My first experience with love was a boy named Dan. I was in sixth grade and he was in fifth. He had tousled dirty blond hair and a crooked smile, the sort of smile I’ve learned I have a weakness for. I did not fit in among my class at all, though I went to a small school and everyone was always polite, it was the sort of place where in a class of 20, everyone was invited to birthday parties. Dan had friends in his class, he wasn’t a popular kid, but he was well enough liked and had no shortage of people to trade pokemon cards with or chase around in a game of tree tag. Some recesses, I was one of the ones he spent his time with, and it was the first time I craved a person, felt a constant burning desire and elation when I was around them, and a devastating loss when I was not, as though the world were a bit more empty. I didn’t know before then that the quality of the world could change like that. I hadn’t realized that when a person occupied the same space as me, they could bring not only themselves and their presence, but could change the very air around them and the colors in a room, so it all was suddenly so much more alive. We played hockey together, I got extraordinarily good at playing defense despite being someone who would have been more suited to an offensive position. He was the goalie, and I wanted to be as near him as I could be at all times. I never told him how I felt, though I wished every day to just be lucky enough that it would be one of those days that he spent time with me. I used a birthday wish to wish that he would move in next door, and when the neighbors put up a for sale sign unexpectedly a few weeks later I was ecstatic, but a young couple moved in instead. I went to a different school for seventh grade, and aside from a couple bar mitzvahs here and there, I didn’t see him again.
There was a boy named Han in my Japanese class in high school. Another boy with a crooked grin, prone to laughter and easy with his smiles. He sat behind me and I was the one he would often whisper his jokes to. Walking into class and seeing him sitting there was so often the highlight of my day. It was more then that, my world was a hell of depression, all flat like a paper cut out. He rendered it in 3-D and brought the colors back, when my heart saw him and fluttered it felt like the first time that day I had taken a breath. He confided in me about his crush on one of the girls in the class, it broke me a little to hear but I tried to encourage him to tell her and give it a shot. I never told him the way he made my days bearable just by existing, or how I imagined his laughter in my dreams.
As I entered into the world of relationships, I connected too strongly, or not strongly enough. I was a flurry of NRE (new relationship energy) and neediness, trying to finally satisfy my desperate cravings for a person of my own. I wanted to possess someone, consume them, take in their brightness and hold it inside me so I would never feel that crushing loneliness that had lived within me again. Often I made grandiose commitments and thrust myself into ill fitting partnerships without a second thought and found myself later trying to pretend that my love matched theirs. As I was with one person after another who loved me more strongly over time while my feelings bordered on apathetic once the NRE had passed, I was wrought with guilt and overbearing discomfort. The few times I felt a more enduring passion, I was paralyzed with fear of losing it and sought control just to hold on to my grip on the world. I was disgusted with myself for my needs, my desperation, how I saw myself leading people on more and more, the realization that I was failing to maintain emotional intimacy and was left in partnerships where I had to pretend or cause someone else the heartbreak I felt when my affections weren’t returned.
Even writing this I want to stop a moment and remark on it, since I haven’t looked back and viewed myself through this lens in quite a while. Sweet gibbering fuckweasels I was unhealthy. I was beyond a hot mess and the folks who put up with me through my teenage years deserve a fucking medal.
As I entered into adulthood, or at least left my parents home and began having more relationships that involved responsibility and cohabitation and emotional nuance, I began to take significantly more care in how I got involved with people. I made a nice neat stack of mistakes in the last ten years as well, but I moved forward, gaining more self awareness and becoming more conscious of the commitments I made. It took me many more years to work past controlling tendencies, but I started to improve, and I talked about in another piece how I learned to be honest and devoted myself to that ideal to an extreme. With that came a lot of one sided relationships. I won’t say I didn’t love many of my partners, I did, but not to the extent they loved me or in the same ways. It was something discussed to varying degrees, often times I was very blunt with what I could or could not provide, what could be expected of me, and where feelings matched up versus where they diverged. I began to see the effect of unrequited love on my partners, or at least an unmatched level of love and desire.
Over the years I’ve known both sides of unrequited love. I’ve spiraled through a dozen ways of dealing with it, most of them terribly toxic. Something changed in recent years. When I was a teenager I was severely depressed for a handful of years. Everything was constantly numb, and love was a brief blinding high in the flat twilight grays that were my existence. As a young adult I was an alcoholic. I had hated the numbness of depression, so I recreated it, because maybe without it I was too much. I broke free of that, and I broke free of a lot of toxicity with it. When I transitioned, when I embraced my independence and autonomy, when I learned what truly made me feel rooted and good, I was able to be a person with emotions that were often still too intense and too much, but that I didn’t need to numb down into nothing. I studied mindfulness, it meshed well with my long held personal beliefs that there are few real negative emotions. The emotions most people thought of as negative, sadness, lonliness, heartbreak, anger; they were all close friends that I embraced after years of solitude with nothing at all in my mind. I learned to sit with them and trust them to just exist, to be, and then to move along.
These days I love the intensity of NRE as much as ever. I’m careful not to make grandiose commitments during it, to try and spare the feelings of people who I am loving for a moment but maybe not for a lifetime. When it passes I make my commitments sparingly, to the few people who capture me in such a way that I want to be drawn to them with that exuberant overzealous devotion. Sometimes my feelings aren’t returned, or are mirrored back with a reflection that is far less intense and clear. Where that once would have been devastating, it is now intriguing and tolerable. My sadness and loneliness in those moments is exquisitely sharp but like a masochists pain, it feels good in equal measure as it does bad. It is easily dispelled by the sheer joy of experiencing love well up from within me. I can study my loneliness and the pain of unrequited love and be content just to let it exist. No one is obligated to love me back simply because the intensity with which I burn for them is overwhelming. It is no great tragedy if they don’t. When I am the one loving less or with a different quality to my love, I try my best to be as honest as I can, make as few commitments as possible, so as not to lead anyone else down that road. But these days the road of unrequited love is one I walk without fear. Loving is the goal, being loved back is not a prize to win. I would simply rather relish in the absolute joy of being in love, even when it’s laced with pain, than miss the journey of loving someone.