“Maura, I like you a lot. However, I do not love you and I have realized that I will never love you. Though, I still really enjoy your company and I want to continue to date if you want to.” I stared out ahead into the distance, unable to meet Max’s eyes. It was a stunning first day of spring in Philadelphia. Finally, I could lounge outside without wearing a coat. Flowers were blooming everywhere making Bryn Mawr College’s campus even more beautiful. It was the perfect moment to tell my boyfriend that I love him and him to tell me that he feels the same way.
I didn’t tell Max that I loved him out on that stone patio. I told him the night before in bed. We were cuddling like usual and I could hear his breath slowing into a soft slumber. I met Max during a meteor shower the night before our colleges broke for a six-week long winter vacation. We counted shooting stars together, drank milkshakes from the college café, and talked about our lives before college. The next morning, I flew back to Georgia and he flew back to Oregon. We talked to each other every night through Skype calls. We made a to do list of fun activities for when we returned to school. Max and I were like opposites. He was rationally-minded. I was emotionally-minded. He was a science major. I was a political science major. He was from the Pacific Northwest. I was from the South Atlantic. He hated running. I ran for my college.
But Max was also a great listener. And I was a great talker. He was safe to confide in about any thought, feeling, and anxiety. I had felt very depressed and lonely all throughout my first semester, and I was so relieved to have met someone that could spend time with me, study with me, and most importantly, give me affection. Suddenly, I felt motivated to do well in the courses I had been struggling in. I felt energized to train even harder for my track team. I felt good and it was all thanks to having a boyfriend.
The semester blew by quickly. I found myself spending every night with Max. Outside of school and our sports teams, we spent most moments together. Our rare “fights” were more like scholarly debates. We never seemed to grow tired of each other. It was a honeymoon feeling that never went away and that was A-Ok with me. As summer break drew closer and closer, I started to question what that meant for our relationship. Would we do long distance? Would we break up? I thought, “Surely, we won’t break up. There are absolutely no issues with this relationship. Why would we break up?”
I began to feel self-doubt. I didn’t know how I could do without the daily affection. Before our relationship, I was alone and I felt miserable. I cried nearly every day. I skipped class constantly. I would stay awake journalling until 3 o’clock in the morning and then sleep until 2 o’clock in the afternoon. I felt guilty for missing my courses but I hated myself too much to do anything about it. I was a sinking ship and the only person who had a clue was my roommate. Needlesstosay, my parents were shocked when they saw my transcripts. I had withdrawn from two courses and almost failed the other two. This was unacceptable. They warned me that if I could not raise my GPA during the second semester, I would have to return to Atlanta for a year. That was the last thing I wanted to happen.
I thought it only reasonable that I try to push my relationship to the next level with Max. That way, we would definitely survive the summer apart and I would feel confident enough in myself to withstand a summer alone. That April night, my mind scrambled on how to tell Max that I love him. I did not know how he felt about me and, to be honest, I am not sure that I really knew how I felt about him either. But I needed to do this. I needed to do this so I could be okay.
I could hear him falling into a deeper sleep and time was running out. I gave him a gentle nudge. “Max?” He gave me a warm squeeze and sleepily replied, “Mhm?” I felt stricken with a silent panic. What am I thinking? What if he doesn’t feel the same way? What if I don’t really feel this way to begin with? And then I remembered that summer was coming. Summer was coming and I was going to be alone. I had to do this. I took a deep breath and mumbled a shaky, “I love you.” Immediately I knew that it was a bad idea. I threw my hands over my face, prepared for the inevitable blow.
After a minute of reflective silence, Max gave me another squeeze. “I am really honored that you love me, but I do not feel the same way at this time.” There was another moment of silence and another squeeze, “But that doesn’t mean that I will never love you. I just need more time.” I said, “Okay” and he fell back asleep. I stayed awake cursing myself for being so juvenile.
That next afternoon, he came to Bryn Mawr to talk to me. We sat out on comfy, red lounge chairs on the stone patio of Rhodes Hall. It overlooked the duck pond, an expansive green, and blooming cherry blossom trees. The sun felt nice on the back of my neck. The dining hall was serving mexican food for lunch. It was a perfect day and I felt perfectly ashamed of myself. I wanted to throw that embarrassing moment deep into the back of my mind, never to be found again.
Max held my hand when he told me that he would never love me. I remember the words swirling around my head for a long minute before I could really grasp what he was saying. I thought to myself, “How do I react to this kind of statement? What do I think of it? How do I feel? I don’t know how I feel. I don’t know what is going to happen.” I began to cry. I tried to back peddle on my words from the night before. “When I said that I love you last night, I didn’t mean that I am in love with you. I just meant that I really care about you and love you like that. You know?” He stayed firm. “I don’t love you. I’m sorry.”
I felt confused. If he knew that he would never love me, why would he continue to date me? Why would he continue, what I considered to be, a very intimate relationship? He explained to me that love is the commitment to do anything for your lover, no matter the cost. That whomever he ends up loving one day will be someone who he feels a fiery, intense passion for and sorry, but that just wasn’t me. Honestly, I really couldn’t blame him. We had a really lovely, simpatico relationship, but he knew that there was something even better out there for him. Why settle for less?
As for me, why was I pushing love to augment a relationship that was just fine as it was? I felt that if someone else loved me, if my boyfriend loved me, I could learn to love myself. I needed someone else’s permission to love, motivate, and trust myself. I depended on the affection of others to be successful and it destroyed my academic ambitions at this college.
It took me a couple of days to get over it, but Max and I continued to date happily throughout the rest of the semester. When summer break rolled around, we agreed to discontinue our monogamous relationship but to stay close friends. I did not raise my GPA enough by my parents’ terms to return to Philadelphia. That time was followed by a tumultuous year of other codependent relationships, failed academic dreams, and growing mental health challenges. By spring time that next year, I found myself involuntarily admitted into a psychiatric hospital for five painfully long days. After discharge, I was moved into a residential treatment mental health care facility for five more months.
At the treatment center, I discovered the meaning of “self-love.” I found confidence in myself without depending on the affection of others. I began to truly understand that I am not defined by the actions or words of others, but by how I choose to perceive myself in the most challenging of situations. Instead of waiting for others to treat me with compliments and cuddles, I treat myself with delicious Vietnamese phō noodle soup, working out, drawing, and eating raw brownie batter. I celebrate every victory no matter how small. It has really made a difference in how I feel about myself and how I behave toward others now. For the first time in my life, I have been able to advocate for myself and end relationships that I know are unhealthy for me.
I am currently single and while I do enjoy to go on occasional dates, I do not need a boyfriend to feel good. I feel good on my own. Relationships are no longer a way to gain confidence, but instead an opportunity to develop a meaningful, heartfelt connection with another self-loving human being. They do not define anything about me and it is fucking great.
These days, I sometimes choose to kick back and relax by whipping together a bowl of dark chocolate raw brownie batter (brand name because I love myself) and dig in while I read my journal entries from that week in April freshman year. I laugh at my over dramatic sentences, my poor handwriting and my longing to have sex with Jake Gyllenhaal. That is really all that I can do. That is all that I need to do.