Nine years ago, I met a guy who changed my life.
At the insistence of one of my mentors, I signed up for a summer phlebotomy program at my college. I was in college completing my prerequisites to be a nurse and thought it’d be a good introduction to the medical field.
The night before class started, I got a phone call from one of the instructors saying that the class was going to start one hour earlier than scheduled and to arrive on time.
It was a small class, only nine people, an intensive summer course that included a practicum at a hospital. I suppose that didn’t sound appealing to too many people on their summer break.
On the first morning of class, everyone arrived on time except for one student. We couldn’t start the class unless everyone was there. 15 minutes went by, then 30. Finally, nearly an hour had passed.
At last, a few minutes before the original start time of the class arrived, the door opened and a tall, biracial guy stepped in. All our heads turned to look. He smiled apologetically after he found out what was going on. The only open seat was next to me.
This is how we met.
And this is what I learned from being in love with him for nearly a year.
1. Speak Your Truth
We spent our breaks wandering the halls. Our time out of class sticking each other with needles. We went to the mall. Got food. Eventually, we were exercising together. He was fun, he was cute, he was different. He was my friend.
When the class ended and we were in our practicums—at hospitals over an hour apart—we still kept in touch. I assumed we’d eventually stop talking once we didn’t see each other for class.
That didn’t happen. Even though we went to two different colleges, he’d come by to see me. I’d skip class, something I never did, and hang out on campus with him. We’d go places. During the summer, we went to an amusement park, canoeing, running in the rain.
I didn’t realize it, but by the time October had come, I was in love with him. I remember telling my friend Stephanie over lunch one day. She was so excited, but I was so afraid. He’d never expressed any romantic interest in me. My feelings were dangerous. They needed to be kept a secret.
I was dishonest by hiding what came to be an essential truth about my 19-year-old self—that I was madly in love with this guy. If I had spoken my truth sooner, I wouldn’t have gone through all the heartache that I did. I drove myself crazy and our “relationship” went on for much longer than it should have because I kept my mouth shut.
2. See the Red Flags (Because They’re There!)
I knew that the whole thing with him would end badly. I could feel it in my gut.
My feelings weren’t reciprocated. He never said he loved me. He didn’t inquire about all the little details of my life—my birthday, my parents, my middle name. He’d never touched me. He blew me off as often as he showed up. We had fun hanging out together. That was it.
It should have been a red flag. It was a red flag, but one that I ignored. I lied to myself every day that I didn’t tell him how I felt; I lied to myself every time I saw him, every time I skipped class for him, every time I answered the phone in the middle of the night, just for him to say something random and stupid and me to act like I cared, because I did care.
Youth is a funny thing. The red flags are all there, staring you in the face, and yet you sidestep them as effortlessly as walking through a meadow when really, you’re walking through a minefield.
I saw the red flags. I ignored them. I only saw him for what I wanted him to be, not who he was, and I got hurt. Now, I see the warning signs, I believe people when they show me who they are—and I caution myself appropriately.
3. Stop Wasting Your Time
After all this time—it’s been nearly eight years since I’ve seen him and nearly four years since I’ve spoken to him—I can admit to myself that I do think he cared about me in his own way. But he didn’t love me the way I loved him.
He didn’t treat me like the person I wanted to be treated as. I blew off everyone who actually did want to spend time with me for him. I wanted to be as important to him as he was to me. But I wasn’t. I wasted a year of my life, my time, chasing someone who honestly didn’t want me.
Now that I’m nearing the end of my 20s, I can see that people who don’t genuinely care about you do not deserve your time. So don’t give it to them.
4. Things You Never Thought Would Happen—Happen
I never thought I’d fall for this person. I never thought I could be as happy as I was with him. And yet, I was upset a lot too. I cried in the middle of the night. I waited in parking lots for him when he didn’t show up. I deluded myself into thinking he’d just forgotten, that he was busy.
I never thought I’d end up basically on my knees begging for a man to love me who didn’t love me. Because this was what I did—beg. I begged every time I showed up on time to meet him, even if he didn’t come. I begged every time I answered the phone or left class when I saw him calling. I begged every time he asked me to meet him when I was nowhere near where he was—I dropped everything and went.
I learned that there are no depths we aren’t willing to sink to when it comes to the maddening emotion of love. I lost my dignity and I didn’t gain anything in return except wisdom. I know better now. I know that there are things that will happen in my life that I never thought would happen—and I now have the wisdom to know how to handle them.
5. You Can, and Will, Get Past This
When I finally confessed my undying love to him, he had the grace to look shocked and laugh awkwardly. It was awkward, of course—but it was something that I absolutely had to do. I thought I’d go mad if I didn’t finally tell him how I felt after all that time.
He said he loved me too, just not in the way I loved him. After all our time together—the connection I felt, the stories we shared, the conversations we had, the places we went—it felt like none of it mattered because he didn’t return my feelings.
The thing is though, is that it did matter. It mattered to me. I wanted to be together, and he didn’t. And that was ok. It didn’t feel like it at the time, but it really was ok.
He left on the same day we met that next year, for a different summer course in Brazil. I saw him one more time after that and spoke to him on and off sporadically for a few years after that, but it was over. I couldn’t be friends with him; I had always wanted more. Only a year I had with him, and he was gone.
Did I cry? Of course. Was I mad? Of course. I felt like fate had cheated me. I felt like I belonged to this man. Did I move on? Of course I did.
Today, I have the insight to see that I was a senseless, heartsick 19-year-old who fell in love with someone who couldn’t love her the same way. Today, a few months away from my wedding to another man, one who gives me all the things he couldn’t, I know what a real relationship is. I know that if someone wants to be with you, they will be with you. It really is that simple.