A Lesson in Loving People


Art by Kaleigh Strong.

In theory, there is one universally known fact: breaking up sucks. As the case with most things, there are usually two options in every given situation. Some choices are frivolous, like choosing between a hot dog or a slice of pizza (definitely go with the pizza). Others are more complex, like choosing whether you’re going to cave again or put your foot down for the last time. It’s funny how we always tell ourselves the last time is the last time even when it isn’t. And then the last time actually comes and we don’t even know it.

As a teenager, I fell in love for the first time. He was no prince charming or anything, but who really wants a perfect person? Someone without a few jagged edges? Someone who hasn’t had their heart broken before?

I think it’s a lot worse to be someone’s first heartbreak than it is to be their third, or their fifteenth, or even their twenty-fourth. It’s a lot easier to not feel bad that you hurt someone when you know someone else hurt them first. Almost like you can tell yourself, “Hey, I might have been terrible to this person, but at least I’m not that person.” When you’re someone’s first heartbreak, you’re always going to be the one who leaves a bad taste in their mouth when they hear your name.

The truth is, when you love someone and you know they don’t love you, you start to over-analyze everything. You start to ask yourself why you didn’t say yes that one time. You make yourself smaller and smaller until you’re not even sure you exist anymore because you’re afraid of taking up their space. You focus so much on them that you cease to exist without them. It’s almost refreshing when you’re pulled into someone else’s orbit, even if it’s only for a short period of time. You feel carefree and it feels new and they feel perfect but the reality is that they are far from it and so are you.

Falling in love feels a lot like staring into the sun. Our parents warned us about it all our lives but we still steal glimpses of it. It burns and temporarily blinds us and dear god does it hurt, but it’s so beautiful we can’t help ourselves. I’ve been blinded so many times by now that I don’t feel like I’ll ever get my vision back fully.

I wanted to tell him that I missed him. I wanted him to know that things changed for me somewhere between the beginning of the year and the end of it. I wanted him to see that if he asked again, I would have said yes every time. But instead, I said nothing and I watched the fault lines between us grow until it felt like we were on opposite sides of the planet.

The hardest part of losing someone who was never yours is when they’re sitting right next to you, right across from you, two classrooms away, and you can still feel them and they still don’t know. They have no idea that they meant something to you. They have no idea that they make your heart feel a bit like you’re ice skating for the first time, unsure and terrified. Or maybe they know exactly what they’re doing to you, and they’re breaking your heart on purpose. I hope you never have to deal with that.

You don’t have to be in a relationship to feel the loss of a breakup. Breaking up is more than not having a partner anymore. It’s saying goodbye to a friend for the last time. It’s when you cut ties with someone who meant something to you. It’s when you think you deserve better and you think that they do too. I don’t know everything about relationships, both romantic and platonic, but I do know one thing: when you love someone, you tell them.

For the first boy I thought I loved: You were never really my boyfriend. I wish I was able to just tell you and get it over with and move on and find somebody new. It’s so hard to let go of something I never had. I’ve tried so many times to stop loving the idea of you, because how can you just love the idea of someone? I wish I was brave enough to look you in the face and not want to flinch when you don’t look back.

Sometimes I look at you and remember that you’re just a boy, just another person not exactly like me but also a bit like me. You’re nothing special. But for a long time, I lived for the moments where you’d make me feel a little less sad, a little less like myself.

There are some things about you that I think I’ll keep with me forever. You make terrible jokes. You’ll smile at anyone and everyone. You can talk to someone you don’t even know and make their day because you know how to make them feel like the most important person in the world. You look really nice in green. You think you’re cool, and, in a way, you kind of are. You’re smart. And funny. And kind. And artistic. And real. I’m not the same person as I was when we met, but last year is gone and there’s nowhere else to go but forward. I know a part of me will still belong to you, but I have my whole life to fall in love again. I hope you have your whole life, too.

To the next person I fall in love with: I hope you find your first love before you find me. I pray they take care of you and that they don’t crack your heart open too much. I promise that I’m coming soon.