Haven't forgotten my first love
December 28, 2012 1:47 PM   Subscribe

can't forget my early love

I’m grateful for a full life, for friends, love, a happy and lasting marriage, children; yet I remain a bit haunted by what might have been. Decades ago, when I was 16, I met a boy (of 17) at music camp. He went to a rival school in the same area of my school. I was immediately smitten---bells, whistles, fireworks. We were in the same section of the wind ensemble, and, for most of the two-week period we were seated next to each other during the long morning and afternoon sessions. At 16, I was mature and confident. Like most girls at that age, I knew he still had some maturing to do, but I felt I could intuit the man we would become. He seemed to like me; we talked together (sotto voce, very quietly) through all the sessions, and I felt we had begun to know each other well. He was very bright, a star athlete, a leader. One thing: I’m 5’7, and he was just a tiny tad shorter. I thought nothing of this, although I knew it might bother him.

Near the end of the first week, there was a dance. When the first song began, I was standing with girls from my cabin when another boy (tall boy) from my instrument section asked me to dance. I did dance with him, but we parted after one song and I went back to where I had been standing, hoping and expecting that my crush would seek me out. But apparently he had seen me with the other guy, and he had asked a short girl from the French horn section. As far as I knew, she was a stranger to us both. He stayed with her, and since I had no interest in dancing with other boys, I soon went back to my cabin. For the remainder of the days we were at camp, he and that girl were a couple, eating together, spending all their time together. I of course was heartbroken. I continued talking with him, though, as if nothing had happened.

For me it was a profound and lasting attraction. I truly loved that boy. During our senior year at rival schools, I called him and invited him to come with me to a big dance event at my school. It was held on a Thursday eve, and he told me that he had to study for a physics test the next day and couldn't come...I would see him from time to time at various places like a dance hall for teens, but he remained in his group of male friends, and didn't dance, and I didn't want to approach him there. I also saw him at football and basketball games and track meets, where he excelled. My father worried about me, and told me, 'Since he doesn't seem interested in you, you need to think about other boys.' I tried, but I couldn't.

I went to our major state university, a public ivy; he had been planning to go there also, but this school offered him only a tuition scholarship for track, while another state university offered him a full ride, which he took. During my college years I met many nice guys, and married one of them while we were in grad school. But in recent years I have begun to realize that I had been searching for that first love in every guy I met, and that I still search for him; I love him as deeply as I did when first we met.

He was the league champion in his track event, and distinguished himself in that event after college as well. He worked as a geophysicist for the oil companies for a couple of decades, then became a stockbroker.

So, you're probably wondering, what's my question? I just want to know why he didn't reciprocate my feelings, which were so grippingly strong from the outset and which have lasted all my life. He was 'the one who got away'. All the initial signs were good: We talked and laughed together easily, and he seemed to enjoy my company. Some of my friends thought that the height difference really matters to some guys. Although we were young, I thought that I had met the boy I would someday marry. Did he sense my intensity, and did he feel he wasn't ready?

Thanks so very much, and I appreciate any advice you may have.
posted by lloubee to Human Relations (56 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
None of us can answer this question, so... look him up and ask him? Surely that's what the internet is for.

What I can say is that you are idealising an early love that never took off and never faced the real world obstacles true relationships face. I think that is actually more important for you to deal with than this unanswerable question you've been carting around for decades.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:52 PM on December 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

If a budding relationship can be destroyed by something as small as you dancing one song with another guy, or due to a small height difference, then it was too fragile to begin with.

When I've had lasting crushes, it was usually because my crush embodied a quality that I wished I had. I had a crush for many years on a guy due to his carefree attitude toward the world. When I gradually adopted that attitude, my crush on him faded.

You speak repeatedly of his athletic abilities. Do you wish that you were a star athlete? Or that you had his all-around trifecta of being "bright, star athlete, leader"? Perhaps cultivate these qualities within yourself.
posted by cheesecake at 1:56 PM on December 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

Glib answer: it just didn't happen.

