“I now know that we never get over great losses. We absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures.” -Gail Caldwell, Let’s Take the Long Way Home
Last month, I contacted the almost-love-of-my-life to see “what happened”. You know, the classic so in love, faded out, left wondering for too much time “what happened”. Maybe I was inspired from the audiobook “We Should Hang Out Sometime” where the author goes back and contacts every single ex of his to learn about his past mistakes, or maybe I just did not like hiding the excitement and sadness of it all from him. I know for sure I got cocky and assumed that if I asked, I would find out he was never the right person for me. I was waiting to hear that he didn’t want to fully commit, didn’t like xyz about me, or even that there was someone else the whole time. At the end of the day I wanted the clarity to fall out of love. Clarity I got; falling out of love was another matter.
We met a year prior, two days before my college graduation. I was at the campus pub to meet a friend after a series of events that should have led me anywhere but there. I saw him and thought his hazel eyes and nerdy stature made up the most beautiful human being I had ever seen. After a horribly awkward set up by our very well-intended friends, we ended the night making Homer Simpson jokes and a date for the following week (thanks friends!). Our first date we got drinks, listened to live music, and sat on the beach until 5am talking about everything from the corn we were eating to quantum physics. It felt like reuniting with someone I had known for 100 years. The next day I went to a BBQ and met all his friends. The week after we wrote and recorded original music together. The rest of the summer was filled with coffee dates and reading each others’ sci-fi novels and solving riddles and staying awake for twelve consecutive hours listening to exotic, vinyl records. We talked and played and kissed and connected on every level except the vulnerable one. Despite vulnerability, being with him felt like finally coming home. One day I texted him to come to a play with me, but he was gone. He had left for home, but would be back soon. He told me he would be leaving soon, but I brushed it off. I was too nervous to ask for specifics, in fear of seeming too eager about whatever it was we had going. However, by the time he returned, I would be gone to India. Which he didn’t know. My plan for a while was to move to India for a few months after graduating college and then do my postgraduate studies in London, so falling in love before I left for who knows how long was the last thing on my agenda. He knew about my plans, but not about the timing. Our utter lack of communication inhibited our knowledge of each other’s specific dates. We wanted everything to be cool and calm, so much so that we went to illogical, incredibly inconvenient depths to keep it that way. I remember trembling over my phone reading that he was gone, trying to find the coolest and most nonchalant way of saying, “I’m devastated and I really care about you.” Instead, I stayed silent. He said, “I’m really bummed”, and I said, “Me too.” That level of openness between us shook me up. We exchanged emails and added each other on Facebook. We never said goodbye.
For weeks I went to text him but did not. I never knew what to say besides, “This is killing me.” That, however, would take courage. Instead, I cried myself to sleep every night and remained silent, sure he would think I was doing wonderfully and therefore never know how much I cared. Anyways it felt unfair. I was the one moving abroad for an indefinite amount of time. He asked on a number of occasions for any sort of time frame but I couldn’t give him one, I didn’t know the answer. Between moving and no goodbye or talk of what we wanted, the answer seemed obvious.
The morning before I left for India, my darling mother woke me up saying despite moving abroad I was being the biggest coward she had ever known. “I did not raise a coward!!!” she chanted, threatening to find him on Facebook and message him if I did not. Between laughter and spasming, anxious breaths, I texted him to see if he wanted to Skype that night before I left. He replied warmly, and we stayed up all night talking and laughing and sharing all kinds of stories and videos and new books until he was falling asleep and I had to drive to the airport. The fact that he was so magical to me, so weird and spiritual and curious and kind and real, it made me remember those things in myself and somehow I fell completely in love with him. I remember thinking, “I never want to do this with anyone else.” He was the last person I talked to before leaving.
AND THEN I TRAVELED ACROSS THE WORLD
Once I got to India, everything changed. I had no idea how to keep in touch with someone so simultaneously important and unstable in my life. The stark isolation of being abroad, the complete change of lifestyle, the poverty I was surrounded with, all of these things changed how I thought. I became obsessive over everything I left behind: friends and family, my college town, and the man I was still falling in love with. I hated that I felt anything but grateful in such a magnificent land, so I made it a daily effort to stay engaged with my present. However, I didn’t know how to access or reconcile any of my losses without indulging in the sadness of it all (which felt like the opposite of staying present). My makeshift solution was to ignore most of these things for a while and start blogging about my ravishing, current world, which excluded him. He was not in touch unless I wrote, and I never knew if that was him giving me space to be where I needed to, his inability to deal with the distance, or his lack of caring enough. One time I hadn’t heard from him in a while, and had recently read an article on sending love. The idea was something quasi quantum physics-spirituality, and claimed that if you sent someone love every single day, they would be in touch. I thought that was a pretty wild claim to make (and mildly manipulative/anti purpose of just loving someone), so I decided to try it exactly because I did not believe in it. I sent him love every single day, just thinking well wishes his way. I thought that even if it (likely) didn’t work, maybe he would still be receiving a sense of love in his life and that would make him happier. But then a couple weeks later, he was in touch, asking all sorts of questions on me and my life and where I was. Maybe it was purely coincidental, but I loved the magic that always seemed to be a part of us.
Magic aside, inconsistent communication seemed to be our specialty. I periodically sent post cards and messages, we finally said, “I like you” (feeling thirteen years old), and we spoke on visiting over Christmas. We continued in this way for six months, but after months of wondering and trying and being incredibly sad and frustrated over how things unraveled, I stopped replying. Even occasional contact made me want to eventually end up with him, which made him this looming phantom of my heart instead of the very real person he is. I felt like whatever we were doing was unfair to both of our hearts.
