There is no way to “make” someone return your feelings. They do or they don’t, they will or they won’t.
I am stopped at a red light near the middle school and I see this: a boy, a cute, shaggy haired boy in skinny jeans is walking home with big headphones on. A girl, all legs and wild red hair is running up the same sidewalk, behind him. When she is maybe a foot away from him she stops running and starts walking. Like she was not chasing him. She speeds up just enough to pass him, and as she does, he smiles, puts a hand up to stop her and reaches up to take off his headphones. The light changes, and in my rear view I see them walking together.
I smile too, remembering that feeling of possibility, chemistry, the incredible, unmatchable high of “catching” the object of love and discovering that they also thought they had made a catch.
Then I remember that at that age, I would have ruined everything within a matter of days.
I would also have ruined it in my teens, my twenties and most of my thirties. I would have grabbed on to my fantasy version of that boy so tight that he was desperate to flee, supplied an entire (and imaginary) set of ties and rules, and gotten progressively clingier and more hysterical as it became clearer that I had, in fact ruined everything. Again.
This would reinforce my certainty that I didn’t have a boyfriend because I was fat and ugly and weird. Despite the fact that all kinds of other people had successful relationships no matter what they looked like. I believed I was doomed to be single forever, mystified and frustrated by the invisible “kick me” sign that seemed to drive away all men, from long-shot hotties to the weird guy with bad breath and a Superman lunch box who worked in the library.
So I’ve been there. I spent decades in a blisteringly painful cycle of attraction-promising start-mysterious rejection-hysterical clinging-scorched and self-loathing.
Through the twin miracles of age and mindfulness, I get it now. I can help you suffer less, but you have to promise me that you will love your own bad self so damned much that a romantic partner is the icing on the cake, not your life goal.
Then I will tell you what I know. (It will take more than one post).
First things first: nobody else “completes” you, and nothing lasts forever.
No matter how much you love them, or they love you, or you both love Wes Anderson and matcha tea. Everything changes, constantly, and lovers and love come and go.
Feelings change, People move, or they die, or the timing is wrong. Or they are in a relationship that they can’t or won’t end no matter how deep their feelings are for you. Or they are damaged in ways you couldn’t or wouldn’t see in the first pink haze of romance, and that damage makes it impossible for them to treat you with respect and compassion.
You can’t hang on to anything, let alone another living breathing person with thoughts and feelings of their own.
The minute you try, you are setting everybody up for serious pain. You will not suffer nearly as much if you accept this, and look at love as the opportunity to experience deep connection, sexual heat, mutual joy and friendship—for as long as it lasts. Which may be as brief as a cross-town train ride, or as long as a fifty year marriage. And those moments of passion and joy are not diminished by the fact that they are unpredictable and finite.
I know this runs counter to every book, movie and diamond ad that promises “forever” and makes it seem like such a thing is not only possible but normal. I also know that it looks like everyone else in the universe is “coupled” and blissful while you flounder through false start after false start.
But I’m telling you the truth: all you have (and all they have) is this moment, and this breath. You do not and cannot “have” another person. Ever.
So in the beginning, when you feel like you can’t help yourself, like someone is in your brain all day and all night, and you crave them, and you want to listen to them, breathe and smell their neck and fly on the twin wings of connection and erotic tension, be with those feelings, the pleasurable and the anxious alike.
Be with those feelings, acknowledge them and let them go. Because you are living in the present moment instead of parsing the last conversation for meaning, or worrying about whether you said something fatally stupid, or if he’ll text you, or call you or ask you out or marry you and father your children.
Inhabit the moments of your own life, even as the feelings catch you with a moment of tension in the pit of your stomach or a silvery filament of excitement.
Be with the friend who is telling you a story, hearing his words and taking in the warmth of the coffee mug in your hand, the brilliance of turning leaves outside the window. Listen to music that you love, and find yourself moving, dancing alone in your kitchen. Taste every bite of your food, and wonder at your graceful, capable hands as they soothe a child, scratch a dog’s head or fold a napkin.
Something may come of this and something might not. There is no way to “make” someone return your feelings. They do or they don’t, they will or they won’t. There is nothing you can do to make it happen, but it’s almost a certainty that if you ruminate, scheme, panic and grasp you will suffer.
This is hard. It’s incredibly hard. But you can do it, even if you have to bring yourself back 5,675 times from worries or fantasies.
And if he smiles, takes off his headphones and walks with you for a while, revel in that joy, the warm rush of connectedness, the lovely uncertainty.
For as long as it lasts.
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Ed: Catherine Monkman