There was never a future for you guys that existed in the heavens and then didn't happen. What happened is what happened. You had a magical time, what you thought could happen- didn't. You went on with your life (as he did) and built new things. REAL things. They are what matter.

If you MUST stay fantastical... look at it as you and he were both on journeys and they went in different directions.

(sometimes... if I have been head over heels for someone that hasn't returned the affection, or wasn't ready, I just tell myself that we knew and loved each other very much in a past life, but the love is so strong that we weren't ready for it in this one because of past karma... and then I re-write my online dating profile.)
posted by misspony at 1:58 PM on December 28, 2012 [11 favorites]

"Decades ago..."

That is exactly why it would probably be better for both of you if you put your energy into working through this without involving him.

You've built this up in your mind, for some reason, into something it probably never was.....

Don't contact him....
posted by HuronBob at 1:58 PM on December 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is a very strange question.

Look, teenagers can be stupid, especially about love. Sounds like he saw you dancing with another boy, felt butthurt, and assumed you weren't interested. It happens. Maybe he was scared off by your intensity. Maybe he wasn't really that interested. Maybe he was and was scared. There's no way to tell.

And what's more, it's so far beyond the point that it's kind of silly that you're even wondering about it now--you're happily married! You were young, and thought you'd met "the one" but clearly you were wrong--because you met other ones!

I understand how these things can take on an almost mythic intensity. I still dream about one of my two major high school crushes despite being happily married myself--and despite knowing that, as an adult, he ended up being a fairly unattractive loser. We had a chance, but I said something that he interpreted as me turning him down, so it never happened for us. Does part of me regret it? Well, it was cringingly stupid, in retrospect, but teenagers can be stupid. They have no idea what they're doing, and are flooded with hormones and doubts and insecurity all at once.

You know who I never dream about? My other high school crush who I made out with. What you're holding on to is lost potential, not anything about the relationship specifically. It's one thing to look back on those moments fondly (or even with regret). It's another to never make peace with them, to be convinced that this was some sort of love affair of mythic proportions that makes the very real, lovely man you're married to look small in comparison. Those moments you shared with us are nothing but snippets of a person strung together with hormones and hope. They're not real, in the way your husband, your children, people you loved subsequently, are real.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:58 PM on December 28, 2012 [18 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't intend to boast, but I also was an athlete, a leader, and an award-winning scholar. We had these things in common.
posted by lloubee at 1:59 PM on December 28, 2012

"I just want to know why he didn't reciprocate my feelings, which were so grippingly strong from the outset and which have lasted all my life."

The only person who can answer that question is him. The number of possible answers is endless. Only he could possibly know, if he even had a reason at all.

Since you didn't know him well enough to have the sort of deep lifelong feelings you have, it seems clear to me that what you feel is fantasy. You have feelings for an unreal idealistic image of someone.
posted by 2oh1 at 2:02 PM on December 28, 2012 [22 favorites]

Let me suggest that what you are actually asking in this question is what to do with the wonder and mystery of young love that you remember from this long-ago situation. I think you have a need to explore those feelings, and I'd suggest you do so via art. For example, consider writing or drawing a story where you did get together. It could be very illuminating.
posted by shivohum at 2:05 PM on December 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

"I don't intend to boast, but I also was an athlete, a leader, and an award-winning scholar. We had these things in common."

This is where you get into things.that.are.great.on.paper.

It never translates.

Otherwise we would all just send our CV's off to a dating agency and get perfectly matched to the love of our lives.

The upside to this is that us normal girls could also land George Clooney, if the stars aligned....
posted by misspony at 2:05 PM on December 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

"I felt I could intuit the man we would become"

This seems like quite a bit of back-projecting onto your 16-year-old self. At 16, you probably couldn't intuit the woman you would become, much less the adult anyone else would become. It's not really within the empathic range of a 16-year-old to do that.

