I remember my first real heartbreak. I say real because before then, I hadn’t really dated seriously. And by seriously, I mean the deliberate act of getting to know a member of the opposite sex with possible long term implications. It was first year of university. We ran in the same circle. I’d had a crush on him forever and I never ever thought he’d notice me or think about me like that. For those of you who remember, I wasn’t particularly aesthetically pleasing then, haha!
He was nice, I remember. That always struck me about him. In the midst of guys drunk on testosterone and the freedom that came from transitioning from the restrictions of boarding school to free living in Molyko (the neighborhood my university was located in), he had managed somehow to maintain a sense of self possession and basic decency. He lacked the arrogance that was the hallmark of boys from his alma mater. He was gentle, easygoing, full of good humor. He was good-looking in that dark chocolatey kind of way…and you all know I love my 86%. I was a goner.
Anyway, I did everything right. At least I think I did. I made it obvious I was into him without coming on too strong. I found every opportunity I could to be around him…which was relatively easy, we hung in the same group. I laughed at his jokes, engaged him in conversation, made eyes, flirted. My friends knew… heck everyone knew. I’d get teased by my female friends and he by his guy friends. It was awkward in that half sweet, half embarrassing way. Deep down, I didn’t think he’d ever reciprocate. He was (and still is) quite a looker and didn’t lack for girls who would have loved a chance to be the special one.
But then he made a move.
I was ecstatic. He’d made a move towards me. Towards ME! It was like a dream come true. I don’t remember the specifics, but the dynamic changed. We were now an item. And it felt good. Good to have someone – someone I actually liked. I had dreams of how we’d get closer, get to know each other better. Maybe become one of those couples who stuck together through the three years we’d spend at uni. The ones who went to “nights” and parties together. Walked to and from class together whenever they could, maybe coordinate outfits for important occasions. The ones everyone looked and thought “Massa…e remain make them marry…”
I had dreams…
So I was completely blindsided when a week after we became an item, I sat in the moonlight on the stairs of the path that led from our school’s central administrative building towards the campus restaurants, blinking back tears and wondering what the hell had just happened. See, it had started out as a walk in the moonlight (see nice right?!) and we’d sat down to talk. And he’d told me. I’ll not go into what he told me but bottom line he didn’t want to continue our thing. I was stunned. My first instinct had been to question what I had done to make him change his mind. But then, it had been ONE WEEK. I hadn’t even had the chance to do anything. He’d gone into his reasons for ending things. Speaking with a brutal kind of honesty I had not thought possible for someone our age. He had laid himself bare, basically given me ammunition to retaliate against his betrayal if I had wanted to.
I actually till this day still admire his honesty. He surely had known what he was about to do would make him look like the asshole of the century (one week in…who does that?) But he’d known in his heart that the relationship was not what he wanted and he’d said so…as gently as he could, apologizing profusely, hoping I wouldn’t hate him. And I didn’t. I did feel betrayed, used even. But also relieved. Because I knew then even as I know now, that it could have gone another way. See, he could have sat quiet and the next couple of months could have played out like this:
- He could have gotten distant, you know, found reasons not to be around me or talk to me.
- He could have made the time we spent together feel like a chore – an item he had to tick off the to do list of his very busy life.
- He could have stopped trying to get to know me as a person. I could have become uninteresting, just another girl, a nuisance.
- Any comment I made on his behavior would have been turned around to seem like I was demanding too much too soon. Or insecure. Or just nagging. Or just being a bitch.
- He could have openly flirted with other girls or carried on as though there wasn’t a girl in his life who might feel uncomfortable or disrespected.
- He could have made being around him so unbearable I felt like I had no choice but to end things. That way, the responsibility would fall on me and not on him. I’d be the break-uper, not the break-upee
But he didn’t. Instead, he took me out for a walk in the moonlight (and effectively ruined my association of moonlight walks with romance) and told me he didn’t want to continue. And through my hurt, through my confusion and anger, I found respect for him and respect for myself. Because you see, while I sat there in the bright moonlight, the crisp Buea night air filling my nostrils, as I struggled to control the raging emotions inside of me by breathing slowly,I asked myself this question:
“Why should I want to be with a guy who obviously didn’t want to be with me?”
And the answer?
So I told him it was OK. That I understood.
And I really did.
That experience has stayed with me since then (I must have been around 17 or so). And every time I find myself in the aftermath of a failed relationship or any other dynamic that hasn’t worked out, I ask myself if I’d been honest with my feelings. And if the person had been honest with me. And then I ask if that was a situation I should have wanted to stay in.
The answers are not always clear cut. But the simplicity of this guy’s honesty and maturity…which really was ahead of his years for the time, continues till today to inspire me to strive for that kind of simplicity.
So, thank you dark chocolatey, cute, brave and gentle boy from back then.
You taught me a precious life lesson.