I spent the next month in bed eating pizza and chocolate, stalking his Facebook, skipping class, and mourning any hope of us. Slowly and begrudgingly, I began dating others. To my surprise, I loved it, and my definition of love gradually changed. I realized that no matter how much fun we had together and how much I cared for him, we never had a proactive nature with each other- vulnerability, openness, communication, and courage were never a part of us. It’s like no matter how much I loved him, what we were together never fulfilled my needs (and likely not his either). I needed those things to function with him, and the lack of them made me entirely unable to communicate. I feel like I now don’t know how to engage in a love without those things. But that’s probably because of him.
Months after getting back home from England, I found myself thinking on him one day. It wasn’t sweet or fondly nostalgic though, it was sad. That surprised me because I thought I had wiped my heart clean of him by dating others and coming to terms with vulnerability needing to be a part of the equation. “What about that month in bed with pizza!” I thought. “All the sadness should be wrung out by now!” I wondered if something was unattended to, or if the whole thing should be attended to and the time apart was what we needed to make it work. It bothered me that the short summer love was still in my heart a year later, so I wanted to either make it work or fall out of love.
SO THEN I GOT IN TOUCH
Trembling hands to keyboard, I messaged my phantom asking what happened. I apologized for my awful communication and halting all contact, and asked what happened on his side. He wrote back immediately, speaking his heart openly. We went back and forth for a couple days. I told him (in a very long run on sentence quite like this one is about to be) how I fell for him and was devastated in India over him and that I didn’t know how to handle the whole situation and I wish we had been honest and talked about things. He said the circumstances were purely what made it difficult for him, that he always thought I was wonderful and wishes he had been more transparent and was sorry for his horrible communication as well. He said he never stopped caring about me and still cares for me. Then he said he knows I deserve all the answers, but that he couldn’t continue the conversation with me. He said despite still caring about me, he began seeing someone else months prior when I stopped talking to him. He felt disrespectful to her in reminiscing our past and hoped I understood. I apologized and we wished each other well. That was the last time we spoke.
Eventually, I moved myself on. But the immediate aftermath? Staggering. I couldn’t believe love wasn’t enough. I know I loved him because I shamelessly latched on when I needed to. I know I was in love with him because I readily let go when he needed me to. He wasn’t the first person I was in love with, just the first one I didn’t ever expect to not work out. I did not want to screw this one up. When we were dating, I killed myself over trying to figure out the right actions to take. I don’t think it should be that hard, but I’m proud of my past self for caring so much. Pride aside, resolving a great love that could have happened is rough. I don’t know if it’s ever possible to totally resolve that. Maybe it is and that just hasn’t happened yet. It’s comforting to think that if he really were the right person for me, I would have ended up with him. But that goes under the assumption that people always end up with who they’re supposed to be with, and I’ve watched that certainly not be true. Here was a kind and weird and wonderful person beautifully suited to me wanting and needing all the same things as me, we were just too astonished by each other to have the courage to talk through circumstances and feelings and give things a chance to work. Maybe they wouldn’t have worked anyways given the distance. But we never had the courage to find that out for ourselves.
Our lack of courage was our demise. I did not expect that to be the conclusion I reached by messaging him. Maybe we’ll meet again in our next lives if that’s a thing. Or maybe not, because we will have learned whatever we needed to in this one. Maybe the universe forced us apart to force us into being more communicative people. Maybe without huge loss our iron guards would have never come down. Or maybe gauging every philosophical possibility is just awash, and it simply takes inconsolably losing someone due to lack of courage in order to have the courage to fall in love again after such a heartbreak.
I think the beautiful thing is how after every heart break, the capacity to love is irrevocably deepened. And it’s a good thing when the heart cracks, that’s how the light gets in. If a love without much courage swept me off my feet, I can’t imagine a love with unyielding risk.
THE BRIGHT SIDE
The kindness of heartbreak is that it always teaches you a lesson or three. This is very fortunate, because sheer pain would be too much for the heart to handle. This particular heartbreak has taught me:
ONE: CARING IS COOL
A person knowing you care is not embarrassing or “too much”, it’s simply you. Vulnerability is a beautiful and necessary part of any relationship. And if that is weird or too much for them, that makes them the wrong person for you, not the other way around. We are adults not kids on a playground snickering at who has a crush on who. THIS IS LOVE PEOPLE!
TWO: CONNECTING IS NOT ENOUGH, YOU HAVE TO COMMUNICATE
You can talk about every subject and have the most intense chemistry and think each other the bees knees and even fall in love and still not work out because what you want and how you feel about EACH OTHER is in the dark. Sure you want to get to know the person and feel out how you feel for them yourself, but when that awkward “Soo where is this going” time clicks into gear, communication is not only good, it’s imperative.
THREE: THE COURAGE TO TRULY, SELFLESSLY, IRRATIONALLY LOVE IS THE GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE HUMAN HEART
To truly love another means to lay your pride aside. The truth of the matter, my guy and I were incredibly selfish in our love. We were so concerned about the result and therefore our ego that we shot any chance of love in the foot. I still haven’t figured out how, but for a person to give him/herself over so fully to another that the result puts their heart’s stability on the line, that is an action that can only be considered divine.
Finally, all I can say is HAVE COURAGE. Not doing something can have the same if not worse result as doing something, so you might as well take action and relieve yourself of any possible regret. In the end, we all die. So why not make the time count?
Originally published at medium.com