How Living in My Boyfriend’s Shadow Helped Me Find My Spotlight

I was in a fairly committed relationship for three years while I was in college. Like all relationships, it was great in the beginning, but as time went by, my ex became the face of our relationship while I hid in his shadow. It wasn’t all bad, though: eventually I found my own spotlight and built the courage to leave his. Here’s how I did it.

  1. I learned how to be humble. My ex was a total gym rat. He was obsessed with working out and looking like The Rock. He was also not the most humble about it. He would always show off his muscles every chance he got. When he would train other people, his clients would often ditch because they couldn’t keep up with his workout regimen. There was a time when I tried to train with him, but I was quickly discouraged because I always felt like I did the workouts wrong and wasn’t making any progress. He did nothing to alleviate my insecurities. From his lack of humility, I learned how to encourage people and to not rub my success in other people’s faces. Just because I was successful in something doesn’t make me better than others. I also spent more time with people who were more humble and encouraging. I even started working out with other friends who were on a similar fitness journey as me or who were willing to teach me how to work out. I felt so much better about myself and became more patient with my progress.
  2. When he got into fights, I considered the other person’s side. My ex got into plenty of arguments with people. He didn’t like people challenging him and if he felt threatened, he would tear the other person down without mercy. On the other hand, I was the complete opposite. I was shy, avoided confrontation, and empathetic. Even if someone did something that I didn’t like or agree with, I still would try to see where they were coming from or what prompted them to make that decision. I would forgive people for my ex. If someone couldn’t get through to him, they would come to me. Eventually, I was known for my kindness and empathy that it carried out even after the relationship ended.
  3. People liked hanging out with me without him. During the relationship, there would be moments where I would go to parties or outings without him, and boy did people love it when I came alone. I wasn’t necessarily a party animal or anything, but people didn’t feel like they were walking on eggshells around me. My ex was easy going for the most part, but he definitely had a bad temper every time someone said the wrong thing. He was also very controlling and protective over me, which basically meant that no one was allowed to talk to me, especially if it was a guy.
  4. I only spoke when I had something to say. My ex was definitely a talker. He dominated the conversation and had such an eloquent and engaging way of speaking. People loved it when he spoke. However, he didn’t know when to scale back and let other people chime in. In fact, I don’t remember ever having a balanced conversation with him. I never shared my thoughts, feelings, and opinions with him because I felt like they were insignificant. This helped me in the end because I learned how to give value and make an impact with fewer words. When I had something to say, people listened because they know it’s usually something important.
  5. I learned how to be confident. One thing I really admired about my ex was his confidence. He could pretty much sell anything and persuade people so well that they even doubted themselves. I quietly watched his strategy and admired how he took command and control of the room and got people to be engaged with what he was saying. If there’s anything good that came out of our relationship, it would be that he showed me how powerful being confident was even if you weren’t.
  6. He taught me that everything doesn’t always have to go according to plan. Hands down, my ex was great at improvising. People were often in awe of the stuff that he came up with on the fly. People often wanted him to spit a freestyle or come up with jokes on the spot. My job was to be his hype woman or to fetch him a drink or something. Again, I was sitting on the sidelines, but I didn’t complain. I was learning a lot. It always baffled me how he was able to take life’s mistakes and just roll with the punches. Eventually, I stopped trying to plan out every detail of my life and I was happier and more relaxed.
  7. I dedicated time to myself. My ex and I rarely spent time apart. It was quite suffocating, actually. There was always an expectation to see each other on weekends or after class and it quickly became the norm for us. When we did spend time apart, I had major separation anxiety and boredom. Eventually, I figured this was extremely unhealthy, so when he moved away for work, I decided to work on myself. It was a hard transition, but I taught myself how to be independent and to love myself.
  8. I learned how to actually take care of my body. I used to stress eat. A lot. In this relationship, I gained so much weight. I never really cared about working out or eating right even though my ex was always doing both. This definitely took a toll on my self-esteem while I was with him. I didn’t want to go out or go shopping for clothes. I just wanted to chill indoors in my comfort zone. When we broke up, I didn’t have anyone to hide behind anymore and if I was going to work on myself and attract my next partner, I had to get my body in control first. Since then, I lost a few pounds, gained some muscle, and boosted my overall self-esteem.
  9. I picked myself up when he wasn’t around. The number one thing I do not miss most from our relationship is that we got into some explosive fights where he would make me feel less than him. He would make me feel really bad about myself and I eventually started believing it. At one point, I got super tired of it and decided that no one is going to make me feel better about myself except for me. So I picked myself back up and reminded myself that I’m not worthless or a bad person. From then on, I never relied on him, or anyone, to give me any sort of affirmation. The only person that can make me feel better is me.


Katrina Torrijos is a lifestyle blogger and YouTuber from San Jose, Ca. She is passionate about helping young professionals find their footing in the real world through advice, conversation, motivation, and affirmation. Read more of her work at