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We broke it off for years. Then we found each other again — and it’s true love

I was sure he was my soul mate. I was just as sure that I'd ruined my chances with him forever.
Taryn Clark
Shawn and Taryn Clark before they dated, and after they got engaged.

Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck just celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary over two decades after they first got engaged. Their second chance love story has captivated the world. 

I’m rooting for them. Not because I know them personally — but because I know what it’s like to love someone, lose them and then miraculously find them again.

In fact, when I first saw pictures of Lopez and Affleck together again in 2021, I was sitting next to the man I thought I had lost forever, and had just come back into my life. I turned to him and said, “It’s just like us.” He agreed.

Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck and J. Lo's love story reminds me of my own.Getty Images

Sure, there are some differences. Ben and J. Lo were separated for 17 years; Shawn and I had a shorter time apart, though I was sure it would be forever. And we never quite figured out how to make “Shawn” and “Taryn” make a nickname as catchy as “Bennifer.” 

The similarities are what I focus on, more: We found each other once … and then a second time. I think our love is sweeter because of the winding road we took to where we are — but I can’t say it was easy. 

Shawn and I grew up in Ramona, a small rural town in San Diego county. There are no freeways, only mountain roads — think farms, wildlife, hiking trails. We met when we were in high school as part of a big friend group. I always had a crush on him, but the timing was never right: He was dating someone or I was. I remember, when we were about 17 years old, telling my mom about how quick and witty he was, and how I’d think, “I wish he was mine.”

Taryn Clark
Shawn and I in high school, before we dated.Courtesy Taryn Clark

February 2015. Eight years after high school graduation. That’s when we went from being friends for years to something more. We ran into each other at a bar and hung out all night. He asked me the next morning if I’d ever consider dating him. I said, sure — if he was single. He broke up with his girlfriend and we were inseparable from that moment on. 

It was a love like I had never experienced.

But I had a secret — one I kept hidden from him until it got so bad that it was apparent to everyone. Years before dating Shawn, I got into a car accident and injured my hand. As a result, I went in and out of hospitals for surgeries. These left me with pain and insomnia. In the search for relief, I hated how painkillers made me feel. Sleeping pills made me drowsy. Alcohol, on the other hand, was a great pain reliever and sleep aid. For a while, it fixed my problems. Then, it created more. 

Shawn and I drank recreationally. Without him knowing, my drinking crossed the threshold to alcoholism. I was drinking on my way to work. I lost my job. Soon, my drinking problem became obvious to Shawn and my parents, who tried to work together to save me — but that was a battle I had to wage on my own. 

I never blamed Shawn for leaving me. I only wondered what took so long. When he finally had enough of me, I asked: “Do you ever think we’ll get back together?” He had one word for me: No. I believed him, and I respected it. I didn’t reach out.

Taryn Clark
Shawn and I, the first time around.Courtesy Taryn Clark

Months later, as I continued to spiral, I reached my lowest point by getting my first and only DUI. In jail for four days, I hit my rock bottom. When I got out of jail, I oriented my life around one guiding principle: I want to be, from this moment on, exactly who Shawn wishes I was. 

That’s exactly what happened. I rebuilt my life and haven’t had a sip of alcohol since. Sometimes I checked in on Shawn; I knew he had a live-in girlfriend. I never thought we would get back together, anyway — even if my parents asked about him all the time, and I told all my new friends about the guy from my past who was perfect for me, but I blew it. Now, I said, I was focusing on myself. 

A “happy birthday” text brought us back together four years after our first breakup. It was Shawn’s birthday in 2021. I went back and forth about reaching out, but I sent a text. Turns out he was recently single and wanted to text me, too, but resisted because he thought I was dating someone. With that, I broke up with my on-again, off-again situationship, and said, “I’m single too.”

One trip to a Mexican restaurant later, and I was all in. I never stopped loving this guy. He was all in, too — and I think he was shocked, since he initially told me he wasn’t ready for anything serious. Even though our feelings were strong, he said he wanted to wait a year to propose. I said, “Fair enough.” A year later, we were engaged.

Of course, some people were doubtful. As happy as my parents were, his parents were the opposite. Shawn’s mom cried, not tears of joy, when he and I reconnected. Now, we have a great relationship.   

Taryn Clark
Right after Shawn proposed.Courtesy Taryn Clark

Today, happily married and building a home with Shawn and our two dogs, I’m living the life I dreamed of during those four days in jail. I’m grateful for my alcohol battle and the hurdles we faced. All of them made me the person I am today. Without that journey and growing up, I’m not sure we would’ve ended up together. 

Today we live in the same town we grew up in.
Today we live in the same town we grew up in.Courtesy Taryn Clark

This isn’t a case of a rebound, or falling back into a familiar, but toxic, spiral. My relationship with Shawn is the easiest part of my life. We’re so compatible. Our fights aren’t even a thing — now that I’m sober, what might have been a heated argument is easily diffused. Shawn has never used our past against me or as ammunition. If anything, our troubles have made us stronger: He helped me through a brain tumor surgery the same year we got engaged. 

J. Lo has it right when she says second-chance love is sweeter. Back then, we were young and crazy. We were in love, but we were careless. Now, we have an appreciation for what we have because we lost it. Now we have a precious, beautiful, once-in-a-lifetime love — and we treat it accordingly.