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There’s usually something magical about the first nice day of spring in New York City. The sidewalks are buzzing, women dressed in floral prints immersed in excited conversation. Restaurants have set up their outdoor seating, with the scent of freshly baked bread wafting through the air. A jazz saxophonist plays his tunes in the park, the notes traveling through the air with the warm breeze.

Amidst this picturesque backdrop, I stand out like a sore thumb, bawling my eyes out as I pace down Fifth Avenue with black mascara running down my face. In any other city, someone would stop me and ask what’s wrong, but here, everyone continues about their business as though I don’t exist; they’ve grown accustomed to seeing much crazier things. One of the things I both love and hate about NYC.

How did I get here? What brought me to this breaking point? It all started about three years ago, with a guy named Drew.

Having grown up in the Midwest, I’d never met someone like Drew before. His sarcastic charm, Ivy League intelligence, and preppy East Coast style were both foreign and enticing to me. After a handful of dates over the course of a few months, I knew I was hooked.

Things seemed to be going well, with us texting every day, spending time with his friends, and making plans for the future. I started painting a picture of our life together, going apple picking in the fall and taking summer trips out to Nantucket. Then, one day, seemingly out of the blue, the relationship took a 180-degree turn. The texts stopped coming. My hopes for our future crumbled into dust. I wanted to ask him what happened, but something in my pride stopped me. I was left replaying every last one of our moments together, picking apart what I might have said or done to make his feelings change.

This was the first of a series of heartbreaks that followed this same pattern. I built my hopes up higher and higher, only to experience more and more pain when they were inevitably torn down. I grew so anxious, so self-conscious that I could hardly bear it anymore. What was wrong with me? Why was I not worthy of love? These are the questions I asked myself as I broke down on Fifth Avenue after yet another disappointment.

I called my mom to unload my frustrations. “Maybe I should just give up on NYC and move back to Chicago,” I said. “Maybe I’m just not cut out for it here. Maybe I’ll never find the one.”

She offered two pieces of advice that stick with me to this day: “You need to find your own happiness first,” and “All it takes is one.”

After reflecting on her words and looking inward, I realized I’d been focusing all of my time and efforts on finding the right guy. The books I read, the clothing I wore, the places I went, even the friends I hung out with—all of these choices were carefully curated around making me the most appealing candidate for a potential date. I’d forgotten all about who I was and what I loved to do. I’d become a mannequin, poised and beautiful on the outside but completely empty within.

From that moment, I decided to make a change and take control of my life. I reconnected with friends, savoring our deep conversations rather than scoping out the cute guy at the bar. I took long walks, exploring every nook and cranny of this city that has always mesmerized me. I took pride in my work, proving to myself that I can survive and thrive in a cutthroat industry. I finally woke up from my three-year slumber. I finally felt alive again.

A few months later, it was summer, and I was out with my friends in the charming beach town of Montauk. We were sun kissed and salty from a day at the ocean, and our bellies hurt from a dinner filled with lots of wine and laughter. I smiled to myself and thought, this is it, Mom. I’ve found my own happiness. Then I turned the corner and saw him.

From the moment he looked over at me and smiled, I knew that he was special. His bright blue eyes and kind, welcoming smile made me feel like I’d known him my whole life. I was immediately able to be my weird, quirky self, and he loved me for every bit of it—all those pieces of myself I’d been hiding for years with the goal of being “perfect.” We spent the evening hula hooping, playing cornhole, and lying in a hammock looking up at the stars. Our conversations flowed for hours and hours, from giggling at each other’s jokes to finishing each other’s sentences. The rest of the world faded away, and it was only the two of us. I didn’t worry afterward about whether he’d text me or what I would do wrong to mess things up; I was confident in who I was, who he was, and what we had, which I knew was incredibly unique.

Almost a year later, he and I sat outside at our favorite café in Soho, eating chocolate croissants and drinking white wine. The birds were chirping to the sound of taxis honking—the classic NYC soundtrack I’ve grown to love so much. He was looking more handsome than ever, and my heart was filled with more happiness than ever. I took a deep breath and thought back to my mother’s words a year ago. All it takes is one.

Editor’s Note: Dating Unscripted is a Readers Write column. Share your own story here.