This is the newest installment of a column called “Modern Love.” Inspired by the beloved New York Times weekly column of the same name, “Modern Love” shares stories of love in any form. Please submit your story to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com if interested.
An obscure suburb of Indianapolis, during a July so hot that I forgot what not sweating felt like. Not a typical setting for a love story – not even for a summer camp love story – which always seems to happen some place a little more romantic than Zionsville, Ind. Everyone loves summer camp romances, right? I thought so too.
We met when we were campers, awkward preteens with braces and bad haircuts.We reconnected when we were counselors at 17 and 18, by which time we would have liked to deny that those awkward preteens had really been us. (But, in fact, despite our efforts, at 17, we were no further removed from those preteens than we are now from those counselors.)
He played guitar and loved folk music. He had beautiful green eyes. He was well-liked. He was the son of two rabbis.
He was – to my limited, elitist way of thinking – smarter than most of our peers, who were not interested in attending liberal arts colleges and thus obviously lacked intellectual aspirations. Not him, though. He had gotten into Williams! He had turned it down because he was so honest with himself and lacked pretension!
Falling in love with him seemed like a good idea.
We spent most of that summer sneaking glances at each other across the dining hall and sneaking kisses in shady, cobwebby corners of outdoor porches. We kissed and touched each other feverishly, desperately, as if we were running out of time – and we were, because every night had a staff curfew that came too soon, and (why did we have to go and be such a cliché?) the summer too would eventually end.
I bit my tongue so as not to say “I love you.” I tried to close my mind to the question of whether he was doing so too.
I tried to remain in denial about the implications of the relationship we were building.
Our last night at camp, he asked me if it would be a bad idea if he came to visit me at the end of the summer, even though he had decided he couldn’t go off to college in Minnesota with a girlfriend (me) in Pennsylvania.
I said no, it wasn’t a bad idea. We both pretended we didn’t know I was lying.
He went off to college. I spent the end of that summer and the beginning of my senior year trying to forget that I couldn’t forget about him.
When he told me in October, over Skype, that he was in love with me, I was overcome. I thought him loving me was all that I would ever need to be happy.
I made everything in my life about him. I saved my favorite outfits to wear when I was with him, I didn’t eat my favorite foods unless we could do so together, I waited to watch movies I really wanted to see so that I could see them with him. I convinced myself that everything I already loved was related to him.
To say it was unhealthy is a gross understatement.
And in no way was that his fault. It was my way of making him indispensable, making it so that I could not be truly happy without him – which was the only way I could justify the pain of having what had become my entire world elsewhere.
Something I learned, which I refused to believe until after we had broken up but had to believe because it was too painful not to, was that, no matter how much you love someone, it is not worth being miserable.
The fact that he realized that before I did, after we had been dating – but rarely together – for 20 months, even though my brand of misery meant a descent into depression and anxiety that forced me to leave the place that seemed inexplicably to promise me such happiness, is a testament to just how tightly I insisted on squeezing my eyes shut against the truth.
I only ever wrote him one love letter. I sometimes think, when there are no 18 wheelers on Route 2 to barrel through the silence and the cold air smells a little like it did in Minnesota, that if I had sent him fewer texts reporting every detail of my day and had instead written more letters, I might have been a little more able to love him while still having time to spend learning to love the rest of my life.
I am as certain now that I’m better off without him as I was then that nothing was worth being without him, for what that’s worth. When I wake up in the morning and see the sun rising over the mountains, I am able to love this place in a way I never could have when he was all I loved.
I wrote this, more than three years out of the relationship, because I’ve only come to understand it within the past year and a half or so.
I wrote this to stand as a reminder to myself never to let someone else hold more of my happiness than I do.
I wrote this because I’m most myself in my writing.
When I loved him, I forgot how to be myself, and I’m still trying to make up for that.