HBO’s Sex and the City was my sex ed. Attending a public school in a conservative district in Northeastern Ohio, we underwent “Operation Keepsake”, which was more a sex-negative/ abstinence-obsessed approach to how all contraceptives fail than a course on sexual health. So, I relied on Sarah Jessica Parker (ok, really, it was Kim Cattrall) to usher me into adulthood. There’s an infamous episode where Miranda discovers He’s Just Not That Into You. From that moment forward, I was petrified that I would be the pathetic girl pursuing someone with no interest in her.
Fast-forward to my senior year in college. I attended the LeaderShape Institute. LeaderShape is the who’s who of collegiate overachievers on campus, and frankly, it was the best week of my life thus far. But I arrived with reservations. My senioritis rode the bus with me to the campsite where the six-day experience was held. I was a year out from my life beginning, no more student organizations and sleepless nights. The value of the experience remained dormant beneath my apathy as I sat for the opening address and painful icebreaker activities. The flock of students split into family clusters. I noticed a familiar face– Zach. We’d passed each other countless times on Fifteenth Avenue but never really spoken. We didn’t acknowledge each other in the respective flurry of college survival. Those walks to and from my sorority house were engrossed in my own thoughts. There was no room to see him through that.
Along the walk to our family cluster, Zach approached me. His engaging brown eyes sparkled in genuine excitement as he attempted to converse with me. Through pleasantries, my barriers stood firm. Some people are the magnets. Their presence glows, and others are drawn to it. Zach is a magnet. He endears you with how he articulates things in intellect and passion. He engages others and makes them feel genuinely important. Barriers cannot withstand that genuine presence– mine couldn’t, anyway.
Night two or three of LeaderShape, a group of students went for a walk. Zach and I were among them but split off. Cross-legged on the grass, it was the just two of us beneath a Tanzanite sky. Time dissolved as we talked until around 3 am. There’s a magic to anyone whose company makes you feel so safe everything else becomes superfluous. Entranced in this exchange, my soul whispered, “this is your person”. I didn’t know what that meant, only that there was no accident in meeting him.
We returned to Ohio State for our senior year. Zach ended his relationship of almost three years, and then it hit me, “OH MY GOD I HAVE FEELINGS FOR THIS PERSON!!!!” Catching feelings is simultaneously thrilling and devastating. Every time I saw him after that realization, I’d blush. My stomach knotted. My mind raced over if the words spewing from my mouth even made sense. I’d check and re-checked his social media accounts. All the while, I wanted his friendship more than anything. Connections are not intended to be tidy things. They are messy. The romantic and the platonic bleed together and both can exist, even if one doesn’t survive.
I wanted to date Zach, but more so, I was thrilled by bonding with him. I marveled at his perspective and compassion. We both worked for a political party that didn’t align with our beliefs. We had both been hurt and betrayed and abandoned in different ways. I appreciated his humor and honesty. I missed him went we wouldn’t talk. My eyes sought out his face in crowded rooms, and I couldn’t control it. Perhaps that is my resistance to crushes– how none of it is within my control. My own feelings and attractions are frenzied forces, and as someone who wants to feel her power in everything, crushing is a disempowering trance.
I communicate directly. I do not believe in couching the truth in coy phrasing to save face. I wanted to tell him how I felt. Still, something intuitively told me that if I truly cared about this person, the fair and kind thing to do would be to offer my unconditional friendship. That knowledge didn’t erase my feelings or assuage my anxiety. My friends became an audience for my crazy ramblings– how frustrated and hurt I was to feel all this for someone who I couldn’t express it to. My anxious mind insisted on overanalyzing every interaction anyway. It was hell, and yet, every time I saw him, I knew I wanted this man in my life.
It’s important to note that I was projecting. For the first time, these intense emotions traversed my nerves, and I didn’t know what to do with them. It felt like an incorrect equation that we were so close and yet, not together. How could someone see me so clearly and not be “right” for me? But when your gut tells you that he isn’t that into you, that certain words are unfair in sound, you must abide. My feelings were not the arbiter of this friendship, and if any feeling was, it was love. I love Zach more than what I wanted to say.
