Novel Love

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

This is going to be long (over two pages in Word, size 11, one inch margins, to be exact.) Please bear with me.

I’m 18 years old. Please don’t stop reading here and say, “You have no idea what love is.” I know. High school relationships are almost always shallow, short and stupid. But the circumstances of this one are legitimately different — not in the “we love each other and you just don’t understand!!!” way, but legitimately. This is pretty much going to be the story of my life since the beginning of high school, so like I said…bear with me. I will refer to my significant other as S.

In middle school, S and I didn’t know each other at all. But we both independently decided never to get caught up in high school relationships — psychologists have told both of us that we are especially emotionally mature for our ages. Fast-forward to my sophomore year. I’m in the beginnings of depression (I don’t know it), and he has his first crush. S and I start texting — a lot. He gives me emotional support, and I act as his crush counselor. I also take away a lot of psychological and emotional damage that he’d had for his entire life; they were issues he had never shared before. Eventually, even though I don’t have a crush on him, I badly need him to have a crush on me for some reason. I grudgingly continue to help him with his crushes, but one day everything changes. We’re at a debate tournament. I’ve had a bad round, and I’m crying. He puts his arm around me and wipes my tears off my face ever so gently, even though he has the most muscular, beautiful hands. Not long after this, he tells me his crushes are gone and he’s in love with me. I don’t believe him, because physical contact like that often triggers infatuation, and I tell him as much. We continue talking, and even though I clearly don’t reciprocate his feelings, he is always there for me.

This is about when my depression starts hitting both of us like a sledgehammer. I start needing him more and more, and less of our time is devoted to talking about his problems. Even though he does talk to others, the seeming lack of care from me starts to hurt him. Because my depression is composed of mainly anger, I often end up lashing out at S, but he always forgives me. He says he’ll wait for me, even if I never love him the same way he does. By this point, it’s been about a year, and his feelings for me are completely selfless, which is exactly how love should be. Even though I still don’t love him back, he’s the one part of my world that doesn’t hurt, so I desperately need him. At the end of my junior year, my depression is lifted, and my feelings for him start to grow. They are the same — I only want his wellbeing and would never force him into creating a life with me. We miss each other over the summer, but senior year brings us back together. We have a slightly physical relationship (we kiss, and we do want each other sexually,) but we don’t feel like sex is essential — we decide to wait. At some point here, I truly fall in love with him, but I can never find exactly when it is. I know that when it happened, I didn’t know it. He had been so devoted to me during my depression that I hadn’t seen the layers of hurt under his love. I started to get worried that he didn’t love me as much, because he wasn’t the same person the depressed me knew. He wasn’t always completely patient with me, and he made more mistakes than I remembered because I had taken so much out of him. I still loved him, of course, but I was worried that he was forcing himself to stay with me. Ironically, it was my doubt that eventually led him to love me differently — in December; he told me that even though he still loved me, it wasn’t the all-encompassing devotion it used to be (which came with maturity, I think.) We went on a “break” (I was not very good at the break, to be honest, until we were forcibly separated by the holiday break.) But right before school reopened from the holiday, he decided the break had been long enough and we could start again. We started right from where we left off, which, in hindsight, was a stupid thing to do.

We made it a few weeks before he decided we needed another break, and we would have to break properly this time. In his life, I had officially gone from a defined majority to a plurality; if he had to choose between me and the rest of the world, he wouldn’t be sure of his choice. But now I am in love with him, and I still want us for the long term (we were never “official.”). The break has been off and on for about three months. Though I have had periods where I have been really good about ceasing contact with him, I kept letting myself slide (though far less frequently as of late; it should stop altogether soon.) However, my general maturity and independence are great right now; I can truly say I have healed. I have not let go of the dreams, however, nor do I think I should, as this break is meant to be temporary. The problems, right now, are as follows:

