Last December, I began dating someone for the first time. This May, we bid each other farewell--I was leaving to study abroad all of the 2016-2017 academic year, and he would've graduated before my return. This is my soul-baring reflection on our time together.
1. Boyfriends do indeed "pop out of the ground."
Last fall, I wrote how relationships mystified me--at that point, I hadn't ever dated, and I often observed other couples wistfully. What was it like to become that intimate with someone? How did relationships even happen?
In that post, I mentioned how an old teammate once exclaimed, "I don't understand where boyfriends come from. Do they just pop out of the ground or something?"
They absolutely do.
Because clearly, after dating a whopping one person, I know all. But in all seriousness, the beginning of my first relationship rested on a cloud of very arbitrary, very serendipitous conditions.
Two months after I wrote my post on the intrigue of relationships, I began dating someone. The several favorable circumstances that were catalyst to this development? One, we lived on the same floor. Two, for some inexplicable reason, I initiated an ongoing dialogue of sarcastic banter, despite my usual self-deprecating sense of humor. Three, we shared a friend group. Four, said friend group shipped us intensely, giggling over the not-so-surreptitious photos they had shot of us together whenever we we showed any signs of warmth. Five, I was taking a different class under one of his current professors, so he could commiserate with me over my struggles. And six--well, the obvious--we were both single and open to the idea of dating.
Even if boyfriends may not physically "pop out of the ground," this relationship really felt like it figuratively did--it was totally unexpected, and based heavily on circumstance.
2. The honeymoon period is so real.
Ironically enough, some of my favorite memories of us together happened before we began dating, or during the intital stages. When we first began to fall for each other, we spent a lot of time together, whether it was cuddling on the couch, laughing over viral videos, chatting over meals. We sought each other out, whether that meant waking up after 3 hours of sleep to catch the sunrise, or temporarily putting schoolwork on hold to grab bubble tea. We were ultra-attentive, addressing the slightest disturbances with the utmost concern.
At some point or another, other priorities seeped in. School took over, extracurriculars beckoned. The glitter stopped falling from the sky, the fog of emotion, hormones, and novelty began to fade. We were just humans, after all. We were not the godly creatures our hearts had crafted in those initial weeks, our flaws were not the "cute" quirks our affections had so lavishly disguised. I still believe that we loved each other--or at least truly thought we did--but following the days doused in gold shimmer, I realized that relationships are real work. That prioritizing another human to that degree isn't easy, that you may not always feel as loved as you desire, that dating is a far cry from sappy rom-coms. Romantic attraction is a beautiful, tenuous, fleeting thing--worth featuring in films and dreaming of--but making the commitment to be a couple is a whole lot more than that.
from Missy Higgins' Where I Stood
3. Just because you're attracted to each other doesn't mean you should date.
I was pretty passive in the initiation of this relationship because I wasn't sure we'd be good for each other. We had major inherent differences, both in culture and faith. I'm Chinese-American and non-denominational Christian. He's Afghan-American and Muslim. On top of that, our personalities diverged--I'm extremely type A, and he's much more carefree. We both knew that we couldn't work in the long-term, and we vocally acknowledged that.
We dated anyways, because we're young and stupid.
I don't regret our relationship, but I admit that there were some days that everything felt desultory. In the early months of our relationship, I asked what he hoped to gain from being together--his reply was that he both wanted us to be happy. I heartily agreed, but I still wondered--especially once realizing that dating wasn't all rainbows and sunshine--why invest so much of yourself in something that can't last, and which may not be as healthy for you as you want it to be?
This was my tip of the hat to living a little, allowing myself to be vulnerable, exploring uncharted territory. I learned a lot from him, especially about balancing life and letting go, and I would make the same decision all over again. But in the future, I hope to be a little wiser and judicious. Because in the end, knowing that you're not the best partners for each other may cloud your actions.
Which brings me to my next point...
4. Time is fleeting--seize each moment while you can.
To some degree, I feel as if I self-sabotaged the relationship by being so passive. I knew we wouldn't be a long-term couple, so I had trouble bringing up our problems--either because I didn't want to create trouble with the little time we had, or because I wanted to make myself feel better about leaving. I convinced myself that if things were further from perfect, leaving at the end of the semester to go abroad wouldn't be so bad.