We loomed in each other’s lives post-graduation. He trudged through a job in Columbus while I took a job in Cleveland. When I visited Columbus, I always saw him. Life brought me back to Columbus and swept him away to Colorado. We continued talking. His judgment was still the jury for my decisions. He offers wise, stable council. And in that distance, I think we became closer. Zach returned to Columbus in late Fall 2016. Without effort or force, we magically had this friendship and bond. It had always been there, but it settled into place. It was no longer restless or questioning.
I watched Sex and the City and He’s Just Not That Into You with horror– so terrified that I would pine for someone who couldn’t reciprocate my feelings. Guys, that’s happened to me more than once. I regularly put myself out there. I care too much, say the wrong thing, send the text first. Now, I do feel a responsibility to remove myself from the situation once I recognize it, but I also no longer shame myself for shooting my shot. Connection and love make us softer creatures. I never want to close myself off from the abundance that creates, even when it hurts, even when I look like a fool in the process. Because maybe I don’t have a romantic other. Perhaps I am my own soul mate. While that notion makes me lonely, I also know that by staying gooey and gaping, I have grown so much as a person. I am loved. Admittedly, that love is platonic, familial, even uncelebrated. But it is healthy. The affection Zach and my other loves showering upon me asks me to be nothing but myself. My chosen loves don’t hurt me. They show up for me and do not leave when I am my worst. For the record, I hope I’m not always the person who is more into someone than they are into me. I hope I’m not exiled to chasing lightless bodies in the vain wish a flicker will appear. I am also grateful that I carry no baggage from lovers who broke me, who loved me with strings and scars and fangs.
The thing is, I have befriended former love interests who didn’t treat me well. As friends, they offer me the respect they never could as a romantic pursuit. It makes me grateful they never “picked me”. Being picked feels like a dubious honor in retrospect. In the end, I did not want to be picked as much as I valued the company of this other person. The sign you value a person is when you prioritize their boundaries over your interests. So while I do believe it is essential to surrender romantic hopes to cultivate those friendships, that you cannot build bonds on ulterior motives, someone’s lack of romantic interest in you is not synonymous with him/her/them not caring.
But that’s not the case with everyone. Relationships have no formulaic equations to yield finite results. If someone responds “but I’d love to be your friend” out of politeness, pass. Pass on that so hard because they’re nice, and you know what “nice” also is? A terrible friend. You deserve people who are honest and compassionate and will say the hard thing because you deserve the truth. Not everyone deserves your friendship. If they act like a garbage monster, that person is a garbage monster, and you are better without them. I say this from experience. I say this as an epilogue to futile attempts to bond with men and women who displayed no regard for my emotions or body. Thank you, each and every one of you, for doing me the favor of not staying. Thank you for teaching me that the presence of disrespect is lonelier than the absence of anyone at all.
If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know that I cannot speak to whether or not romantic soulmates exist. What I do know for certain is that the loves of our lives take on many different forms. They aren’t just romantic. Not every person is your Happily Ever After. Some are teachers, some are your siblings, some are your dearest friends. The jigsaw of yourself doesn’t expend energy illuminating the purpose before the person. I met Zach, and without knowing where he would fit in my life, I just knew I wanted him there. And isn’t it something utterly magnificent to inhabit a life so big that we can be loved in so many different ways?
No person is tasked with completing you. Disabuse yourself of that. Destroy this idea that you are an incomplete sentence in search of finality through human punctuation. You are the exclamation point in your life. There’s no poetry or heroism in self-disempowerment, in awaiting the arrival of your “real life” in the arms of someone else. This complicated mess, this routine of reaching in a direction that may not reach back, this is your real life. My life felt more like mine when I surrendered perfectionism. When I embraced that my ego had to get its ass kicked in order for me to grow, that the ripest fruits grow from bitter labor, I lived life more than I performed it.
So, maybe I am the cautionary tale. Perhaps I fell into my fear of being the girl in He’s Just Not That Into You, but I befriended a magnanimous spirit in the process. Zach is my buoyancy. He reminds me how to float when I feel I am sinking. He challenges me, jokes with me, adores me in all the ways I never thought I would be. When I tell you that the things that don’t go your way yield abundant blessings you can’t fathom, this is what I mean. He is what I mean.