I grew up with fairytales, chick lit and rom-coms, always waiting for the day I, too, would get my happily ever after.
But life isn’t always about storybook endings. And none of these are love stories, either. They’re stories filled with cliffhangers and plot twists, starting off with the feeling of butterflies, like they often do. Yet, all ending in ways I wish they didn’t.
But I still hold them close to me anyway — because, unlike what I imagined, each time always leaves me a little more hopeful than the last. But like I said, you should know upfront, these aren’t love stories.
Later that summer, I started chatting more frequently with his best friend, conversations always playful and light. There was banter and I liked that – much more than what I already had. And so it was decided: I liked his best friend instead.
Puppy love — or so it seemed
We first saw each other at his class’s family event, where he was the host, and I was a guest. He was a year older, and carried himself with the bravado that older guys had, or so it seemed. We got each other’s Y!Ms through mutual friends, and would chat any chance we got. It was through our online conversations that I found out he was more soft-spoken than I was, but he was smart and had this quiet confidence that left me in awe.
Over the Christmas break and in a group chat, he told me he liked me, and I said I liked him, too. Puppy love was as easy as that, or so it seemed. Our time spent together was purely virtual; none of us dared to go through the anxiety of asking permission from our parents to go out with someone of the opposite sex.
He gave me the world in the way a 13-year-old boy could: he wrote me a poem on Valentine’s Day, and got me a blue and orange elephant on one of his family trips (blue and orange being my favorite colors at the time; and elephants, my favorite animal then).
Later that summer, I started chatting more frequently with his best friend, conversations always playful and light. There was banter and I liked that — much more than what I already had. And so it was decided: I liked his best friend instead.
Damsel in no distress
It was junior year, and all everyone had in mind was prom. Soirées were piling up left and right, with everyone wanting to find the perfect date.
At a party in October, I found two “promspects”: Drummer Boy and Basketball Star, both of whom I’d had plenty of conversations with, and both apparently crowd favorites at any soirée. Flattered yet conflicted that both were thinking of asking me to prom too, I decided to give myself time to get to know them more.
Drummer Boy talked to me every day, making me feel like the luckiest girl, while Basketball Star was more careful to not scare me away, making me feel safe. After several back-and-forths with both boys, and a group date I secretly named “The One Where I Decide,” I felt good about choosing Basketball Star.
That was until 11/11/11, when Drummer Boy confessed his feelings for me. While I told him I wanted to take things slowly (which he respected), I changed my mind about who to take to prom and thought to myself: He liked me; how could he say no?
I “promposed” in December, with illustration boards, a song playing, and all the works; he had me pop balloons to ask me the same day too, and that was it. We were taking each other to prom.
He grew increasingly protective of me by the day — and if there’s one thing that made me unlike princesses in fairytales, it’s that I’m never one to need saving. Yet, he was just always there, policing me in ways that bothered me. After a heated argument over the phone, we called off being each other’s dates.
Basketball Star, who earlier confessed he had wanted to ask me to prom, but was preceded by Drummer Boy, ended up asking me again, and I said yes — half wanting to go to a prom that wasn’t my own, and half wanting to spite Drummer Boy in the process. As for my own prom, I ended up bringing another friend instead.
Lost in translation
We laid out our non-negotiables from the get-go: no LDRs for him; no hook-ups for me. Being exchange students abroad and coming from similar backgrounds made us click instantly. What started as a group lunch at a Chinese buffet led to his and my daily inside jokes, Friends binge-watching, Snapchat streaks, and nights out with friends. There were day trips to Paris and a weekend in an Alpine town, too.
While always together, we were our own, complete selves. He told me in writing that I was his best friend in the whole world. Yet, the overthinker in me always wondered, despite his non-negotiable, if this could turn into something more; that hopefully he didn’t mean it anymore, and that things just got lost in translation.
Through each relationship and non-relationship, uneventful and inconclusive as they may be, I learn more and more what I love about love and what I don’t. I close one story and start another.
On our last night together, we were trying but failing to delay the goodbye that had no promise of when we’d see each other again. As the night slowly turned into morning, he hugged my roommates goodbye; he saved me for last, and held me as I cried. I walked him to the door and we sat on the curb to talk.
“You’re the most special person I met here,” I’ll always remember him saying. I smiled sadly and begged him to see me off at the train station; he considered briefly, but decided it would be best to not put us through another goodbye again. I conceded. And before we let each other go our separate ways, he said, “I love you,” and we called it a night.
“Are you ready?” he texted a couple of hours later; I was in an Uber, already running late. While I wished we could’ve had one last goodbye at the station, I ran as fast as I could to not miss my train, tossed my luggage into the compartment, and made my way to my seat. The train left 30 seconds later.
To keep the mood light as we always would, I texted back, “Yup, ran for my life, but made it just in time.”
He replied, “I know. I watched you leave.”
* * *
Through each relationship and non-relationship, uneventful and inconclusive as they may be, I learn more and more what I love about love and what I don’t. I close one story and start another, thinking that next time will always be better than the last, and that next time I’ll finally be able to write my own happy ending. But oftentimes the “next time” isn’t that — it hasn’t been, but that’s okay. I pick myself up, and go at it again anyway.
Blame it on my blind optimism, because while I’m still in love with the idea of love, I never really got lucky at it. But that won’t stop me from wishing and trying. I know I will always choose love anyway — and always with high hopes that, one day, it chooses me, too.
Banner photo Art by Jeremy Velmonte