Some people come into our lives and mark their place unexpectedly.
There’s a particular feeling, moment, or event that leads you to that realization that is too clear to ignore: this person – this human being like any other – is not like all the others to you. Not only can you imagine a future with them, you can feel it.
And yet, if you’re like me, you have to let them go because of timing. And so the person you’ve loved so hard goes back into the spiraling chaos of the universe – to cities you’ve never been to, to people they have yet to meet. Because they’re not ready to belong to anyone yet, and neither are you.
So, speaking from experience, here is what to do if you meet someone who could be ‘the one’ when you’re way too young:
1. Remember that no person is The Answer.
They’re also not The Question or The Dream or The Solution. Your life will not become infinitely better the day they walk back through your door, and you will not be heartbroken forever if they’re gone for good. No single human being, no matter how much you love them, has the capability to create your happiness. If you haven’t lived your own version of The Dream or found your own solutions, anyone else will only be a temporary fix.
2. Always, always, always be kind.
If you do this, you won’t regret anything. It’s impossible to meet this standard, but even trying will make you better. Aim to be kind to the person you love, even if your feelings for them scare you. Attempt to accept yourself and be kind when you can’t. Don’t lash out in pain or loneliness or fear and become a hurricane of trouble to the next romantic partner you meet. Realize that no matter how much you seem to be holding it together, you may feel crazy inside, and everyone else might too. The only thing to do is be kind.
3. Do not idealize.
In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby reunites with the woman he loves after being separated for five years only to end up dead in a swimming pool. Do you want to be an emotional Gatsby? No. In the novel, one of the key flaws of Gatsby and Daisy’s rekindled relationship is that after so many years of dreaming, she can never live up to his expectations. It’s not going to do any good to think of someone as the idealized version you want projected into an imagined, perfect future. I can promise you is that regardless of where they are, what they’re doing, or who they’re with, the person you love is still a human being – which is to say that they’re still beautiful and still deeply flawed. So are you.
4. You have to let go of anything if you ever want it back.
This is practical advice that is often overused and underappreciated. If they’re out of your life, stop texting them, stop calling them, stop waiting for them to call you, stop checking to see if they watched your story on snapchat – no measure of technological interaction, however comforting, is a confirmation of love. If you’re still twenty-two or he’s still hundreds of miles away in grad school or you still know that you’re nowhere near ready to commit to one person for the rest of your life, stop obsessing. Please believe me, the ping of an iPhone notification is too small and transitory to answer the questions in your heart.
5. Dream the right way.
The idea of a future with someone is so attractive because of the version of ourselves we imagine in that future. And even though you cannot control whether or not anyone comes back into your life, you can control what your life becomes through your own actions. Because in the end, they could end up being struck by lightning, or taking up heroine, or meeting the real love of their life tomorrow. All you have, all you’ll ever have, are your own choices, and hopefully you use those to become the best version of yourself you can. Whatever it is that you’ve always wanted, whatever it is that you’ve always thought would make you whole, please do it.
6. This is the part where I tell you to live your life as if they never existed.
Live it hard, challenge yourself, try every new thing that scares you and makes you better. Whatever it is that you’ve always wanted, whatever it is that you’ve always thought would make you whole, please do it. This probably will not lead where you expect, but if you’re lucky, it will lead to finding yourself.
I can give you that last piece of advice because even if you try to forget it, love lasts. Time and distance won’t kill it, anger and hate can only stifle it for a while, and even reasoning and analysis are no match for the beating of our hearts. Still, while romantic love is an invariably big thing, it shrinks when measured against the thousands of small things we can do on a daily basis to make us better human beings and make the world a better place. The potential for goodness inside yourself is infinite and infinitely more important than any relationship – but it is exactly equal to your ability to love.
In The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho writes:
“Don’t think about what you’ve left behind… If what you found was made from pure matter, it will never spoil. And you can always come back. If what you had found was only a moment of light, like the explosion of a star, you would find nothing on your return.”
The answer to whether our dreams or intuitions will come true is still too far in the future to know. But love, especially intense love, can be used to change your life and yourself for the better, even after the person is gone. That way, if it does come back one day, you’ll be ready. And if it was only a moment of light?
You can either see heartbreak or stardust.