I was in love once, and arguably still am.
After three and a half years of having the kind of love that made my heart thump with passionate desire, my high school boyfriend and I decided to break up. I entered my sophomore year of college without him in a fake aura of “okay” and “happy.”
Since we began dating as 15-year-olds, the two of us became used to traveling together in our perfectly linear lives. But after our first year at different colleges, I began to see us moving in dramatically different directions. The idea of staying together no longer seemed sustainable in the same way I thought it did at the start of my freshman year. And I found it increasingly impossible to cast aside the societal checklist that told me I should be ending my long-distance relationship.
As a freshman, the college hook-up culture I was seeing everywhere did not seem to have an effect on me. But as the summer before sophomore year unraveled, the thought of another year without a conventional college experience began to make me panic, and the fear of resenting him made me hesitant about whether or not we should move forward in our relationship.
So as the whims and laughter of the summer before sophomore year was coming to an end, we had to talk. I don’t remember what I said to him exactly, just the way my heart reacted to it, like it was endlessly shrinking into the cavern of my left chest.
Since then, I’ve had to become comfortable with the inherent loneliness that accompanies a broken heart, no matter how self-induced that heartbreak might be. My mind urged me to break up with him given the circumstance of being apart at a time carved out to explore, yet my heart was badly bruised in the process of doing so. I’ve learned, that for me, there is no true winner in this tug-of-war between the mind and the heart. It was a lose-lose situation.
My full life at school is reinforced by the free rein of the hook-up culture, which brings with it an aspect of fun and spontaneity that is uncharacteristic compared to other parts of my life.
Yet, there are days when something feels like it is missing. It reminds me of a partially completed puzzle with it’s largest missing piece resting as a dark gap above my heart, this piece likely a longing for the love I sacrificed to ‘experience college.’ I proceed in an effort to curiously explore what is out there while simultaneously attempting to not wish for the piece I once had, that seemed to fit just fine.
I am not alone in accepting the dichotomy of preaching the freedom of the hook-up culture while silently wishing for a commitment. As a generation, we flood the college scene embracing the freedoms of youth and its inherent lack of commitment. Yet there is an assumed unanimous investment in this culture, when in reality, several of us silently wish for a less casual standard of relationships.
Still, nobody seems to have the time to date—likely a result of being an impatient generation. A massive tent party in the back of a fraternity house seems like an ideal and efficient opportunity to test out several contenders, instead of taking the time to get to know one person, to reserve an hour for a meal.
After a semester of being on a break from my high school boyfriend, I found myself in a pit of longing too deep for my mind to reconcile with. In an innocent attempt to pursue the mantra to “follow your heart,” I reached out to him in hopes of getting back together. I kept this decision mostly to myself, knowing that hardly anyone would understand.
After one month back with him I was reminded of the pain of miscommunication and the way texts and pictures can make the distance of a few states feel like worlds away. My resolve was already weakening and the decision to end something so newly re-found was bolstered by an internal conscience encouraging me to continue to experience college. A nagging tick that we would both be happier along our own paths ultimately prevailed.
Though I felt I needed my high school boyfriend’s company, I was angry at myself for making such an emotional decision.
Since then, my mind has persisted to be in charge. I have forced myself to feel comfortable in the casual nature of the college hook-up scene, and the way it doesn’t label relationships, because it is a reminder that loneliness is okay, and that it can be temporarily solved for a night or so. It’s a short-term solution. But it makes me feel less rushed to seek what I am missing.
Though the modern hook-up culture has warped the process of finding a relationship, the end result, love, remains unchanged.
The fluidity of modern relationships is not foreign to me, as my history proves dependent on the fluctuation between my heart’s desire and my mind’s rationality. The process taught me, though, that love cannot be held to a list of expectations or a definitive plan. That it occurs naturally, unfolds quickly, proceeds without warning, and, for me, ended abruptly.
Even in this culture, I’ve noticed the plenty of people whose eyes used to meet with no apparent connection, who now lock eye contact from across the room, exchanging silent messages and transferring seamless smiles.
And I notice the two people at the bar who stand amidst a crowd of budding one-night hook-ups or messy conversation. The girl whose heart I can practically feel as it beats irregularly in a desperate attempt to stop her cheeks from blushing. Words so carefully chosen yet effortlessly voiced to lure in her suitor who must mean something real to her.
Sometimes I bare a unique heartache in these observable facets of a relationship that once made me feel whole.
But many observations gently nudge me forward with hopeful momentum. Such as my closest friends, who I watch fall in and out of love, like, or lust. They inspire me to remember and embrace the ever-changing effects that a relationship between two people uncontrollably induce.
And I am reminded of how unexpected the feeling was when I was falling in love. The surprise I would show if I had known, as a 15-year-old, that our relationship would extend to sophomore year of college, with no “right” path to find or preserve it.
That the lasting effects of our relationship, and my fortune in having experienced love, perhaps making me more patient for its return.
Nevertheless, my generation is struggling to wait for love. The growing impatience derived from the let-down expectation of the fateful interaction that led somebody’s mother and father to meet. Discomfort grounded in the reality that it has been replaced with our casual hook-up culture.
My feelings of love that linger carry a sentiment of heartache for what I sacrificed, and appreciation for the lessons of love I have learned. Though I am persistently struggling to detach from these emotions, I have become used to accepting them as an everlasting reminder of the effects of love.
A reminder to be patient with our culture as we embrace the norms of college expectations, while never losing hope in the feasibility of a meaningful relationship. That the development of love is not planned, but rather felt—a rare alignment of the mind and the heart as they exist in synchrony.
So I will continue forward, moving away from the sensation of love I once knew so well, until the time comes when it feels less like a reality. It is at that point, when the sentiment of heartache will become so slim, that I expect my patience for finding love will begin to wear off.
With this impatience, the last lingering sense of lost love will evaporate. And though I will never forget what I once had, what I will always hold on to, so too will I be hopeful of what lies ahead.
At the time I sat down to finish this essay, I glanced at the small date displayed in the upper right hand corner of my computer screen—“March 19.” The date instantly resonating as the would-be four year anniversary of when my high school boyfriend and I began dating. And once again, I am reminded:
I was in love once, and arguably still am.