When I was 14, I fell madly in love with a boy. Well, I fell into my very first version of love, anyway -- an angsty, naive, one-sided, teenage love. The boy was tall, strong and wonderfully handsome, with the chiseled jawline of a model and the big, beautiful hands of a carpenter. His name was Andrew.
Andrew didn’t love me back. He never said it to my face, but I knew. I was part of the middle school "unpopular" crowd while he was very much a part of the "popular" crowd, and the table at which he sat would sneer at me in the cafeteria when I walked by.
Still, we were in the drama club together. And instead of spending my days rehearsing dance moves for the school play, I’d spend them trying to muster up the courage to talk to him.
Ultimately, I’d chicken out because I was frizzy-haired and gap-toothed, and because there was no way in hell a guy like him would go for a girl like me. So I’d come home to my bed, and I’d get under the covers, and I’d cry myself into a restless sleep.
I don't know if I was crying over not having him or crying over not having anyone to love, but I cried for everything I wanted and everything I didn't have. I continued to spend the rest of my high school career waiting for Andrew to ask me out. He never did.
Four years later, I found myself strolling down a street in Brooklyn (I don't know how I made it out of high school alive, but somehow I did). With coffee in hand and not an expectation in mind, I steadied my stroll, until I saw a face that looked all too familiar. I stopped mid-traipse, letting my coffee turn cold.
The familiar face was Andrew’s. He was a bouncer at a sports bar.
We engaged in small talk for a New York minute. As he moved his mouth, I scanned his body. He had changed so much that he was hardly recognizable. His forearm bore a tattoo of a skeleton ("The Grateful Dead is my favorite band," he said when I asked what it meant).
There I stood, awestruck, wondering how I had ever let him consume me. After some contrived conversation, we exchanged numbers for the date we'd never have, and then I walked away.
As I reminisced on fate’s doing, I couldn’t help but laugh. What a funny thing it was to run into someone by chance, whom I’d once lost sleep over by choice. How remarkable it was that someone I once swore I couldn’t live without was reduced to a random speck in my life. It’s as if the universe dropped him into my lap because it could feel me falling out of love with him. It pushed me toward him after I did my best to pull away from him.
I was nearly half as old when I fell in love with him as I am now. But that day, on that Williamsburg street corner, I had a revelation. What if I gave up on entertaining romance? What if I stopped expecting a man to come my way altogether? What if I lived life as if I’d never find love?
The revelation was peculiar. It was so outlandish that if I told anyone else about it, they'd most likely condemn me for thinking it. From childhood, we’re taught to go to college, find husbands and live happily ever after. We are told to live for love.
But what if that idea is just as false as it is antiquated?
Every time I’ve looked for love, I’ve immediately lost because I’ve set myself up for failure. I’ve lost the battle that wages between my realest self and my wildest fantasies. The real me knows falling in love is just that -- falling -- but the fantasy in me thinks falling into love it means running toward love.
The real me knows love worth having is hard to come by, but the fantasy in me wants love so much that it’s willing to do anything to make it happen.
The only loves worth having are those that are uneasily attainable. They are the ones we happen upon accidentally while living purposeful lives for ourselves because they make us believe again just when we’ve given up hope. They draw us out of reality and into fairytale land. They blind us with their magnitude, and they turn us against our most sensible selves.
No one deserves infinite loneliness; everyone deserves infinite love. But to go out into the world and seek love is to go out into the world and undermine love.
Running after love means you've limited it. It means you’ve put it into a box and wrapped it with a pretty bow. You've idealized it. Instead, you should have lived a life not of loving someone else but of loving yourself. And the person you fall for will only find you when you've become your best self, the way Andrew found me on that unexpected street corner.
The greatest kind of love is born from two people who have learned to live without it. Once they find it, they open their once-closed hearts to it and surprise themselves with how capable of giving love they were all along. The love they've withheld pours out of them unforgivingly.
That kind of great love will manifest itself as a pleasant surprise on a rainy day or a bumping of heads at a city soccer game or a quick, sharp turn on an otherwise straight street.
That kind of great love will hit you in the face and shake you to your core. And when you do find it, it won’t fulfill your expectations. It will exceed them.