THIRD TIME’S THE CHARM

Illustration by Sadie Levine. Brain with eyeballs sits above a teal cartoon rib cage illustration filled with cartoon butterflies. To the right of the brain and rib cage is a neon drawing of a heart, rainbow lines surrounding it. The image's background is a pale robin's egg blue tone.

THIRD TIME’S THE CHARM

At this point, he and I had been out for nearly an hour. For most of that time, we were just talking between ourselves, taking in the summer’s day as we watched the clouds float across the sky. 

Suddenly, he turned his head to look at me, a focused expression on his face. And with that look alone, I knew instantly what was to come.

“I like you,” he says. 

He admits that he’s liked me for a while now, and cites a grocery list of adjectives about me to explain why he does. My eyes light up at his every word, and for a fleeting moment, I’m swept away to cloud nine— when it dawns on me that after his speech, I’m supposed to respond. And just like that, I’m falling, limbs flailing, face contorted in fear, back to Earth. 

He and I had been close friends for over a year, and had been talking every day for months. I couldn’t drive, so he drove me everywhere— even though my house was 15 minutes away from school, and his house, 15 minutes from mine. Despite being the type to only read Instagram captions, he took the time to read all of the books I liked, cover to cover.

He was a nice guy and a good friend. He felt like the type of guy I should date, that any girl should.

I had already gotten the feeling that he liked me, so for weeks I battled between thoughts of whether or not I returned his feelings. Some days, I would commit to the idea of liking him, as if I were buying an expensive pair of shoes. Other days, he would be nothing more than a friend.

After telling me how he felt, a tense silence fell over us. My feelings for him were still very much unsettled. But almost as quickly as my panic set in, I had clarity.

It had become painfully obvious. I was indecisive because I didn’t like him. 

But that wasn’t what I said.

“Yes,” I said, “I think I like you too.”

I had done this same thing before with another guy. We went out to see a movie and afterwards he asked me to be his girlfriend. It didn’t feel completely right then either, but I said yes. The “relationship” ended a few weeks later; our friendship a few weeks after that. 

I tried to piece together what was so wrong with me to have made this mistake not one, but two times.

At first, I chalked it up to indecision and just sheer stupidity. I could never settle on a restaurant to eat at, frequently experienced buyer’s remorse, and needed affirmation on even the most insignificant decisions. 

Surely the problem was me, it had to be- and to a large extent, it was. Even so, I still couldn’t help but feel that something else played a hand in my commitment issues.

In the past, I never had to question my feelings about the guys I had liked— in fact, I probably liked some of them more than I should have. In hindsight, I should have known that doubting my feelings was a huge red flag. But since those guys liked me, it felt like the right thing to do for me to reciprocate. 

As we grow up, we’re instilled with ideas of how our lives should progress and which milestones should occur at which times. 18 is the age that comes before the transition into young adulthood. At 18, you’re reckless; getting in and out of relationships; trying new things. 

I was 18 then and hadn’t passed any of the benchmarks or gone through any of the growing pains typical of eighteen year olds. While most of my friends were living out their teenagehood, I was about to go to university with no life experience whatsoever.

I felt less mature and less interesting than those people my age. Therefore when opportunities came around to whisk me away from my stagnant life to one that was more exciting, I felt obligated to take them. They felt like the types of things I should be doing, even though they weren’t things I genuinely wanted to do.

Ironically, my commitment issues were not rooted in a genuine fear of commitment. Instead, they were the result of my blindly conforming to what society says young people should do and when.

In case you haven’t heard it in a while: it’s okay to be single! Don’t compare the so-called “progress” you’ve made in your life to other people’s, whether that be in dating, in school, in work, with friends. The way you lead your life should be based on your values and ideals, not those of other people. 

Unfortunately, I learned these lessons at the expense of two innocent guys’ feelings. 

As I held hands with this guy I didn’t like, the panic started to sink in again. This path in my life had just begun but I already knew how it would end: with me dealing with the heartbreak of breaking someone else’s heart, and another lost friendship. 

Although next time, I think I know better than to make the same mistake again. Third time’s the charm, right?

HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: Illustration by Sadie Levine

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