I was supposed to get married this weekend. In Hawaii. To my Australian fiancé who I had been in a loving relationship with for eight years. But I am not. People feel really bad for me when I tell them this, that I’m not getting married anymore. I run into well-meaning family friends in the grocery store and they congratulate me on my upcoming wedding and I tell them to please not feel bad but I’m actually not getting married anymore. We called it off. He moved back to Australia. No more Hawaii. Their faces immediately drop and they are so sorry to hear how it all happened. They are so nice! But man, they pity me. I can hear their internal voices saying “Oh honey, but you’re so OLD.” (For the record I’m 29).

I hear them say this but maybe it’s my own insecurity. It makes me uncomfortable too. I was happily engaged to a man I loved, dreaming of buying houses, having babies, and getting handheld immersion blenders and really expensive vacuums for FREE. I coasted along thinking that everything seemed to be working out just fine. Not that I wasn’t facing any other struggles, but in this area of life I felt like I was doing everything right. I was with someone I loved, moving forward with the next phase of life. I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing, right? Until I found myself 29 years old, single, sitting next to the family cat Yogi in my old high school bedroom surrounded by garbage bags full of belongings and no fucking clue what to do next. You’re not really supposed to be doing that as a well-adjusted adult on the brink of 30. You’re supposed to have your shit together. Whatever that means.

The thing is though, I’ve never been one to conform or do things because they are what you’re “supposed” to be doing. I know I’m white and blonde and enjoy pumpkin spice, but honestly I’ve avoided being a part of the status quo my entire life. The idea of looking back at a life full of decisions based on what you’re supposed to be doing really grosses me out. I moved from Seattle to LA at age 17 for college, lived in Amsterdam and adventured in Europe, moved to Australia for a great love straight out of college, worked as a bar tender, waitress, barista, and secretary in a foreign country where I later went through nursing school. I mean, I even wore an olive green beret for most of the third grade because “it felt good.” I’m not necessarily blazing righteous new paths here but I’m always in line with what feels right for me rather than the majority. If I feel something is right, I jump in and do it no looking back. I can honestly say I have no regrets in this one little life.

And so I’m trying to figure out why now, as a single 29-year-old female taking on the world, feels like the hardest time to go against the grain in my whole entire life. It’s a new phase of life, where everyone (no like, everyone) is getting married and popping out babies and putting it on Facebook and something is totally and inherently wrong with you if you aren’t doing this as well. Something is wrong with you if you don’t want this either. The social force here is strong. Stronger than I ever imagined, like a giant steam roller machine chugging along that will yank you in if you aren’t careful. And for the people outside of that? What the hell do we do? How do we measure the success of our lives if not by wedding photos and rings and babies? I don’t even run marathons!

A month or so after the breakup I found myself at a weekend yoga retreat in the woods on an island off the coast of Washington state. Everything you think happened at this retreat did. Nude saunas, Ayurvedic vegetarian cooking, dancing around fires, gongs, sage burning, you name it. It was a weekend spent in nature, some silence, and lots of reflection quieting down all the noise and getting to the real, core, true self.

At one point during a silent journaling time I went off and stumbled upon this beautiful, lush, bright green meadow. There were literally hummingbirds flitting around my head and baby deer walking by (I shit you not). In this magical, other-worldly space I sat down and started bawling. Like something was turned on in me and couldn’t stop. When this wave finally passed (they always do) I put my pen to paper in my journal and this is what came out:

“I love you. Thank you for letting me go.”

What the hell was that? That was not what I was expecting to come from the deepest core of myself. I was fixated on the “fuck you” and “how could you do this” and “I don’t even know you,” and it wasn’t until I got really quiet that this truth came to me. I realized that this letting go gave me something I wouldn’t have been able to understand otherwise in the wake of this traumatic awakening. I didn’t ask for it but here it was right in front of me.

This awakening, this pulling away from the churn of that powerful machine of social influence allowed me to tap into my freedom and my power. My power that is not tied to anything or anyone else on this earth but is mine alone. A deep panic sets in when we go through a bad breakup of two souls that literally jolts us awake at night. This primal, terrified feeling though, it’s not our fault. As women we have been hard wired to feel we are incomplete without a mate. It’s part of our ancient wisdom. And it’s so annoying.

What came to me in that beautiful meadow was possibly the other side to this ancient wisdom. I understood that this power is not made whole by being with another person or having children, it simply exists inside of you all of the time and it always will. My power is where my truest desires live, where I find what gives me energy, lights me up, and what my true purpose and calling in this life is.

Some people’s power is buried deep, and tarnished from years of neglect and abuse or diminished from giving it away to another person. It’s not that you can’t cultivate power and self-awareness while being in a relationship with another human being because you can, but this work of uncovering it and learning to pay attention to what it’s telling you must certainly be done alone. And for me it’s the answer to the question “what the hell do I do now?” and allows me to measure my success in a way that matters to me.

The thing is though I don’t care whether you have been happily married for 50 years, are a mother of four children who puts those little headbands with flower poofs on them and posts on Facebook, live with your best friend and two cats, have a beautiful life jet-setting with your partner around the globe and are revolted by the thought of ever having babies. Wherever you are, you are absolutely perfect. As long as you are living in line with your truest self, your power (are you?) you are exactly where you are meant to be.

Originally published at medium.com