This Is Not A Romantic Advice Column
The other day I was chatting on the phone with a friend. We were discussing love and heartbreak and I found myself explaining to her my own history, of how I once loved someone who didn’t love me back:
“He’s off living his happily ever after with someone else... and life goes on.”
“You sound so blasé about the whole thing,” she told me, “Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism.”
“Perhaps,” I said, “or perhaps I’m actually okay now, but that doesn't mean I didn’t feel as though my life was ending when he left.”
And perhaps all of this is true, but I had never said any of it out loud. I’ve never felt as though I love the way other people do, but I’m starting to wonder if maybe it's because none of us who love in this manner ever speak about it. There’s no novels about the girls getting over the unrequited love, no sitcom about the girl who doesn't date because the thought of one more unhappiness exhausts her. We’ve been raised between these ever changing waves of feminism and internalized misogyny, where it’s not only “uncool” to have emotions, but the thought of expressing them even more appalling. Conceal don’t feel. I wonder if every cynical person on the planet is simply a romantic afraid of getting hurt, or worse, a creature broken over time into indifference. With even that small addition of “life goes on,” I felt as though I was lying to my friend, covering up for fear that she’d judge my sudden acquisition of an emotion amidst what she’s known as my long standing countenance of the cool, heartless woman.
I used to think indifference was the goal. Every time I felt the slightest twinge of attraction toward a new acquaintance, shared an endearing moment with a complete stranger, realized I was starting to feel some sort of way about somebody I knew well, I would do everything in my power to make it go away. I was cold, I was rude—I was saving myself all over again because there was no way in hell I was going through all of that another time. Most often than not I succeeded, with my dignity intact, yes, but also with the slight taste of regret in my mouth. I was starting to get bitter. Until I failed, completely and unceremoniously.
Before you get any ideas, I will clarify just once. This is not a love story. I’m not going to tell you about suddenly meeting the love of my life and realizing it’s okay to have a heart after all. I will not be promising that you too will lose all of your insecurities and fears the second it happens. There is no happily ever after at the end of all of this for me. Not yet, anyway. I did meet somebody, and I fell hard. And I was broken harder. But something magical happened along the way, and no, it’s not, again, all of the wonderful things that lie within myself—I am not a romantic comedy. I learned what I see in others. I learned what it is exactly that makes me happy, and what it is that I would eventually want. I learned what it is in people that I love. And after it was all over, I realized I could keep all of that for myself.
Because yes, he was a cad, but he made me happy, in this strange, delirious way that I still laugh about years later. It’s not that I needed to love him, it’s that I needed to be reminded I should love in the first place, that I should be happy. He did that, and I’ll always be weirdly grateful to him for it.
I once remarked anonymously on here that in order to move on from someone you have to slowly reclaim the things that may have belonged to that person, or the memory thereof. The interests, activities, the places; they had to become yours again. I still find this true, but I think it also applies to the characteristics you loved about them. Happily ever after guy? I loved his soul. And the cad? I loved his spirit. If I ever recognize that in another person, I’m not going to run because it reminds me of him, I’m going to enjoy the realization that I’ve found it once again, and hope that this time it’ll be better. There’s no shame in liking someone new because they have the same inflections, the same details, so long as those details no longer break your heart.
I’d have never taken a chance with the cad had he not reminded me at least a little of happily ever after guy, but everything that came after was entirely his own, and I don’t regret either of them. That interesting stranger may have the same disastrous haircut that makes you laugh, but a second glance could show you the myriad traits of a person that might be so much greater than what you’ve left behind. You cannot let an ex-anything ruin a feeling the way you would let them ruin an obscure album from the 70s that you listened to together on a random date. You have to hold onto the feelings, you know? Because they are yours to feel, whether you choose to express them out loud or not. Loving people for their kindness makes you kind, loving someone’s spirit can give you spirit. The traits you admire reflect who you are and what you deserve. Don’t let them be a reminder of what was, but a sign of what could be.