I have had two great loves in my life. One is my wife, who I met in my late 20s and joyfully married, and with whom am jointly raising 3 wonderful children. However, my first love was a girl I met sophomore year of college — let’s call her Hope.
Apologies for having to go anonymous on this. People important to me would get hurt if identities were revealed.
I fell in love with Hope literally the first second I saw her. She was cute, quirky, hilarious (in an unintentional sort of way), innocent, strong-minded, vulnerable, and she smelled like heaven.
Hope knew how I felt about her, but she never felt the same way about me. I didn’t care, I just loved to be around her and we became very close friends. I was there for her every step of the way through college — helping her with schoolwork, being her confidant in her love life, going to spring break together if neither of us happened to be dating at the time.
We got close enough that she would take me home a couple of times a year during short breaks of school (she lived closer to school than I did). I met her parents, her grandparents, her siblings, her neighbours. They all loved me. She loved me too… just not in that way.
Her parents hoped we would end up together. Her grand mom used to ask her every time I would visit why we weren’t together. I never pressed the issue. If she loved me, I wanted her to fall in love with me, not be cajoled or pressured into it.
Sadly, it never happened while we were in school. She dated. I dated. We were friends.
We graduated and stayed close, we lived in different areas of the country, but called each other often. We traveled to see each other once or twice a year (more often the first year or two after graduation).
Deep down, in the back of my mind. I knew that one day, the lightbulb would turn on and we would end up together. Until one day, when I was 26, I got a call from her. The guy she was dating at the time had proposed. And she had accepted.
I was happy for her — I truly was — even though a part of me was sad. The illogical part of my mind wasn’t worried though — we fit together too well and the guy she was seeing wasn’t a very good guy I thought. Hope was always going for guys who would treat her badly (I know it’s a cliche).
My eureka moment came about 6 months later. I don’t know what caused it (maybe because their wedding was coming up in a few months, I don’t know), it just hit me in the middle of work and my stomach sunk in a way I had never experienced before. Just a deep, deep disappointment.
Hope and I would not end up together.
Hope and I would not marry.
Hope and I would not raise kids together.
Hope and I would not grow old together.
I realised at that moment that because of my attachment to Hope, I had been emotionally unavailable to every single girl I had dated since I met her. I had held all of them at arms length — the tiny engineer, the girl with the crazy family, the tall drama major, the constantly traveling consultant, the teacher, and the pharma marketer.
It’s funny, in college there were plenty of girls who wanted to date me, but the only one I really wanted, I loved too much for her to fall in love with me.
That moment the lightbulb turned on was heart-breaking but eye-opening. It took me a while to heal, but what it also did was allow me to move on and become more available emotionally. The pharma marketer was my girlfriend at the time. I became more serious with her and stopped keeping her at arms length. Candidly, I think the change scared her a little, because we didn’t last too long after that.
The good news for me was that the very next woman I dated was my wife, who I fell in love with literally the first second I saw her.
I don’t think I would have changed my first true love experience — even though it was unrequited. It taught me to love and helped me mature in a way that I don’t think I could have if it didn’t happen.