1. One of his friends is struggling with depression deeper than mine. It is taking a lot out of him, and as such, he feels the need to focus on that very much because he can’t bring himself to watch someone else go under the way I almost did. The problem is, she has intense feelings for him that he has made it clear he does not reciprocate, which makes his help less effective. He has promised me she will get professional help, but seeing her consume him, especially after I drained him, is too much. I have started to talk to her [I care about her greatly as well,] so hopefully his load will be reduced and the end of the school year will remedy this problem.
2. He says he feels too many “pulling forces.” The last time I let myself “slide” on the break (a few days ago), I expressed my worry that I will remember the end of my senior year as a time of hurriedly picking up the pieces of my broken heart, when it’s supposed to be poignantly beautiful and happy. So many of the experiences I had been looking forward to for a year are going to be extra painful now…I am not having fun being eighteen, however healthy and stable I might be. For months, now, he has still wanted “us” for the short term, but he wanted the long term too much to mess it up now. On the rare occasions when we did reprise our relationship for a day or two, it was beautiful. “It” is very much still there, and he isn’t denying it. However, I recently told him that I thought it was unhealthy to pretend we don’t feel what we do, and that I would feel wrong and unhappy until we could be in a public, open relationship. This was a bad idea. He still loves me, but I should have realized that every time I actively try to convince him that we’re ready to try again, I only push him away from the immediate idea of us. It got to the point where he realized he doesn’t want us for the short term anymore, though in his words, “it doesn’t mean it’s over. It just means it’s not now.”
3. I’ve forgiven him. I am ready to start over or let go. He has forgiven me, but he is not ready. This other depressed friend of his and I have spun his world around so much that he needs to figure himself out again. For that, he needs time. However, we don’t have time. Graduation is June 10th. I know our love itself will survive college (we may even be on the same campus, but it’s a big school); the question is whether we will still be “in love.” I could live with seeing him as a brother, or a very close friend, but after having felt how extremely connected and compatible we are, it’s hard not to dream.

So my question is actually pretty open ended…how do I deal with all of this, especially in the weeks leading up to graduation?

That’s my novel. Sorry about that.

A: “The love that lasts the longest is the love that is never returned.”
– William Somerset Maugham

Your beautiful, heartfelt descriptions and sensitivity drew me to respond. Both the depth of feeling and nuanced emotions is very clear, and in that clarity I hear the powerful tug and confusion with this love.

There are several features of your description that I would like to feed back to you, because it is emblematic of the nature of many love relationships. Here are the points that evolved for me:

  • You begin under a very intense emotional connection. Yours is a depression, his a crush. You help him – he helps you.
  • A dance (a tango, specifically) begins as he reveals his caring for you, but you don’t reciprocate his feelings.
  • Then you need him and there is a shift from his needs being at the center of the relationship, to yours.
  • Then you are distant, but then fall in love with him at a deeper level because of his caring for you.
  • Then he backs away because you are less needy than when he was there for you.
  • Then a break, then a reconnection, then a break.
  • Enter a third party that has needs similar to yours when you felt the connection to him.

My point is that this relationship has already had several important evolutions and it is simply not done cooking yet. The emotional seesaw and the lack of consistency are very much a part of the growing process of any important relationship. What has not emerged is a sense of balance and consistency. That is partly due to the fact that you are 18, and partly due to the fact that you are at the greatest transition and identity time of your life.

The two of you seem to have developed a very good communication process, which is the true value of any relationship. This creates a win-win situation for both of you. The main problem in any intimate relationship is usually communication, and the two of you have nurtured and helped each other beautifully during these past few years. Whether the relationship grows deeper or not, you have already taught each other the most important skill in a partnership.

I would suggest you lead with your strong points with each other and continue the conversations as long as they are mutually desired and beneficial. See where this takes you, and once you are on campus you may want to find a counselor through the university to help sort through the transition. The relationship has already developed in ways you had not expected, and it is likely to continue to do so. But you have given each a cherished gift by being able to talk and listen to each other’s pain. Perhaps this is the greatest gift we can give each other as human beings.

Dr. Dan

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 May 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). Novel Love. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/05/12/novel-love/