I was never good at math, or maybe I was never particularly interested in math. Yet, I’ve always viewed relationships as some formulaic equation I could solve with diligent strategy. It isn’t. Attraction is a messy chaos, and relationships are timing and effort. And perhaps my math issues contribute to all the improper fractions that became connections– singlesided breakups where I was the only one reeling and never knew what to do with that.
Some of my one-sided love stories go like this:
- He left my life never knowing how I felt, and I didn’t say anything.
- I rode my intense feelings until they mellowed, and the sound of her name lost its electricity.
- She didn’t know she gaslit me, and my feelings became ashes in the aftermath.
- I confused friendship for affection. Kindness was something I rarely found in men, and when I did, I mistook it for romance.
It’s paradoxical to have never been in a relationship but felt so strongly about multiple people. But I don’t know if that ignition is a false start. If the engine roar of attraction is a trap door because when all I’ve know my whole life is chasing love, it feels normal to keep doing that. But I am exhausted. A quarter-century alive—my head is a boulder I struggle to lug through this life. My heart is bruised from growing too big in places it doesn’t fit. I’m exhausted from company that feels more like leaches than people.
Catching feelings intoxicating. I found myself stunting acrobatics for a host of careless people, apathetic people, people who I wanted by only wanted to be wanted in return. I was a merchant bargaining my everything for the possibility of a connection. I can’t do that anymore. My spine is firmer. My grit, stronger. My solitude sweeter. And then, the magic fades. that person’s name is no longer a spell but just a name. The pumpkin is a carriage once more. Emptiness floods where the flagrant magic blazed, and there’s this person-shaped doorway in my heart I’m trying to fill with everything other than you. I don’t want you. But the soft grief of you douses everything. It isn’t loud or crippling. Just a little sad. Barely sad enough to notice.
But there is a beauty to one-sided love– how it’s cracked me wide open, how it’s made my heart this infinite cavern when I could’ve chosen to remain protected and small. Unrequited love illuminates our capacity to love, to yearn and pine and hurt and hurt and ache. There’s so much attention on the never or the almost of a relationship. But there is something spectacular and counterintuitive about softening in a hard world. This is how we marvel at ourselves. There’s also the empowerment of walking away from those who cannot love me like I love them. For me, it’s more of a fade. I don’t develop feelings quickly. I’m cautious and pragmatic about who I entangle myself to, and when I do, the bind is blazingly intense. But it fades. Painfully and patiently, it goes away, and I learn more about what I need to demand. I become clearer with my boundaries and needs.
But I’ve been on the other side of this, where I feel their affection when they touch me– the might of it never waivers. My hands are nervous and idle in the presence of such persistent advances. My words are tightrope-walkers who daintily traverse our interactions– confused between honesty and the urge to be wanted. I don’t feel like I’m ever really wanted. And then I am. I don’t know what to do when I am wanted. I fear releasing the wanter because what if no one else treats me well? What if I never find this again? Inevitably, something happens, and we unknot from each other. Relief washes over me, no longer bound to the cage of lukewarm connection and liberated in my own solitude.
Perhaps other people are comfortable with a lopsided connection. I don’t know what is normal or if that even exists in relationships. But I know couples who acknowledge the disparity in affection, and it works for them. I don’t know what works for me in relationships because I’ve never had one. What I do know is that I cannot allow another person to be the barricade between me and my issues. It’s not the job of a partner to be their lover’s scratching post, the collateral damage for self-discovery.
I don’t know what I’m talking about most of the time. I don’t plan to be a guru, a coach, a life expert. I’m a twenty-something figuring out her life out loud. These answers and conclusions may change over the years. I’ve exposed my confusion for the internet to see. But, from what I’ve observed, a lot of romantic mistreatment stems from individuals inability to address their own traumas. Your partner is not your therapist. Your partner is not your punching bag, and it is not a sign of love to endure disrespect. That is a form of self-abuse. We have come too far to be accomplices in our own mistreatment. Until late this year, I caught myself chasing people who didn’t reciprocate my affection. I ran toward people who’d occasionally toss a breadcrumb in my direction, and that meager gesture was enough to sustain my crush for weeks.
Abuse isn’t love, but I know abuse and love can exist in the same place. Once you experience that, it’s difficult to untether the two. The intensity of control becomes synonymous how ardent love is. They aren’t the same thing. There is love without bruises or conditions or threats, and we all deserve that. We all deserve the kind of love that willingly takes the middle seat on the airplane. We deserve kind of connection that dissolves time. And I’d rather be lonely than settle.
I don’t think I want anyone. My schedule breathes a heavy gust of relief with that statement. I belong deeply to myself. The only person who has earned me thus far is me. I don’t know how to soften in the arms of another person. I can’t distinguish acts of affection from acts of charity. I’m not worried about the capacity to love. I’m 5’7. I’m not sure how big my heart is, but I know it’s more than that. I don’t know what I’m “supposed” to be looking for. I’m not sure what this is supposed to feel like. They say you don’t force it. They say it just comes. They say “you know”. They are chatty moms in waiting rooms and lurky coworkers and my friends parents who worry about my singlehood. They are friends just as single as I am. I grow older and become less certain. My poor math skills and improper fractions become less relevant. I wear less protective gear when entering entanglements. Ultimately, I’m showing up as me– no padding or games or acrobatics. I’m showing up for me, and I hope you can do the same.