• Kate O'Connor

Love and other games

This morning when I logged on to Facebook, it bombarded me with a memory from seven years ago that it thought I might like to share. As I was happily ensconced in a relationship in 2012, the status was (of course) lovey dovey. It got me thinking about that year, and my relationships before and since. Some barely classify as relationships, while others can hardly be contained by the word. And yet they all still linger.

I remember my first crush as clearly as if it were yesterday. His name was Andrew, and he was the local heart throb (as far as 8 year olds go, anyway). When my primary school announced it was holding a Mini Deb Ball, I was thrilled. When they said it was girls invite boys I was terrified but more determined than I'd ever been (or have been since, as it turns out). I rang him immediately and locked him in for my first real dance. It was perfect. My nan made my dress, we danced the waltz, he gave me a corsage. And then someone split someone else's head open with a horse shoe and got blood on my dress and the fairytale was over. The crush endured for some time though. But as all crushes inevitably do, it fizzled out and I moved on.

I was fourteen when I met... him. My first taste of real love (in my young eyes) and quite possibly the one that ruined me for all the rest. And yet I'm not even sure he knew how I felt, or has ever known. He was, as the cliche demands, my brother's best friend. I had braces, was uncertain of boys, and had my first ever panic attack when he asked me to go for a walk with him.

"...haven't got any shoes on..." I mumbled in between otherwise incoherent words, and promptly escaped to my room. Innocent enough. I wasn't even sure what I thought of him before that question. He was an odd boy. Overly excited and way too energetic and why on earth would he even be interested in me? But there was something about his eyes and the easy way he smiled, as though that was the natural expression for his face.

In the way only teenagers know how, I taunted myself with this event and went over it again and again, wondering what it meant, what he meant. A question I doubt he even remembers was the greatest regret of my young teenage heart. In keeping with Murphy's Law, I think it was around about the moment that I said no and ran away that I fell for him. Down the rabbit hole, Alice.

This would've been fine, and I'm sure it all would have ended in good time, if he hadn't been so damn nice to me. In my adult years I've discovered that that is my weakness: a tall man with nice eyes and a crooked yet brilliant smile that is kind to me, yet shows no interest. Sends me into a veritable frenzy. He never asked me for a walk again, or even showed any inclination that he was interested. And the nicer he was the more furiously I poured over our conversations in my head, looking for hidden meaning and hints that maybe I was too dumb to pick up on. Ahh, the dramas of adolescence.

In the years since, I've convinced myself a few times that I was definitely 100% over him. I fell in love, fell out of love, even got engaged (though that is another topic altogether, and requires whiskey to write). But that smile keeps coming back. A mention of his name, just in passing, and I'm 14 again and panicking that I just made a huge mistake. The old thrill comes back, and just like the shine in his eyes it hasn't dulled a bit over the years.

So the puzzle is this: how do you move on from someone who was never yours? It's like a game your heart plays with you. Love someone so unconditionally it hurts, but be too terrified to tell them because the timing has never been right, you've never stood a chance, it's just a silly crush (but it's been 18 years, goddammit!). Over the years I've had all kinds of ideas of how to get past his memory. One of those was to write him a letter. But as my best friend pointed out, it's not wise to send a man who already has a lovely lady in his life a love letter confessing to having had 'the feels' for the better part of two decades.

The part of me that doesn't want to let go insists that the only way I possibly could is if he finally knew, once and for all, how I've felt all these years. But I know that's just the 14 year old Me inside, the awkward girl with braces who still believes in fairytales and knights in shining armour. The 31 year old, slightly cynical Me that has accepted eternal spinsterhood and spends more time with her dogs than actual human beings knows better. Maybe it's trying to hang on to those earlier years, when life was simpler and still held so much promise, before I was jaded by love gone wrong and friendships burned to the ground. Maybe it's fear of being free to wholeheartedly fall in love with someone new. I honestly have no idea. What I do know is this: it's OK to love and still need to let go.

And so here I am, tears in my eyes that threaten to fall between the gaps on my keyboard where they would join the remnants of the cider I spilled last year, and I am ready to let go. At least, I think I am. Who knows, maybe I'm kidding myself. Maybe I'm lying to you, dear reader, which would be a horrible breach of the trust between us. But in this moment I feel that it's true, and it's this moment that I'll keep coming back to when I need reassurance. No braces this time, and with shoes on my feet, I know I'm making the right choice.


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