By Joseph Jones
When I was a teenager, I lived a lonely life, convinced I would be forever trapped in an endless cycle of attraction, unrequited love, and heartbreak. Many times my desires were repressed by my insecurities, holding me back, for fear that if I acted out on those impulses, I would be rejected for not being gorgeous enough, intelligent enough, funny enough, or interesting enough. Even when I had the courage to make a feeble attempt at flirting with a guy I secretly pined for, it was always an awkward and uncomfortable exchange for both of us.
The images of true love, in both fiction and in reality, to seemed to almost be taunting me. Those images dangled my fantasy life in front of my envious eyes, all while knowing that I may never achieve such a delusion. The closest I had come to the type of passion I longed for was with a “friend with benefits”, which was hardly a fairy tale dream come to life. In fact, it was more like a torturous nightmare, which only fueled the fire of my self-loathing.
My long streak of singledom came to an unexpected end in 2013, when my first date with a man resulted in my first long-term relationship. With my low-expectations defied, I thought perhaps I was wrong; that there was someone designed for me like I always hoped for. Our relationship started off amazing; we had chemistry, he made me laugh, and I felt supported in a way I never had been before. I was happy.
However, I came to a realization which soured my exultation. Although he checked many boxes on my list of traits for the ideal partner, I discovered I was not in love with him. Rather, I found satisfaction in the idea of being in love with him. Our relationship represented the type of love I wanted, a manifestation of my adolescent wishes, but not love. Although his love for me was genuine, mine was manufactured.
Despite knowing I was never going to be completely satisfied with this union, I wore a mask of a content lover, while betraying my beloved with past flames, which still wasn’t enough to spark the fire I needed to burn in my heart. I became more consumed with guilt than fulfillment, and felt compelled to confess my sins and beg for forgiveness.
By admitting my infidelity, whatever bond my boyfriend and I had, no longer was the same. We equally resented each other: him for my repeated offenses of deception, and I for feeling trapped and afraid if I were to leave the first man to actually love me, I would never again recapture the closest form of love I had obtained. It wasn’t long before I was left with no other option and end the relationship and take the change of someday finding my Prince Charming with someone new.
Luckily, my gamble paid off and I met someone who inspired the spirit of love in me with a fervor which my ex failed to do. Every moment felt ethereal, as if it was designed with divinity by forces beyond our control, rearranging time and space itself to ensure our relationship took place. The bond we had was an intense, almost obsessive one, with our unyielding commitment and unconditional love binding us in what we believed to be a synthesis of separate entities which would endure long after our physical bodies had left this plane of existence.
Unfortunately, the sun which shined so brightly on our naiveté, was eclipsed by the moon of madness and the instability inflicting my paramour, casting somber shadows over our relationship. Lacking the strength to lift ourselves out of the abyss we had fallen into, and when my own safety became jeopardized, we fell deeper and deeper with no sign of escaping.
I believed so deeply I had found my soulmate, the one person in the world who understood me more than anyone, who could heal the inner turmoil of self-loathing in my mind, and could inspire me to be a better person. Despite the relationship being rather one-sided, where I was giving more than I was receiving from my partner, there was no limit to what I would have done for him. I was blinded by his beauty and could not look past his flaws to weigh the benefits of staying with him. It was only when the relationship became emotionally and physically abusive that I was able to see clearly the dangers of remaining in this prison of my own design. After this epiphany, I was left with no other option but to break the chains shackling us in codependence.
With the perfect illusion of my relationship shattered; I felt empty, isolated, and hopeless. I continued to worry about my former lover’s health. I was continuing to put his needs ahead of mine by agonizing over whether I abandoned him in a time of dire need. I justified my actions while also simultaneously feeling selfish for doing so. The only comfort I received during this tumultuous time in my life was from the support of friends and family; who agreed with my decision, and whose company made me feel loved.
Since this failure, all of my other attempts to find happiness with another man has come in the form of brief romantic or sexual encounters which always end in disappointment, and back to Grindr. Quickly, I came to realize that trying to find love on Grindr is quite literally like searching for a needle in a haystack. I’m sure my diamond in the rough is hidden in there, somewhere, buried beneath all of the headless bare torsos, faceless profiles, and guys “looking” for cursory casual hookups, which I know would not adequately satisfy the void in my heart.
Due to my lack of success in the dating world, the universe seemed to be throwing sign at me to prioritize my life and stop focusing on relationships. I decided to take the hint, and apply to my dream school to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. I was accepted with a $15,000 scholarship, and after getting a promotion at work;, my life seemed to be going on the right track.
Although everything is going smoothly towards building my career, my love life is still as stagnant as ever. I shifted my concerns from finding the perfect partner, to being the perfect friend for the people in my life who have loved me the way a boyfriend or a husband never has. With those relationships thriving, and working full-time and taking classes, I wouldn’t be able to focus on a relationship even if I wanted. The cynical and jaded attitude I had adopted towards relationships was no longer the sole voice in my head preventing me from chasing after love.
Recently, a friend of mine, who has had equal success as I have, has been seeing someone for a couple of months. During the honeymoon stage, I had doubts on whether they would last, due to his own lackluster track record. But, after watching their relationship blossom, it’s apparent that what they have is a more special and unique bond capable of lasting for a long time. They always say that they fit together like puzzle pieces. They even have matching necklaces: one has a heart with a puzzle piece shaped hole in the middle, while the other has the missing piece to go inside the necklace. It’s so adorable it makes me want to barf.
The puzzle piece metaphor is perfect to symbolize their relationship. Although designed differently, these two separate individuals with different interests and personalities, fit together, like puzzle pieces, to complement one another and help paint a larger picture of love, respect, and understanding. Watching them is like watching those scenes of true love I always aspired to have one day, when I was an awkward teenager who just wanted to be noticed by the cute boy in biology class.
Equally envious and awestruck at my friends’ new found happiness, my frozen heart has begun to melt. Once again, I want to feel the way these two are feeling. I want someone to take goofy pictures with. I want someone to snuggle in bed with. I want someone to laugh on the couch with. I want someone to vent to when I have a bad day. I want my boyfriend to be the first person I call when I’m excited and have wonderful news to share. I want someone to experience every moment in life with, whether those moments are dull and mundane, or magical and spectacular.
Watching as my friends fall more and more in love with each other, I realized all of those failures I have are meaningless. Yes, they have provided me with memories I will never forget, and taught me lessons to carry with me into future relationships, but they are only part of my past and have little influence over my future. My friend and I have been in similar predicaments, where we were hopeless romantics craving intimate, romantic love. Each rejection emboldened us with a sense of disparity towards love which made us give up. What’s the point of running the marathon if you’re going to lose?
If those two could find love, then maybe I can too. With my sense of optimism returned, I have opened myself up to the possibility of love. I can be patient, knowing finding true love takes time and Mr. Right does not always appear when you want him. When the time is right, he will show up, seemingly out of nowhere. He will walk into your life and change it completely. One thing I have learned from this new relationship is that no matter how many times your heart may break, there is always a puzzle piece out there, waiting to put you back together.