things no one told me

no one warned us about the PDA here, and nobody can rationalize it— hypotheses range from the romance of European cities (which i believed in until i saw a man pee on a copenhagen supermarket at 10am) to the aphrodisiac effects of a sudden change in altitude (a lot of it happens on bridges or escalators).

happy couples at home can incite envy or loneliness, since you might wonder why everyone else has managed to put down roots and flower while you’re tumbleweed-ing aimlessly around. but here i am a visitor, happy to observe, to admire them from afar.

[i swear, right now, a couple has just joined my table (that is not meant for strangers to share) and they’re feeding each other spoonfuls of each other’s hot chocolate. gross, but maybe i’m still a little envious.]

it’s not that i want any sort of major commitment — i know people my age who are engaged or even married. if that were my only alternative, i’d still choose to be alone, because if i chose a partner now, i know i’d choose wrong. some people might genuinely know when they’re nineteen (twenty, i have to keep reminding myself; i am twenty). but there’s no one i could look at right now and say “sure, forever sounds fine.” far more terrifying than being chronically single is the thought of turning to the person i’ve shared my life and self with for years and thinking, “what the hell have we done?”

[now the couple is asking each other questions too intimate for a first date but too casual for them to have been an item for long, and i’m thinking the only thing that scares me more than a first date is a second.]

i’ve actually just gotten over someone. i’ve mentioned him pretty freely to other people, but won’t go into any detail because i’m pretty sure i’ve escaped without him ever knowing.

[couple is now talking about myers-briggs types and can’t remember if N/F come before S/P and i want to tell them that those letters don’t even go together, it’s N with S and F with P…now they’re not just dangling their couplehood in front of my solitude, they’re discussing my favorite area of psych and doing it wrong. am i in hell?]

i’ll give a little more detail. first time i met this guy he had an item with him that is one of my favorite things in the world. not even some random merchandise from a tv show i like — this specific item was something that i had known of and referenced and laughed about for years before i met him. the moment he showed it to me, i fell harder and faster than i ever thought possible.

this is straight out of a film, i remember thinking. this is what all the fuss is about.

the physical manifestation of this crush was bizarrely unfamiliar: my heartbeat needed to be talked off the ledge after every glimpse of him, my palms sweat so my phone wouldn’t register my fingers as i tried responding to his texts, i called a neurologist in tears because these were all symptoms of parkinson’s disease.

[this couple is being intimate past the point of decency. where does this idea of english prudishness and propriety come from? i can’t imagine ever liking someone enough to justify this behavior. at the same time, that’s what makes it intriguing: are these just rude, selfish people, or is there a type of love that supersedes all modesty and inhibition in a way that i, having never felt it, can’t even fathom?]

midway through that phone call with a bewildered neurologist’s secretary, i realized, oh, shit. i think i’m just in love.

my next thought: there’s no way this is worth it.

and it wasn’t!! one thing no one ever tells you is that, even if you have some miraculous, nora-ephron-penned first encounter, sometimes the person just doesn’t like you back. sometimes you have to get to know them over an excruciatingly long (and, in retrospect, completely wasted) period where they never give enough of their feelings towards you away, and you haven’t got the nerve to show your cards first.

no one tells you that months later, after you’ve begrudgingly accepted this crush as part of your life now, that you’ll be out one night when he takes your friend’s hand — you knew this was coming, that your feelings were probably unrequited, but had never seen his active interest in someone else, and it skewers you.

and no one tells you that later that night, he’ll come find you, leaning too close to your face and drunkenly slurring a question, and you’ll lean closer to decipher it and you’ll realize you’ve never been this close to him before, and then you’ll realize he’s asking you where she is. he’ll walk away towards where you unwillingly point, and no one ever tells you how grateful you’ll be that no one can hear the fragments of your stupid, useless heart clatter onto the tequila-soaked floor over the thumping bassline of some garbage song from four years ago.

nobody tells you that despite your best efforts, you’ll cry on the way home, more angry at yourself than you are heartbroken, because how can your heart break for something that didn’t exist? the tears are bitter, and they’ll sting, because who are you to be so bitter and hopeless at twenty?

“you’re hotter,” your friends will tell you. “he’s stupid for not liking you instead.” you’ll thank them, but quietly think they’ve missed the point. she isn’t the enemy, nor is he. the person you love isn’t obligated to love you back. but no one ever tells you that.

[the couple finally left and now i’m here with three empty mugs of coffee]

but the other thing nobody ever tells you is how quickly you’ll get over it, once it’s no longer an option. you won’t anticipate the lightness, the freedom that comes with leaving that burden behind — it was so woven into the fabric of your heart that you forgot it started out as excess cargo. the relief i feel now is better than any excitement i felt during.

the aftershocks will linger — when you next see him, the next conversation you have, the next time you make each other laugh. each “next” will send a twinge through you as you dutifully snap the last few tethers of your heartstrings that disobediently stretch out towards him. cover your wince with a cough and hope he doesn’t notice (he won’t).

the wound will be tender, but you won’t relapse. the small leaps your chest always made around him will cease as cupid finally lowers his crossbow and shuffles away to sleep into a little pocket of your heart.

i hope he sleeps forever. i am too busy and too tired to do this ever again.

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