What you seem to be driving at is that, by asking the taller boy to dance, you drove your crush into the arms of a shorter girl, and that is why they became a couple for the rest of the summer. Actually, no, even at 16, nobody builds an entire romantic relationship with another person based on having seen the girl they really like doing one dance with someone taller. He chose someone else because he was more attracted to her than to you. This is backed up by the fact that you asked him out later in the year and he turned you down.

It says nothing about your attractiveness that he chose someone else and wasn't attracted enough to you to actually date you. Attraction is not really personal. You either are attracted to someone or you're not. You couldn't help being attracted to him, right? Well, he couldn't help not being attracted to you, though it seemed he liked you well enough as a person.

I have to ask you what you think you are going to resolve by answering this question. I can't tell you if you were or weren't too tall. I can't tell you if he was put off by your intensity, which apparently was considerable. You are talking about something that happened decades ago. You can't go back now and ask your crush to dance instead of the taller boy, and see if it turns out differently.

What you are telling us now is that this boy, who you actually did not know very well, is nevertheless the only man you have ever loved, and that all those in between, one of whom you even married (and you don't indicate whether you are still married to him) have been sort of random and desultory.

Is that what this is about? You don't like the current state of your marriage? Or you're not married any more but feel unable to connect with anyone you meet?

I'll be blunt: you sound like someone who has retreated into her fantasies to avoid engaging with reality for some reason. You write as if you have been in this state since high school. Have you? Or has something changed recently? If something's changed, what brought this on?

You don't seem to see how unrealistic it is to be ruminating about a high school romance decades later. I am the last person to trivialize romance, or trivialize anything that happens in high school or during the teenage years. It's simply that this was a very insubstantial and commonplace event, something that happens to most people and that most people remember for the rest of their lives - but they don't ruminate about it as if it were almost still happening in the present. You are fixating on it as if, by searching through every detail, you'll find the key to your own heart.

I don't think the answer is in this, and I think you need to take a step back and review this with a professional to figure out what it is you really want and how you can get it. I am not one to say "therapy" all the time, but this is very clearly a job for a therapist.
posted by tel3path at 2:08 PM on December 28, 2012 [21 favorites]

I don't know your husband, but on the chance that he struggles with insecurity like I and many other men do, let me tell you how devastated I would be if, for instance, my wife suddenly reached out to a guy from the distant past that she still has feelings like this for.
posted by jbickers at 2:10 PM on December 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

He wasn't your first love. You never loved him because you never knew him. You loved an ideal that you think he may have represented, but odds are very very great that had you gotten to know him, he wouldn't have met the ideal anyway. That is just how real life works.

I would guess something is lacking in your real life that is causing you to focus so intensely on a fantasy. Figure out what is going on in your real life and I suspect the fantasy will resolve itself.
posted by COD at 2:10 PM on December 28, 2012 [46 favorites]

After having a brief connection with this guy over a couple of weeks as a teen, you were obsessing over him and have been stalking him from afar for "decades" and following who he is and what he does.... yes, I think the intensity of your feelings may have been intimidating.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:11 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: @jbickers: My husband is not insecure. Also, you misread the question in that I didn't ask another guy to dance. The other guy asked me.
posted by lloubee at 2:13 PM on December 28, 2012

Why did he go for that other girl? She smelled nice. She had a cute nose. She reminded him of his junior high crush ("the one that got away"). She had red hair. She had larger boobs. She has a great neck. He wanted to make you jealous. He never liked you that much in the first place. She laughed at his jokes and he thought that was adorable. He was still coming to terms with the fact that he is gay and didn't want to break your heart. He thought you weren't interested in him. He thought you were too interested in him. He thought his best friend was interested in you (he wasn't) and, following the bro-code, bowed out. He remembered that he had made some comment to you that was incredibly dorky and embarassing and stupid and lame and he just couldn't look you in the face any more because you probably thought he was an idiot. He didn't like women taller than him. You have wierd teeth. That other gal was Jewish. That other gal wasn't Jewish. He was attracted to her for their shared interested in musical theater. She had that adorable accent. You looked like his mother did when she was younger (ewwwww). You had something wierd in your teeth and it was just gross.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:13 PM on December 28, 2012 [15 favorites]

