When I was 13, I unwittingly learned the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet by heart, simply by reading it so many times. I was obsessed with Shakespeare at the time (I still kind of am), and his tale of life-and-death teen romance was especially alluring to me, a newly minted teenager. I would lean my head out my bedroom window and gaze down at the dull tarmac below, wishing that my own Romeo would materialize there. (He never did.)
I was also reading the Bible a lot around this time. In Mark 10:8, Jesus, talking about marriage, says that “two shall become one flesh.” That idea was terribly romantic to me—that our feelings of existential loneliness could be remedied through love.
These fantasies formed my picture of romantic love for a long time. I went to an all-girls school and had little to no access to boys, so my ideas about them, and about relationships with them, all came from books, TV, and music. When I started having crushes, I was searching for an all-consuming love with a soulmate. I believed with all my heart that one person, and one person only, would be “right” for me, and that person would cure me of loneliness and feelings of being imperfect or incomplete. Is it surprising that I never could find a boy who shared my vision? I always ended up disappointed, and my feelings for the source of that disappointment quickly evaporated.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to work. Love was supposed to be the ultimate. It was supposed to last FOREVER. My disillusionment in the face of the real world, and real boys, led to a years-long crisis of faith. When something you’ve accepted unquestioningly for your whole entire life turns out to be untrue—or just more complicated than you’d been led to believe—it can send you into a tailspin. You start questioning every belief you hold. And if you happen to be a particularly sensitive and stubborn person, that can be devastating.
Because I grew up thinking true love was some fated thing, I couldn’t believe it when someone I had feelings for didn’t have them for me, or at least not the same ones. Rejection—rejections—hit me extra hard, and I blamed myself for every one.
Earlier this year, I was holed up in my room for a few hours, ending things with a boy I thought I really liked. We both knew it was never going to work—we just weren’t on the same wavelength—and yet I had held out hope for way too long. Now, all hope was gone. The story had ended, and not the way I’d wanted it to.
After the whole messy thing was over, my friend Emily came to my dorm room, and I wept on her shoulder. I lay in bed, my eyes sore eyes from crying, exhausted and thirsty, and she fetched me drinks from the kitchen. We stretched out side by side on my bed to watch Twin Peaks. I didn’t want to talk about what had just happened—not yet. I just wanted Emily to be there, and she was, 100 percent. And she got me to laugh, which was the most healing thing anyone could have done at that moment.
It took me an embarrassingly long time to grasp how sad and futile Romeo and Juliet’s love really was. We all know the end of their story, and I don’t want to end up that way. I still don’t know what love is, or it how it works. I’m still continually disappointed, repeatedly heartbroken. But in the wake of every romantic disaster, you know who’s there? Emily. And my other friends. They are constant and true. They relieve my feelings of loneliness, and assure me that I am complete on my own, just the way I am. ♦