That was stupid. Absolute garbage.
In my opinion, the more transient you know something will be, the more you should try to enjoy it while it lasts. Goodbyes are sad, but goodbyes with regrets of what could've been are even worse. We never really argued, but I wish we had--I wish we had had constructive disagreements about how we were behaving in the relationship. I wish I had told him when I felt he was disengaged. I wish I had asked asked him if we could be more attentive to, mindful of, and present for each other.
I also wish I had hollowed out more time to be with him. I wish I had spontaneously accompanied a friend to pick him up from the airport instead of retreating to my schoolwork. I wish I had accepted more invitations to grab sushi with friends, play impromptu ping pong, see new films.
And every wish I have is unfulfillable, because those five months are gone. Those five months are gone, and any hope I have for easing the pangs of regret rests in my ability to learn for the future.
from Sara Bareilles' Gravity
5. Even peaceful breakups are painful.
Our breakup was peaceful, mutual, and anticipated--when we first discussed whether we wanted to date, we asked whether we really wanted to do this only for a semester, since I was planning to go abroad all of next year.
I convinced myself that this would just be a fun adventure, that we'd do all sorts of romantic things, and we'd bid each other farewell wistfully, but that I'd be just fine.
Saying goodbye was horrible (if you want, you can relive all the tears in this post).
The first couple weeks, I was beyond mopey--I felt empty and lost. Even now, over a month later, I still feel occasional pangs of sadness.
It hurts to let go of the person to whom you bared your soul. It hurts to know that you will never again hold their gaze with the same intensity, never again feel their warm arms around you, never again nestle at their side while chatting the night away. It hurts to know that you will soon forget their comforting scent, that this connection will soon fade away, and that even if you can overcome the hurdles of a post-romance platonic friendship, you, in this time and space, will soon be but a distant memory. It hurts to know that someday, someone else will make his heart flutter. Will fill his soul with warmth and longing. It hurts to know that someday, he will clasp her hand tighter than he did mine, kiss her longer, hug her closer. It hurts to know that someday, he may awaken in the wee hours of the morning to chase the sunrise with her. It hurts to know that someday, they will feel more resonance than we ever could, and that they will succeed in what we couldn't.
It hurts, but this is the best for both of us, and love means wanting exactly that for each other.
6. Life goes on, but transience doesn't make a connection any less meaningful.
As more time passes, and as the distance grows, I feel better and better. I think a period of no contact is absolutely essential to cleansing any remnants of romantic feelings out of our systems, and leaving the past behind.
Since I have no relationship experience prior to this, I have no idea if we'll be able to stay in touch. I think vulnerability and intimacy is a gift, and it's not one I give or accept lightly. I think it'd be a shame to lose contact and connection, but any kind of relationship--whether romantic or platonic--requires input from both sides. And since he and many of the kindred souls I left behind will have graduated upon my return, it's even less realistic to expect a continued deep bond. Investing in those you love who are physically distant is important, but so is investing in those around you. And there's only so much investing we can do.
While I'm not sure where these connections will go, I'm always grateful for the time we did share together. I may not ever share the same resonance with them, particularly with those who were blessed with four years of college together, but that year was my everything, the most beautiful thing I've experienced--so far.
Yes, the time and space of our connection may become but a memory, but it will be a fond one. And the experience will impact how I live and love for a long time.
7. Love still doesn't make sense, and that's okay.
I'm still absolutely just as confused about relationships as I was before dating. I still don't understand how people fall for each other, what exactly love means, and why we love who we do. Maybe I'm even more bewildered, because the more you experience, the more questions there are.
My first relationship was an exhilarating, emotional, bumpy, resonant, beautiful ride. I'll never have another one like it, and that's part of what makes it so special.
Learning to love others unconditionally is a process--a lifelong voyage full of choppy waters but also gorgeous blue skies.
While the road of recovery still stretches ahead, I know the dust will settle once again. And once it does, if somehow someone else pops out of the ground in the right place, at the right time, with the right lifestyle, I'll be ready.