My chest tightened as I stepped into the library lobby. Would she show up? She had said she would, but there was only a few minutes before… I saw her across the lobby.
She looked up and smiled. I smiled back and we both walked into the library.
I’d met this girl (I’ll call her “Diana”) two years before at a three-week program called CRAM. Taylor University let students take condensed classes on campus during CRAM, to get a feel for the school and hopefully consider attending.
I had enjoyed spending time with Diana during CRAM. She was beautiful, funny, and there was clearly even more to her. When we talked, I knew I was with someone who knew her own mind, and it was an intelligent one.
For the first time, I fell for someone immediately.
Since then, I had done almost nothing to get closer to Diana. We had both decided to attend Taylor, sat across from each other in some classes, so I knew lots of little things about her. But until now I had never tried to spend time with her alone and talk.
It wasn’t a date. I had simply asked her if she wanted to hang out. But I was hoping this would help me build to something stronger.
We found a study room on the library’s second floor and talked. We talked about class projects, about finals, about her major, about her hometown and summer plans.
But throughout our talk, there was something odd. I said all the right things, but I wasn’t really paying attention to her most of the time. When I was paying attention, somehow it hurt. I was seeing that she was human, she had quirks. She wasn’t this divine figure I’d imagined.
I remembered a line from T.H. White’s book “The Ill-Made Knight,” in which Sir Lancelot meets Guinevere:
“He did not notice anything particular about her, because his mind was filled with previous pictures which he had made for himself. There was no room for pictures of what she was really like.”
This parody of a discussion went on for over an hour. Occasionally Diana would say something I thought I could discuss in a deeper way, but I never did.
Finally, we ran out of words. We sat there, looking around idly. Diana tapped her fingers on the table.
“So after two semesters, how do you like Taylor?” I asked.
“Well, actually I’m transferring,” she said.
I asked where and why and she told me the details. I mumbled something about how I was sorry to hear that and I wished I’d done a better job of staying in touch with her. Diana commented that she hadn’t stayed in touch with me after CRAM very well either.
We agreed to email each other occasionally. Then we left, I held the door open for her.
Diana headed off to her dormitory, I walked in the opposite direction. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I needed to move.
I wasn’t sure how I felt as I walked. I wasn’t crying. I wasn’t even angry at Diana -- at least not yet.
I was angry with myself.
I realized what had happened, of course. I had developed a crush around an image of Diana -- my carefully constructed, perfect, totally accommodating image of her based on three weeks at CRAM and minor interactions since then.
If I saw Diana walk by, I could still maintain that image as long as I didn’t see her face.
I’d been in love with a fantasy for two years. How could I have been so stupid?
I passed the football stadium. Someone was playing music over the loudspeakers, a country song about the one that got away. I didn’t even have that basic dignity.
I went through all the symptoms of a break-up -- I got angry and had to force myself not to take it out on others. The rest of that evening I didn’t want to do anything. When I got up the next morning, I had Barry Manilow and other sappy love music playing in my head.
But I hadn’t gone through the necessary pain to feel this way. I hadn’t broken up with Diana, I was breaking up with my image of her.
It’s been a few months since all this happened. I’m still debating when --and maybe if -- I want to try again.
What I do know is every time I feel I’m getting close to a girl again, I’m very careful how I see her.