I met Will at a volunteer orientation at a psychiatric hospital over the summer, and I developed a huge crush on him a few months later. At first I tried to resist my attraction with foolproof strategies, such as by saying “undergraduate men are way too immature for me” over and over while reading Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or by playing “Focus” by Ariana Grande until I could sing it backwards in my sleep. But my pull toward Will’s deep voice, his listening skills, and his confidence soon forced me to accept my feelings. I talked about him with several of my friends, I penned a creative nonfiction piece about him that I shared with my entire class, and I even wrote a psychoanalysis of my thoughts toward him while sitting next to him in my Developmental Psychology course. I was, unfortunately, in love.
So I planned my heartbreak for 4 p.m. today. Earlier in the week I had asked him to go on a walk with me, and as we entered the woods just a few hours ago, I inquired about his classes and his faith organization. As I listened, I kept thinking “Thomas, you are about to make this extremely awkward. You are going to make this so awkward, you will still feel the awkwardness pouring out of your soul when you write about it in your memoir.” Red, orange, and yellow leaves paved our path, 70 (Fahrenheit) degrees of heat warmed our skin, and the sun glowed behind the many trees surrounding us. When we sat at an open space near a large amphitheater, I took a deep breath and made the plunge.
“So, this is going to be really awkward,” I said, proud of my useless self-awareness. “But I’m attracted to you.”
“Thanks for your honesty,” he said. He smiled, which made me angry at myself, because I still found his face attractive even as he broke my heart. “I appreciate it, but I can’t return your feelings, because I’m straight.”
I expected this outcome, of course. I knew about his straightness, I knew that he would reject me in a compassionate way, and I knew that in the end I would have to spend several hours crying and working and writing to cope with it all. The decision to tell him was not one of impulse or false hope; as always, I had chosen to confess because of my values, because of my penchant for open communication and vulnerability. But I did not expect him to divulge a secret of his own.
“This reminds me of something,” he said, as we walked back to the library. “I’m actually really attracted to Tori.”
Wow, I thought to myself, so this is what it feels like to have your heart broken, then shot into pieces by a machine gun, then burned by a flamethrower and dropped into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Yeah, it’s weird,” he said. I tried to focus both on the brick cobblestones beneath my feet and on the way he articulated his feelings for a coworker and friend of mine. “I’m not sure whether to tell her. Neither of us want a relationship, but I am definitely attracted to her.”
For the next couple of minutes, I continued to listen to him, to empathize with him, and to provide him with my counsel when he wanted it. I also started to develop an irrational hatred toward Tori, one which I knew would fade after I got over Will, or as soon as the world itself ended. This is fine, I thought to myself, as I gave my crush advice about his crush. This is totally, totally fine.
By the time we got back to the library, Will had the decency to look a little sheepish. He apologized for bringing up Tori, and I clutched my black cardigan to my chest as if doing so would ward off the insensitivity of my latest romantic interest. Fellow students wearing backpacks and carrying cups brimming with iced tea traversed around us, oblivious to the melodramatic and all-encompassing shattering of my heart. After a few awkward exchanges of dialogue later, Will and I parted ways.
As I write this, I sit in my dorm room, sipping Diet Mountain Dew and alternating between listening to Taylor Swift’s “Clean” and Ariana Grande’s “Break Free.” Though my heart feels bruised, torn, and just one moment away from breaking all over again, I want to reflect on a few things I have learned from this incident and from this semester in general.
I have the most amazing support system. After Will and I had our awkward encounter, a few of my closest friends made me feel so much better by listening to me, throwing shade at him with me, and validating all of my emotions, even the immature and irrational ones. Throughout last semester and at the beginning of this semester I faced chilling moments of utter isolation, and though I know those moments will still come and go, I feel confident in and grateful for my amazing allies, both in-person and online.
I have also learned that life is long. At the beginning of this year, one of my closest friends hurt me in an awful way and I lost a couple of my other key supporters in the process. However, months later I have had the great fortune of cultivating an even more compassionate network of friends. This “life is long” mantra also applies to my romantic relationships. I have come to recognize that though my brutal self-awareness, my supposed maturity, and my defined sense of purpose may make me feel older than those around me, a lot of time remains for me to find a guy who shares my values of empathy and caring and hope, as well as my obsession with books and writing and Ariana Grande.
Most importantly: I am human. It is human of me to desire understanding, to get upset when people mistreat me, and to make mistakes and learn from them. It is human of me to honor my complex sensitivity, to always try my best to live with compassion and empathy, and to assume good will of people, even the ones who may hurt me. It is human of me to feel this deeply, to disclose with this much depth, and to make myself vulnerable again even after getting burned.
Whether he likes it or not, Thomas is human. I am human. I am.
Thoughts? Anyone have any heartbreak experiences or pieces of advice they would like to provide? I apologize for the once-a-month posting; academics and work and volunteering and research have taken up all of my time. Though I find meaning in and enjoy all of these endeavors, I cannot wait for the day when I can sit back and blog all day (retirement, anyone?) I hope you are all well and I look forward to hearing from you soon!