world was shattered (again).
Not only did I just lose the man I wanted to spend my entire life with, but I had given up an opportunity of a lifetime based solely off an emotional, not rational, decision. I felt broken, alone and angry, and lost from myself. Before John, my friends knew me as the most strong-willed independent woman around, but as I fell for John I became someone they didn’t recognize.
I knew I had to reclaim my former self. I went back to the original plan to go to graduate school for public health (the plan I had been so willing to give up for the idea of settling for John). By the end of the year I had applied to 3 schools across the country. Just after New Years, with a few days left on the application deadline, I threw one more school into the mix - University of Michigan, on John’s suggestion (who, yes, I was talking to again), who would likely be attending their law school in the fall.
“John, that is a public ivy and the #4 ranked program… I WILL NEVER GET IN!” I said to me when he mentioned the idea of me applying. But, the more we talked, the more I thought, what do I have to lose? Part of me still imagined if I got in there could be a chance for us again.
I never thought I would get in and even if I did, I knew I couldn’t afford it. Then an email came. Actually it was two emails from UM: one accepting me and the other providing Dean’s Scholarship. I couldn’t believe it — I had gotten in and they were paying half of my tuition!
I called my mother—tears running down my face full force and (nervously) sent a simple text to John “THANK YOU FOR CONVINCING ME TO APPLY!”
I still didn’t know if I would feed my ego and go to a school that I hadn’t considered before John or feed my soul and move out to Colorado (my other strong candidate). Not only was Michigan never for me, but it meant that if I moved there I would have to most likely be in the same town as him. I worried that if I went there, my life would be consumed with hoping to see him or spend my time trying to rekindle what was clearly dead.
This was taken in April this year after about an hour of trying to find my new "home" in Ann Arbor- maybe 20 degrees and snowing!
In April I booked trips to Michigan, Oregon and Colorado to visit my top three schools- or at least that was the plan until fate gave me a call in the form of our First Lady. Michelle Obama was coming to visit the program that I had worked on. She was coming to visit during the days I was scheduled to be in Oregon and Colorado. This instantly made my decision: I was going to UM and I WAS MEETING THE FIRST LADY.
Michelle represents almost everything I desire to be someday — a strong and educated woman, with a realistic approach to parenting and health, who that has stood by her husband’s side through thick and thin, and a true classic beauty — gorgeous inside and out.
When I gave up that job last fall, I gave someone else control of my life. But this decision was about me. It was ME that got into the public ivy; it was ME that got the scholarship; it is ME that is investing in MY education. If I gave up Michigan as quickly as I gave up my dream job because I may run into him, then I would just be letting him control my future again.
It was only after the heartbreak and missed opportunity that this new exciting path emerged. By 24, I have graduated with a BS, spent one year in post-bac work, attained my Registered Dietitian credentials, and worked for two years in an incredible job. In the last few months, I have won awards, nominated for Georgia Southern’s “40 under 40”, been accepted to a public Ivy, met the First Lady, and was featured in some great articles and magazines. It is clear that I am self-driven and don’t have time to let someone else drive my decisions!
In March 2016, my mom was able to attend an award ceremony with me when I was awarded the Distinguished Effort to a Grassroots Effort Award by the GA Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Mom has been my biggest fan since day 1!
This summer, I’ll turn 25 and move to Ann Arbor. I’m on track to continue building my own dreams and my own empire. John will be attending UM in the fall, as well. If and when I do run into him, I hope he meets a new woman; a woman that used her lessons-learned to make change.
I am a firm believer that when you can look your ex in the face or tell a friend “I wish him the best,” is the true moment you have found peace; and today, I think I have found that peace. I love that man, regardless of these happenings. But what that love I developed sparked was an even better love: self love.
I’m going to have that amazing career and family — that is for sure. My American-dream has found a new twist as I learned maybe I do not have to have everything planned out on a timeline before 30. I am learning slowly that I want to be the “new trophy wife”- a well-educated and independent, but 100% supporter of my partner in crime. It is my dream to show my future daughter, Madelyn, that she can have an amazing career AND family some day.
My two large take-aways from the past year and half of adventure: (1.) Be honest, apologize and move forward and, (2.) Never sacrifice your potential for someone who wouldn't do the same for you.