Response by poster: @Lurgi: :-)). Thanks.
posted by lloubee at 2:16 PM on December 28, 2012

Does your husband know about this guy? It might help dispel all of this if you two have a beer and talk about high school crushes. Because what you "shared" with this guy is pretty normal--as in, most teenagers experience intense, irrational crushes with little basis in reality. Being able to reflect and laugh about this with the man you're married to might help ground you in your real, present world--rather than the realm of fantasy.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:16 PM on December 28, 2012

but I felt I could intuit the man we would become.

Boldface mine, of course. I know it's a typo, but this seems too Freudian a slip to ignore.

He represents the moment in your life when options were infinite and failure impossible. When you are still able to assume, without delusional mental illness, that you will have infinite magic and a perfect, sparkling fireworks partner and you two will walk into rooms backlit by a glowing yellow light and everyone will swivel to admire your Grecian god awesomeness.

It's an intoxicating moment.

It dies at, the latest, at about age 20, so far as I can tell. Or whenever it is you get your first absolutely bitchin', logic-defying hangover, and realize that one day you, too, will die and turn to dust.

You seem to have convinced yourself that you could in fact have had infinite magic IF ONLY this one thing had been different. But you couldn't. Suppose you'd gotten together. He'd smell, and fart, and have idiotic taste in music, and maybe refuse to eat green veg, and you'd gain weight and start getting weird about lotions and do all the other ridonk shit we do as people. And then maybe one day YOU would meet a French Horn player and the angels would sing and you'd have a torrid affair and ruin everyone's lives forever.

Life! It totally bites donkey nuts, but it's all we have.
posted by like_a_friend at 2:20 PM on December 28, 2012 [14 favorites]

Just so you don't think I'm some kind of bitter, cynical bridge troll, I will offer up my own anecdote on the subject of first loves and their fallout. I too thought I met the man I would marry, when I was 16. Sparkles! Glowing! Sotto voce, even! I do, honestly, hand to gob, still remember the moment he first smiled at me, and it still makes my heart flutter a lil' bit.

Due to various forms of adolescent stupidity, we didn't date in high school. But, after college, we reconnected. Two years after that, we got married.

Reader, we were divorced within a year.

The high school fantasy and the meet-cute actually propelled us to get serious faster than was wise; it also made breaking up seem like some kind of god-thwarting horrible sacrilege. We glossed over critical incompatibilities with BUT IT IS WRITTEN. You can only do this for so long. Adult humans don't operate cranked up to 11 the way teenagers do. We're too sleepy.

So, just some stuff to consider as you revisit your little scenario in your mind--try rewriting it that way instead. You might start thinking of it as a bullet dodged.
posted by like_a_friend at 2:36 PM on December 28, 2012 [14 favorites]

So when I read this headline I thought this question would be like, oh, we dated in college and had a wonderful time but then he took a job across the country.

This is going to sound harsh, but you really need to get over this. Stop trying to analyze it. He is not the one who got away because you never had a relationship to begin with. You sat next to each other in band, asked him to hang out a few times and that was it. In high school. Come on.

I know we are all capable of fixating on things but this is just irrational. You are married, and happily, by your own admission, so the reasons why a teenage boy chose to dance with another girl years ago is irrelevant.

The next time these thoughts creep into your head, make a conscious decision not to entertain them any longer. Write them down, call a friend, go for a walk, do something besides obsess over a distant memory.
posted by thank you silence at 2:36 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

"but I felt I could intuit the man we would become.

"Boldface mine, of course. I know it's a typo, but this seems too Freudian a slip to ignore."

I was just going to say this! I spotted it a moment ago and had to check if it was my typo or yours. My eyes came out on stalks!

What do you want to do with your life now? Therapy can help you work towards it.

