I knew my heart was breaking before it did. She grabbed the collar of my sweater; she held my hand; she pulled me in. Our lips touched. Her hand grasped mine tighter. She kissed me harder. I kissed her back. All I wanted was to be with her there, in that moment. When we pulled away, we both smiled.
"I like you," I whispered.
"I like you too," she whispered back.
I looked down at our hands, which were now intertwined on her knee. "What's wrong?" she asked. "Nothing," I said, before pulling her in for another passionate lip-lock.
But I was lying. Everything was wrong. This kiss wasn't the starting point — this kiss was the beginning of the end. Somewhere deep in my heart, I knew that this kiss was good-bye. I wept on the train ride home that night.
That same night, she told me she couldn't be in a relationship (she was just coming out of a long-term one) and that she wasn’t emotionally available. I told her I wanted to keep things open. She told me she wanted to play the field. I told her I supported her and forced a sheepish half smile as she continued to hold my hand.
In a city where ambiguity rules many relationships, all I really wanted was clarity. But in that moment I pushed us further from having any. Instead, I wrapped up hopefulness in a package disguised as openness. I gave her my sunshine and she took it. My heart began to crack in half almost immediately.
A few weeks later, she met someone else. That someone else was a mutual friend of ours. They hit it off and she asked me not to hate her. I said I didn’t, but I did.
In the months that followed, I held on to heartbreak. I held on to that night, that bar, that cool night air, that drink, that conversation, that first kiss — and the second and the third. Before I got on the train that night, she grabbed the green remnants of a ski lift ticket on my zipper. I held on to the memory of that green remnant and that jacket, too. I held on out of spite, hope, and anger; out of regret and resentment. Out of anguish, grief, and sadness. Perhaps out of self-indulgent hopelessness.
Everything came to what felt like an incredibly turbulent end over a matter of days. But I'm not even sure what this "everything" even was. We hadn't been in a relationship, but it had seemed like more than an intense, complicated friendship. Questions overwhelmed me. If it was something more, would I ever be capable of feeling again? Would someone else be capable of feeling that way for me? Should I — could I — have fought for her? Did I give up too easily? Could I and would I move on? And what would moving on mean? Or had I imagined all of it?
In the months that followed, I tried to move on. This involved deleting our emails and our text messages yet frequently visiting her Facebook news feed to see if anything had changed. It meant getting drunk while she and her new boo made out in the bar at a group event we all attended, and it required me to awkwardly converse when we bumped into one another, navigating and surviving in the very small world of the "big city." I tried not to get any of our mutual friends involved and held back when someone said her name and I felt compelled to speak. I did so to protect her feelings and my own.
I deleted all of the dating apps from my phone, then re-downloaded them with a vengeance. I tried to avoid feeling intimacy with another person and turned down dates. I eventually went on dates, but only with immediate skepticism.
I briefly dated someone else but never fully gave up my heart. I dated more people who were just as unavailable as I was because I knew how it would all end — and by knowing the ending, I also knew I could never give my full self and therefore could never be broken. I wanted to be unbreakable.
But we can't be unbreakable. I learned this and I learned that heartbreak is more than a feeling of sadness or disappointment, of anguish or grief. The truth is, heartbreak is, pardon my French, a mo-fo. But in a way, thank goodness for it. Because how else could we measure our capacity for loving another person?
Perhaps heartbreak is about more than moving on. Perhaps heartbreak instead means letting go and forgiving; coming to terms with the risk, the jump, and the fall. Perhaps heartbreak is about accepting a lesson learned.
Perhaps heartbreak can be deduced even more simply: In the end, what does heartbreak mean?
It means it was all worth it.
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