Some things in life you just can’t prepare for. You can read about them, talk about them, or try to imagine them as much as you’d like to, but until you actually experience them, you don’t truly understand. One such thing is love, and another that can so often come with it, heartbreak. Before last summer, I had yet to really experience either. Now a year later, I’m familiar with both. I can’t really say there’s anything that hurts as much as a broken heart. Nothing really helps to numb the ache of it except for time. I still have a lot of healing to do. However, I’m happy to have had it happen. If you’re willing to listen (or read, whatever), I’d like to share my story with you.
There’s a certain line in the film Big Fish that has always stuck with me: “They say when you meet the love of your life time stops.” The notion of that idea never ceases to make me smile. I’ve always been a hopeless romantic, or in the words of my friends, “picky.” But I can’t help it. I’ve never been one to say yes to every guy that has asked me out or go on a second date if I thought the first was just alright. I wanted the magic; that gut feeling of something being right. I wanted a moment like Ed Bloom has when he first sees the woman who will someday be his wife. This past summer I got way more than I bargained for.
Of course, stuff like this happens when you’re least expecting it. I was slowly weaning myself off of a long-harbored crush on a boy from my hometown. Despite my mom, sister and friends all telling me I’d probably meet some guy abroad and never want to come home, I never really gave the idea a second thought. Six weeks was way too short a period of time for anything like that to happen. I was SO wrong. In my nonchalant attitude towards love, I didn’t realize what I’d been doing was sitting back and waiting, because when my Big Fish moment came it was like a damn rug being pulled out from underneath my feet.
Time doesn’t abruptly come to a halt, it gradually slows down. The whole memory plays out in my mind constantly, frame by frame. I was coming down a several-centuries-old set of oak stairs in my favorite black dress, concentrating on placing one spiked nude heel in front of the other, the maroon runner on the stairs striking against them. Something just told me to look up, to stop worrying about my footing, and that’s when I saw him standing in front of an open door, the late afternoon sun making his dark hair shine. The woman he was chatting with, my professor’s wife, noticed me coming down and called out my name. His head swiveled (slowly of course, because everything was happening in slow motion obviously) to see who she was addressing and that’s when it happened. Our eyes locked; it truly was a moment frozen in time. In the time between blinks and breaths we were the only two people in the room who seemed to exist. And in that favorite moment of mine, I automatically knew I was 110% totally screwed.
We wound up at a bar shortly after our university’s dinner that night, sitting on a bridge that overlooked a river and talking as if we’d always known each other. He was from Guatemala and studying at a university in Austria. He’d only arrived in England that day for his summer program, but we’d be leaving a day apart four weeks later. By the time our drinks were finished, I’d completely forgotten about the boy back home. As the night went on and we went from the quiet pub to an energetic dance club, I felt myself more at ease than I’d felt with any other guy I’d hung out with before. Walking home hand in hand at 2:30 in the England drizzle, neither of us could stop smiling. We spent a bit more time standing in the entryway of my building, arms wrapped around one another and talking with my girlfriend and a friend of his who had also met that night. They ducked outside to say goodnight while we stayed enclosed in the archway. He kissed me goodnight and as he walked out the carved wooden doorway he asked to see me tomorrow, a bright smile stretching from ear to ear. Four weeks were going to fly by much too fast.
My professor’s wife called me out for my feelings the very next morning. After breakfast she came over to me and took my face in her hands. “You are GLOWING!” she’d exclaimed. “Oh, young love!” Was she right? Could this have been budding love? No one falls in love in four weeks, I’d thought. Over the course of the next month, I was experiencing a constant internal struggle. We were having a wonderful time getting to know each other, sharing late night drinks, going to the movies and Shakespeare plays in the park, studying together in the library and staying up until 4 a.m. talking about anything and everything. For the first time ever, my love life was better than my dreams. I was falling so hard, but I knew we had an expiration date. I was torn between putting walls up and just giving in to what it was and living second for second instead of only focusing on the looming future. I chose to go with the latter.
