Really bad timing

Hopi Hernandez/File

So, for full disclosure, I like a boy.


If “boy” sounds condescending, it’s only because this crush makes me feel distinctly juvenile. I try to talk to him and I’m all elbows and thumbs, falling over myself embarrassed. He’s the first person I’ve really liked in ages, and after months and months of mooning around like an idiot, things seemed to be moving in a direction. We became friends, we kissed once, we’ve gone on dates.

Unfortunately, there’s a big obstacle in the path of this budding romance —  and it’s coming up quick.

We’re both graduating. Paralyzingly soon, might I add. Graduation is less than a month away, and while I’ll be staying here for summer, he’ll be leaving. Plus, there’s the upcoming hectic rush of the ceremony, entertaining of parents, packing up to move, getting in “Berkeley lasts” and spending time with friends to fill those final precious weeks. Neither of us knows where we’ll be in a few months; the timing really couldn’t be worse.

It’s frustrating, but it’s an unwritten law of the universe that the moment you’re getting ready to leave somewhere, you meet someone special. How many pairs of lovers have been separated by carefully laid plans? I imagine that we are not the only people staring down summer, liking someone a lot but feeling uncertain about the future. There’s really no easy answer.

This question is particularly salient because, after finding myself in this exact situation several times, I’ve learned that there are two different ways people typically handle it — and this difference keeps me up at night. This boy and I are very different people, and I believe we are reacting in opposite ways.

The first response could be distilled to the motto, “Enjoy it while it lasts.” This is me. I’m more sense than sensibility. The hopeless romantic in me always jumps headfirst into these ill-fated encounters. A similar situation once landed me in an impossible long-term relationship that ended up not providing the storybook ending I expected (although few relationships do). But it has never not felt worth the pain of separation. While it won’t be eternal, brevity doesn’t make a connection any less real.There’s also a certain rush to a relationship with an expiration date. The certainty of its end allows you to be more honest and genuine, to say and do things you’d be too scared to say normally. You know it’s going to end anyway, so there’s no reason to pretend that you don’t like the person as much as you do, which can be remarkably liberating.

But there’s still the inevitable heartbreak that comes along with it. I’m desperately scared of those people who will self-preserve now to save themselves later, because that decision seems so unnatural to me. I like to let relationships unfold freely. Let’s pretend that we have all the time in the world until we have to say goodbye; we can be senseless, stupid and honest because there’s no real risk. Plans can change, and to uproot feelings from the start feels like pulling a budding plant from your lawn. Perhaps you like your life carefully laid-out, trimmed and ornamental, but mine feels more like a garden buzzing and pulsing with life.

But I can see how that’s selfish. I can see how unreasonable it is for me to insist that people validate me and tell me that I’m worth the inevitable heartache. I understand how wrongheaded it is to assume my mode of operation is the best and that anything else is cowardice.That’s not how people’s feelings and vulnerabilities work. And as I grow, I understand more and more the logic of practicality.

This practicality is at the root of the second response: caution and the inevitable prioritization stemming from this caution. That is a skill, not an impulse. Understanding that you have feelings but resisting the urge to act on them is a strength. It is sensible, rigid at times, but ultimately probably healthy. Taking a path that is guaranteed to hold distraction and heartbreak is not. This “scatter me to the winds” attitude I hold is probably not the picture of emotional well-being or self-care. Being a person with plans is not bad — it’s actually great. It’s understanding yourself and your limitations and allowing yourself only to promise what you have to give. But if you’re a diving in headfirst kind of person, it can be such bummer when those plans don’t include you.

Perhaps you like your life carefully laid-out, trimmed and ornamental, but mine feels more like a garden buzzing and pulsing with life.

I think both responses require strengths in their own way. One needs the strength to open yourself and free-fall without fear, the other asks for the strength to be grounded in who you are and your choices. In my situation, I like him for who he is, so I can’t be sad when that doesn’t change to suit what I want. What he feels is valid, and really, any reason for not wanting to be with someone, even if it’s tough and small, is enough. To reject that would be disrespectful. It so easy to be hurt and bitter, but understanding this has made my disappointment a little easier.

As for the question of what to do, my instinct is still to jump in headfirst. Fuck the consequences. If I had things my way, we would have gotten six weeks of cute texts, waking up together and endorphin-saturated brains. Goodbye would have been sad but survivable, and it would have left a peachy scent of “if only” that I could get hung up on for months to come. We could have had a brief and beautiful fling, one that would leave sweet memories to catch painfully on the edges of future romantic disappointment.

Instead, I will appreciate that I can’t force him to take that stupid, reckless jump with me. I like him for who he is, so I can’t be sad when that doesn’t change. So, I will put on my big-girl pants, shake his hand, sincerely wish him the best of luck and graduate.