11/07/2012 04:10 pm ET Updated Jan 07, 2013

Even When Your Ex Goes to the Same Polling Place, Yes You Can: I Did, And It Left Me Feeling Stronger Than Ever

Four years ago, I stood for three hours with my then-partner, thrilled to be voting for a candidate who ran on a platform of HOPE. It was one of the many things we did together in the public school in our neighborhood, which became a flea market on weekends that we'd scour for treasures in HOPE of finding something to add to the collection of objects that symbolized us, our togetherness. My ex, being from the Bible Belt, was the rebel in his family. A lone "Dem," as they called him. I remember him texting them, "GOBAMA!" as we waited to cast our votes. I think his seditious political spirit, this ability to separate from his family's ardent beliefs, took courage and bravery, and was one thing that kept me in love with him for so long. It's ironic that his penchant for individuality had much to do with our togetherness, at least in my eyes. After we exited the voting booth with the pride and giddiness that comes with sharing something at once so public and private (for months leading up to the election, we'd cuddle in bed watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, eating ice cream and dissecting the nuances of each party's campaigns), we both went about our days. I don't remember what we had for dinner that night, but I remember the amber light in our loft flickering as we screamed with joy when Obama took California. We jumped up from the couch and hugged each other like victory was ours.

As the months went by, with no campaign of HOPE to cling to, my partner and I grew distant, and our turbulent relationship took a turn for the worse. When we parted ways, I was devastated, and I felt as if I'd lost any faith -- or HOPE, for that matter -- that I was capable of being loved the way I wanted to be loved. It was a nadir period. Fast forward two years, and I've made many of my lifelong dreams come true; I'm more comfortable in my own skin than ever before, and have had many fulfilling affairs with men who have taught me much about love.

Still, I woke up election morning 2012 with a wrench in my gut. I burst into tears, mourning the HOPE that I'd once clung to with ferocious want. That's the thing about grief; it comes in waves and you feel the loss and absence of people, memories, feelings, objects and even symbols of a once-solid togetherness suddenly, as if you are a puddle of your former self. At least that's what happened to me.

I avoided the public school all day, much like I avoid the weekend flea market. I had my hair done; I graded papers; I visited a sick friend. Of course, I had to vote: As a woman, and a politically active one at that, this election was too important to me not to, but I waited until just before 9 p.m. when the polls were about to close. As my shrink says, avoidance is a form of anxiety, and I was anxious about returning to a place that once held an emblem of HOPE that had been snuffed out by the demise of a relationship that defined my 20's and was the closest I think I'll ever get to being domesticated. It had been years since I shed tears over him -- over the former us-- but I found myself sobbing all day. What if I saw him? Worse yet, what if I saw him with the woman he left me for? Or what if I saw his signature next to his name: Proof that he had been there, in that middle school auditorium, without me?

With early results coming in and red filling the map, the pressure was on. My civic duty was waiting for me. I cast my vote. Alone. When it was over, tears streaming down my face, I felt a surge of HOPE, the kind that comes with independence.