My professor’s wife turned out to be right. I realized it one night while we were sitting in our nook of the library. He was taking notes for an economics presentation and I was outlining an essay on Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse. I got sidetracked from my work, watching as he meticulously drew a straight line on which to three-hole punch the latest addition to his binder. It was so endearing to see the care he took with his schoolwork for some reason; his drive was insanely attractive. He caught me watching him and gave me one of those smiles that caused butterflies to suddenly flutter in my stomach. It was 12:45 on a Sunday night and there was nowhere else in the world I would have rather been at the moment, sitting across from one another in a softly lit library hole-punching paper. I was in love.
Only a few short days later, we had to say goodbye. Neither of us were having an easy time with it. We knew a long distance relationship wouldn’t be practical, but we didn’t want this to be the end. I had an 11 a.m. flight out of Heathrow, but had to leave our campus at 4:30 a.m. to catch the bus that would whisk me away from the best summer of my life. We stayed up together, watching Catch Me if You Can on his laptop and pretending we were just a normal couple who weren’t about to part ways for what might be forever. With 20 minutes left before I had to leave, the tears came. He shut off the movie and we lay together, trying to soothe one another with our words. “I’m so glad I met you,” he whispered in my ear. I still regret not telling him exactly how I felt in that moment, as if I was leaving behind the one thing I’ve always been trying to find. Flying home later that day, I had never felt emptier. It was as if my heart hadn’t boarded the plane with the rest of my body.
Within three days of leaving, we were texting nonstop thanks to WhatsApp. We had the time difference down to a science and, thanks to technology, were somehow managing to get to know each other even better despite being a continent apart. I sent him pictures of certain things going on in my life and he did the same. Two weeks after being home I told him how I missed him so incredibly much. He sent me the trailer for Before Sunset and gave me the reassurance I needed that I wasn’t alone in the way I was feeling. When we could, we’d manage to squeeze in phone conversations that lasted for hours. Despite the difficult circumstances, we’d managed to keep the other person active in our lives. We didn’t label ourselves as “in a relationship,” but nonetheless our feelings for each other remained. Even from thousands and thousands of miles away, he made me feel so cared about and so incredibly happy.
We started talking about trying to visit each other and shortly after New Year’s; we’d made a tentative plan for him to come to New England for a week in February. Unfortunately, the odds were stacked against us and the plan fell through. I could sense the discouragement we were both beginning to feel, but I couldn’t give up on the idea of him. Knowing that distance is the only thing preventing you from being with someone you care so deeply for is beyond frustrating.
Later in the winter, we had a talk that I had long been dreading. He still cared deeply about me, but he was beginning to have feelings for someone else; someone who was not thousands of miles away. I was crushed. But I wanted him to be happy, and I understood. What we had was not practical or realistic. It was genuine, and the most real thing I’ve ever felt, but for the time being, it just wasn’t in the cards. So I gave him my blessing. Then I cried for a week straight. My heart was officially shattered.
After a few weeks of letting it soak in, we started talking again. We’re still great friends and care about one another, but of course it’s different. I still cry sometimes, but I wouldn’t trade a second with him for anything. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have come to realize that it’s okay to be picky and believe in the real thing, to keep searching for the next time I feel that gut instinct that the person I’m talking to was placed in my path for a reason. That first love of mine, I do not doubt for a second that we were supposed to find each other in the way we did. It’s one of my favorite stories, and I suspect it always will be. I can’t say that he was the love of my life or that he wasn’t, but I can say that he showed me what real love is and that it’s worth waiting for. Who’s to say what the future has in store. Maybe by some small chance, we will meet again one day. But if we don’t, that’s ok, because I got my moment. I experienced what it is to meet someone who makes time stop for you, and even if it was only a small chapter in the novel that is life, it was a beautiful one. It may take a while before my heart resembles something whole again, but I’ll put it back together happily, knowing that the damage was more than worth it.
Bringing you love and relationship advice that’s brutally honest, mortifyingly funny and devastatingly heartbreaking from our own real life experiences. We make the mistakes so you don’t have to. Check out more from Love, Anonymously on TDQ…