Updated: Aug 15
My first two years of college were challenging. Wired from an early age for autonomy, I was glad to finally be living on my own terms. But my newfound independence was also underlining how much I still needed to figure out.
I did well in all of my classes and was generally quite functional, but at my core, there was a vague dissatisfaction and a sense that something fundamental was off. I couldn’t put my finger on it and it really started to gnaw at me. What was I missing?
I got the notion in my head that changing my environment might alleviate the issue, so I took a year off of school, first to work and save up money and then to travel. I pulled a geographic in an attempt to leave that uneasy feeling behind.
My time abroad was stimulating and I did feel distracted from what was lurking under the surface, but one night in a quaint town in France, as I was reading through my journal, I had a stark realization. It hit me that I had been essentially writing the same entry over and over and over, for years. For sure, the content was varied, but the emotional filter I was interpreting the events of my life through never changed. It was fixed. Apparently, I was a one-trick pony and a melancholy one at that.
Seeing this truth about myself, I suddenly felt the urge to return home. I now understood that no matter how exotic my travels were, I was not going to be able to escape myself and I started feeling ridiculous the longer I stayed away from the inevitable confrontation with my reality.
I cut my trip short.
Since I would be returning to the U.S. sooner than expected, my living situation when I arrived home would be up in the air. I showed up at the doorstep of the cooperative where I had been previously living to see what was possible. Not surprisingly, they had rented out my room when I left. But they were happy I was back and since there had been a loose expectation that I would eventually return, there was a desire to find a way to make it work. There was no room in the house, but we decided that since it was the warm season, I would temporarily pitch my tent in the garden under the big fig tree until a more permanent solution emerged.
As I got to work setting up camp, I wondered about the guy who had rented out my room, which was seemingly now his room. In truth, even though it didn’t make any rational sense to feel even one ounce of possessiveness, I was a bit annoyed that he had moved in and I was literally outside. I had not even met the guy and I was already feeling some heat!
Mystery man did not seem to be around. At least I hadn’t laid eyes on him yet. But I really wanted to meet him. I was intrigued to learn who had displaced me.
A couple of evenings later, I came around the corner and I saw him sitting on the porch as if he’d been there for eternity. In theory, he could have been anybody, but I instantly knew it was him. He grinned at me slyly.
Irish-Italian. Dark curly hair. Piercing blue eyes. Before I knew what was happening, my heart was pounding in my chest and I had broken out into a sweat. Oh, no, no, no! I was mortified! The wheels of attraction were already in motion and there was nothing I could do about it except try to play it cool.
Sean turned out to be as charming as he was handsome. He was a great conversationalist, kind, intelligent and very funny. We had an easy rapport and we both seemed to be finding lots of ways to “spontaneously” hang out with each other. But it was also odd. For as much as there seemed to be a mutuality to our budding friendship, there seemed to be nothing beyond that on his side of things. He was warm and friendly, but there was a distinct reserve towards me when it came to flirtation.
I was not entirely new to love. My high school boyfriend and I had been kindred spirits and I could remember as clear as day that attraction that drew us together. It was so potent and undeniable. And yet, what I was experiencing now was of a whole different order of power.
And yet, his signal was clear-no dice! How could this be so one-sided? The issue that had led me to flee to another continent was quickly replaced with a new one. Unrequited love.
For weeks I felt absolutely tortured as I my heart swelled bigger than my chest every time I caught a glimpse of him, heard his voice or exchanged a glance. He on the other hand was becoming more reserved and was almost curt with me at times. I figured he was probably trying to be sure not to lead me on, which I could appreciate even if it was humiliating.
And yet, I felt this stubbornness alongside my devastation. It just didn’t make sense! Whenever we connected, I saw this sparkle in his eye and I felt him light up. In those moments, I was certain that he was attracted to me in the way that I was attracted to him. But then later, we’d be going about our business and I would doubt my perception. The intensity of the swings between certainty and uncertainty got under my skin. I started to worry that he had become an obsession.
One day, as I stood in the kitchen, looking out of the window, I was overcome by the most sorrowful feeling I could ever recall. I felt that even though I had not known this man for very long, I loved him. And yet, he clearly did not seem to feel similarly about me. It was not to be. And so, with all the depth of my heart I summoned my integrity, and made a conscious decision to let him go. I did not even know until that moment that I was capable of such a thing, and yet it had to be done.
I cried some hot tears and tried to move on as best I could. It was hard. I felt only emptiness. I aspired to remain friendly with him, but mostly I just wanted to hide, so I started to avoid him. I felt like such mess inside!
A couple of weeks went by and a friend of mine came by to talk with me. She seemed like she was going to burst. She told me excitedly that she’d heard some gossip that I needed to hear, too. My heart started racing.
She’d heard from a friend of a friend of a friend that he was pretty torn up. He’d felt the shift in my heart and it disturbed him greatly. Apparently, he’d had a very bad break-up in the not too distant past and was working on recovering from that. And he did not want to make the same mistakes he had made with his last girlfriend. And he was totally falling for me and was now worried he’d screwed things up.
Upon hearing this news, my heart twirled around like a ballerina as tears streamed down my face. Now everything made sense-both what I was sensing and also his behavior towards me. I wanted to dance or run around the block or sing opera to let out all the tension that had been building up in my whole being. I collapsed that night and sighed a breath of deep relief as my world was put right. I understood his dilemma and I felt for him. I relaxed knowing that when he was ready he would come find me.
It didn’t take long.
One night, while I was out by the fig tree that had become my temporary abode, Sean came looking for me. As he approached me, the energy shifted dramatically and the whole world fell silent except for the sound of blood rushing through my body. There was only a split second to take one deep look into each others’ eyes before falling head over heels in love.