When my first real crush rejected me at the end of eighth grade, I spent the summer lamenting the cruel hand that fate had dealt me. In melodramatic middle school fashion, I set out on a spiritual voyage after the calamity of my rejection. I channeled Emerson and Thoreau (granted, I was a pudgier transcendentalist) by seeking solace in nature to keep my mind off the one true love of my life—the strawberry blonde girl I would occasionally speak with outside the band room.
In retrospect, I may have fallen a bit too hard and fast for her. However, it began a precedent: forevermore I would see the world through a romantic lens. When my first high school crush began dating another boy, I was crestfallen. This pattern repeated for the next few years with my romantic life mysteriously becoming more interesting at the same rate that my hair was becoming less greasy.
Finally, in junior year of high school, I found her. Her. I understood on an intellectual level that the universe is a mechanical place governed by set natural laws, but I still believed deep down that there was a guiding narrative. And I’d be damned if that narrative didn’t ordain this girl being the one for me. We did everything that high school sweethearts did. From cutesy prom-posals to ice cream dates on the lakeside, from camping on the North Shore of Lake Superior to fancy anniversary dates in Uptown, it was everything 14-year-old me could have dreamed of. I was following the narrative.
High school came to an end, but we were going to stay together forever no matter what. The only wrench in our grand plan came when I got into Yale through the early acceptance program. She then applied to Yale by the regular decision deadline, but in the unwinnable game of college whack-a-mole I then got into Harvard. She would end up choosing a school in the Midwest while I would be going out East. No matter. Distance was not a barrier. After all, I had a playlist that included songs like “Hey There Delilah,” and “A Thousand Miles.” What could go wrong?
My phone became my best friend freshman fall. I’m not anthropomorphizing my phone here as a literary device; it literally was my best friend, my mouthpiece, my direct connection to her. After class I’d take her out of my pocket to talk to her, tell her how my day was going, then stow her away while I whiled away the time before our next conversation. We laughed at other long distance couples’ fallibility. While the infamous Thanksgiving break “Turkey Drop” tore apart the vestiges of the few remaining high school relationships, we remained strong.
As fall turned into winter, the mental illness that she had struggling with all semester worsened. Her health was precarious, and it was clear that she would have to take the spring semester off to do inpatient treatment. While we were both home in Minnesota for winter break, I visited her nearly every day in treatment. We were no longer a regular young couple. She was fighting a life or death battle, and I was there with her through it.
Our calls and texts became more sparse spring semester. She was not allowed to have her phone at the inpatient care center except for very short windows during the day. I cursed myself when I would miss her daily call by two minutes. Despite the infrequency of our contact, I knew we would be together again soon. Rather than working in my senator’s Washington, D.C. office over the summer, I chose to work at his Minneapolis office so I could spend the summer with her.
Three months and eight days, or exactly 100 days. It was nice how the cosmic forces of the universe gave me a nice, round (at least in the base 10 numbering system) number of days to spend with her. One hundred days to pretend to be in high school again. While her mental illness was not conquered, she had progressed immensely. That fall, we both went back to our respective campuses. Sophomore fall largely resembled freshman fall. The previous semester had just been an obstacle to overcome on our quest for everlasting love. Who’s ever heard of a quest story without trials and tribulations? That would be boring. We exchanged “I love you”s and talked of marriage glibly.
That winter break when we saw each other again, something had changed. The enormity of what we had done, what we had created, had caught up with us. Through a series of decisions made over the course of the nearly three years we had been dating, our lives had become thoroughly entangled. We were approaching the point in our college careers where we had to declare our majors. In the many meetings we had with our respective advisors, we had charted out our plans for the future. She would go to medical school to be a psychiatrist. Her alternate plan was to be a clinical psychologist. On the other hand, I was planning on law school, with maybe a few years off in the interim to get some experience. There were too many moving parts to coordinate. How would we ensure my job was in the same city as her med school, and that her residency was in the same city as my law school?
For now, I pushed those thoughts to the back of my head. Before college, I had been a starry-eyed Midwestern boy with a rosy conception of the world. My experience with final clubs, cut-throat networkers, proto-politicians, and the general pretentiousness of Harvard had made me jaded and disillusioned. The one thing I didn’t want to let go of was love.
She was the one who called it off. We had not been talking much the last semester of sophomore spring when she revealed to me that she had feelings for someone else and needed time. I reluctantly accepted a month-long break if we could get back together during the summer. We both arrived back in Minnesota on our anniversary. Just three days later she would finalize the breakup.
I used to think Harvard was an unromantic place. It was a place where some nebulous evil called “hookup culture” prevailed. It was a place where people didn’t pursue serious relationships for fear of weighing down their future careers. It was a place where romance was eschewed in favor of pragmatism. I have been shown wrong.
Since the breakup, I have found love at Harvard. I’ve found love at late-night baking parties with my friends (my pastries were too heavy for some people’s tastes, though.) I’ve found love watching Coen brothers movies with people I met just this summer. I’ve found love reconnecting with people I had previously just known as acquaintances over coffee. I’ve found a lot of love since my phone stopped being my best friend.
“But, Perry,” you say to yourself as you read this, or more likely, “But, male writer whose name I didn’t bother to read, that doesn’t count as romantic love! That’s platonic love and it’s a cheap deus ex machina for your personal narrative.”
Okay, point taken. But, I met my current wonderful girlfriend on Tinder, so take that. Who said romance was dead at Harvard?
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Muramasa 自身による撮影