Step one: Decide to try dating again even though you know you aren’t ready.
Step two: Meet a boy. Tell yourself he is just someone to hang out with, you won’t let it get serious. Brush it aside when he tells you he will be moving 500 miles away in two months. Tell him you don’t want this to last anyway.
Step three: Convince yourself that this is nothing. He is only looking at you like that, and kissing the top of your head, and tucking that one crazy strand of hair behind your ear because that’s what boys do, not because this is special. Not because he is special.
Step four: Spend too much time with him. Start to open up your heart even though you know you shouldn’t. Learn about each other. Let him see who you really are and get excited when he does the same. Discover flaws and fears and enjoy the darker parts of each other just as much as you enjoy the light.
Step five: Stop ignoring the way your stomach and heart do flips whenever he is around. Instead, focus all your attention on these feelings. Allow them to grow every time you see him. Allow yourself to miss him when he is not around.
Step six: Have sleepovers and spend the whole night tangled together, discussing the universe and everything in it. Get used to his being the first face you see in the morning. Take moonlit walks. Read each other’s writing. Stay up too late talking on the phone Go to that vintage book store and hold hands as you walk through the shelves. Watch sunsets and movies and storms and each other. Kiss him until your lips ache. Try to forget about the fact that soon he will be gone.
Step seven: Try to talk yourself out of how you feel. Try not to think about the things you like about him. How good he looks in his glasses. The way he always sighs deeply, like he has the weight of the world on his mind. How his face changes when he talks about something serious. The freckles on his back. Instead try to focus on the things you don’t like. His obsession with baseball. The way his hair always sticks up. Those horrible orange shoes he wears. His terrible jokes. Realize that even the things you don’t like, you like.
Step eight: Decide to tell him how you feel instead of keeping it a secret like you have been all along. Assume he feels the same. Allow yourself to hope.
Step nine: Listen to him say that he is not sure how he feels. Try to remember to breathe when he tells you that even if he could stay, he doesn’t want to. What if he hurts you? What if your feelings change? What if one of you meets someone else? He doesn’t think it’s worth the risk. The timing is wrong. This will never last. Try not to let him see how much it hurts you.
Step ten: Say goodbye. Watch him leave just like he said he would. Feel the ache in the pit of your stomach, astonish yourself by how fast it spreads. Miss him more than you ever thought possible. Listen to nothing but Sufjan Stevens because it makes you think of him, even though you don’t need the help. Resist the urge to call. Let your heart fall apart. Know that this was all your own doing, but still have no regrets. Know that love is always worth it, even when it doesn’t last.