Before anybody tries to tell you that life inherently sucks... if you work towards your dreams you usually do get them in one form or another. I'm not misty-eyed about self-actualization and living the dream! kind of crapola that pervades our culture, it's just true.
posted by tel3path at 2:36 PM on December 28, 2012

I don't know your husband, but on the chance that he struggles with insecurity like I and many other men do, let me tell you how devastated I would be if, for instance, my wife suddenly reached out to a guy from the distant past that she still has feelings like this for.

If you do decide to reach out your ex-lover, don't worry about your husband's insecurity. Insecurity persists because we defer to it while telling ourselves that we are "protecting others". It's usually only the desperately-craved validation from others that we are protecting.

By letting other people see the reality that, for example, you still have feelings for other men, you are giving them the gift of truth, and the possibility of escaping their insecurity.

Yielding to insecurity in a lover is treating him like a child, and you will soon find that he has lost your respect.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 2:45 PM on December 28, 2012

I don't intend to boast, but I also was an athlete, a leader, and an award-winning scholar.

I think this is interesting. Do you feel that your life or your person has not lived up to that promise of youth? Has life disappointed you, or are you puzzled and confused by how you ended up where and who you are today? Perhaps you wanted to travel and never really did. Perhaps you wanted to be wealthy and are simply doing fine but not amazing.

I think - despite your strong instincts otherwise - that we can safely say your feelings about this having nothing to do with this guy, who you barely knew then, and will have changed in innumerable ways since that time.

So, if you didn't really know the guy, and don't really know the guy now, the question becomes what is it about that time and relationship that haunts you, and continues to fill you with yearning and regret?

Was it a particular emotion you had at the time? A feeling of security? A sense of accomplishment, or deep connection/empathy with someone else? Feelings of confidence, ambition, certainty?

Forgive me, I can only think that an underlying unhappiness or disappointment is driving these feelings around an event that occurred over 20 years ago, that you certainly cannot recall correctly (though perhaps you remember the emotions better than any objective event). If you wish to resolve these feelings and the incomprehension about how and what happened, I think you need to trace these feelings back to their real route.

You do a lot of talking on behalf of this guy in your question, his emotions at the time, the man he would become, how he felt, thought etc. But he is unknowable, and unknown - despite your strong feelings otherwise, this is not about him, at all. It is not his emotions that are plaguing you.

I suggest turning that scrutiny back on yourself. The prospect may make you feel very uncomfortable, and the answers revealed may surprise and perhaps even scare you, but they will be infinitely more rewarding than anything to do with this guy, and a half-remembered Elysian field from adolesence, buffed to a sheen by intervening years, soaked in nostalgia and adult context.
posted by smoke at 3:10 PM on December 28, 2012 [9 favorites]

Please don't reach out to your ex lover. You didn't have an ex lover in this case. It was a guy you talked to and had a crush on at band camp decades ago.

You want to know why he didn't feel for you what you felt for him. What you really should be trying to understand is why you have such strong feelings for a guy you barely knew, decades ago, even though you're now married with children and have a full life.
posted by 2oh1 at 3:13 PM on December 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

So this one time, when you were a kid, you met this guy and hung out with him for a couple weeks but he was never actually interested in dating you but you still totally felt like you knew him really well and were in love with his 'real self' and 'potential man inside' like kids tend to tell themselves and holy fuck you have carried a crazy obsession for him for decades later get therapy or drugs or something that's insane.
posted by jacalata at 3:15 PM on December 28, 2012 [13 favorites]

I was in love when I was 17 with a man who I lived with for 3 years. It didn't work out, and it took me years to get over him. I've since had the pleasure 20 years on, of reconnecting with him on Facebook, and you know what, he's nice, he's somewhat amusing, but seriously, I"m amused by my 17 year old's self taste.

I am lucky enough to have the benefit of reality.

My daughter is 20 and has a massive crush on a guy. She analyses everything he does (in quite complex and adult ways). If nothing ever happens, she may hold a torch for him. Except, it won't be for the real him, the one who snores in the middle of the night, gets upset over bad drivers, and picks his nose when he thinks no-one can see him. It will be her idea of who he is.

