An unrequited love story
Updated: Nov 16, 2021
I’ve spent nearly three years loving him, I just can’t tell him.
I buried the remnants of my unrequited love last summer. I literally buried it. A three-year-old love letter penned with felt tip and full of confessions I could never verbalize is entombed in a time capsule under a foot of soil in my backyard. Still, the grief that comes with three years of yearning to express my true feelings to one of my closest friends did not lessen in the slightest.
It seems to be a tale as old as time and as commonplace as young adult romance novels. The right person, wrong time trope. The messy love triangle. I wish I could live in one of these cliches. Somehow I feel it would be less painful than what I’m experiencing.
I had known of him, his kindness and talent before I ever met him — no small feat for a school of over 2,000 people. We had mutual friends and shared extracurriculars, and it was too easy to see why everyone admired him. I sat behind him in calculus class and unknowingly, started looking forward to our little exchanges. Relatively simple things, like questioning how I was in the morning or asking me about speech competitions. Even though I was unofficially “involved” with someone else, being around him was contagious. He made my whole day a little brighter, and for a while, I thought I did the same for him.
This giddiness was unusual for me. I’ve always been stubbornly independent, a feminist determined not to let societal expectations of romance distract me from prioritizing my morals and goals. Nevertheless, I found myself entrenched in the overthinking and exhilaration that comes with a new crush.
We exchanged what I thought were flirtatious glances and smiles back and forth across classrooms, and when he asked me about the status of my “unofficial relationship,” my heart skipped a beat. These little glances and brief conversations avalanched into a ball of hope that I kept resorting back to. I closed myself off from other relationships, thinking this one would happen, refusing to let go of our possibility. My “thing” with someone else soon petered out, and my feelings for him grew.
Then, I watched him create a promposal for one of his friends. And I watched them start to date. Bringing out my inner Lara Jean, I wrote a love letter to him, which I then buried in the aforementioned time capsule a year later, mostly to avoid rereading it and reliving my emotions. I promised myself I would give it to him after we graduated college. By then, I would hope I have moved on and am not completely mortified of what my 15-year-old self wrote.
He and his girlfriend have been together for over two years now. The letter and all of my feelings have stayed buried.
As he and I became closer as friends, I could see how happy he was in his relationship. He said she made him a better person, and he didn’t need to tell me how much love he had for her. I could already see it. At first, I selfishly held onto hope that their relationship wouldn’t work out, that he would profess his feelings for me without me having to express mine. That hasn’t happened, and I know it won’t because he is, without a doubt, one of the best people I have known in my 18 years of life. He wouldn’t intentionally cause anyone pain.
Weeks ago, I was supporting him as he experienced one of the biggest accomplishments of his life. All of his friends and family surrounded him, reveling in his modesty and talent. We hugged for a long time. My eyes teared up with untapped joy at his success but also with sadness and regret. As I watched him embrace his girlfriend, I knew I could never confess my affection, at least not for a while. It was at this moment when I realized how miserable I was, loving someone who I could never be with.
He finally was rewarded for his goodness, and I was so proud of him. I knew I wanted nothing more than for him to be happy. And him being happy meant my feelings staying buried. I could not confess everything; it would be selfish for me to complicate his relationship and potentially damage our friendship in the process. I never knew my heart could feel so full yet so empty at the same time.
I didn’t realize how damaging it can be to release three years of longing and hope at once. It feels like I’ve lost someone and that it’s my fault. I’ve never even been in a serious romantic relationship. And yet, I feel I finally understand what love is.
So, the letter remains buried, still set to be unearthed in three to four years. I am now more than 1,000 miles away from him, and hopefully, with distance, I will finally be able to let go. If it was ever meant to be—firstly, I probably should’ve said something—secondly, maybe there’s a time for us in the future. If not, I still count myself lucky to have known him and loved him in whatever way I did and still do.
I know the hollowness in my chest will lessen, and I will find someone else to share my moments with. I have faith that when I meet the next person I’ll love, I will have the strength to leave my affections unburied and unburdened.
Illustration by Nelli Molfenter