And that's where you are. You built the perfect hero, who's grown with you. All these years on, he has had experiences and thoughts and feelings that you can't begin to guess at accurately. Maybe he caused an accident that has left him with a deep seated shame, maybe he never fulfilled his potential, maybe he went into some high finance career and it changed his principles (that you never knew in the first place) so that you wouldn't like him.

The boy/man you can't stop thinking of never existed. I suggest you rename him. Don't call him by the name of this child. He's your dream lover. He has all the characters of an impossible Prince Charming because he doesn't exist. If you can accept the idea of him is an amalgam of the best in men, with the extrapolated face of a 16 you once knew, then you can fantasise about him without guilt or fear, like me having the hots for George Clooney or Hugh Jackman. I don't know anything more about these men really, than what their faces look like, and the fantasy men they project.

That's what you need to accept. Your dream lover borrowed his face, not his personality or self. There's no connection between what you feel and the actual person.
posted by b33j at 3:15 PM on December 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

This really makes no sense. You didn't know this person then, you don't know him now, and though remembering the excitement you felt about meeting someone you found so attractive when you were just exploring the possibilities of romance is marvelous, framing this as your still being in love with him just doesn't seem useful or healthy or rational.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:18 PM on December 28, 2012 [11 favorites]

I owned a car right out of high school that I really liked. After 2-3 years, I had to sell it. It took me well over a decade to get over that. It. was. just. a. car.

Moral: the human tendency to idealize something that we lost or never quite had a handle on, especially from a youthful period, and ascribe all sorts of hopes and dreams to that Thing (or person) - I'd say it's etched into our reptile brains, except that I don't see lizards mooning over other lizards.

There's really nothing to see here, and you need to move along.
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:18 PM on December 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

By letting other people see the reality that, for example, you still have feelings for other men, you are giving them the gift of truth, and the possibility of escaping their insecurity.

Or maybe being crushed by it. I read a speech like this in The Wild Duck. It didn't turn out well for the Norwegians.

I just want to know why he didn't reciprocate my feelings, which were so grippingly strong from the outset and which have lasted all my life.

There's no way for any of us to answer this question. For all I know, 23skidoo may be right. The real trouble is that you've kept this fantasy around for so long. b33j is on the right track here. So is PhoBWanKenobi.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:20 PM on December 28, 2012

People are too harsh. I don't think it's uncommon to pine for somebody from your youth whom you saw great potential in but never had the chance to actually measure against reality.

This reminds me a little of the James Joyce story "The Dead" where the middle aged protagonist discovers his wife is still pining over a boy she loved as a teenager. There's a reason this story comes up so often in classical literature, because it touches a universal note.

We live in a cynical age that tags that kind of romantic idealism as "creepy," but that doesn't mean people don't still experience those sorts of feelings and they aren't a common part of the human experience. Your feelings are perfectly valid and normal and please do not beat yourself up over them. Feelings of love often have little to do with the objective reality of whatever person or situation inspires them.

While acknowledging the validity of your feelings, you also need to recognize that it is unhealthy to think they account for the full truth. I agree with others that this is all about the fact that you never got him. People will say that he would have never been as perfect as your idealization, but I'll go a step further. Even if he WERE that perfect and you had a relationship with him that ended, I am confident you wouldn't be pining over him now. There is something about actually *having* an experience, regardless of its quality, that loosens its grip on your imagination and heart. There is probably some complex, scientific reason behind it related to how we process memories and emotions.

I had an epic crush once too, and what finally rid me of it was getting involved with another crush and seeing what a disappointment he was. Once I had that experience, I stopped developing intense crushes altogether. Up until then I had never dated a guy I had really crushed on from afar, so I could always tell myself "if only I was with one of those guys I would feel that much stronger." Nope. Maybe you should try the same, assuming you're no longer married.
posted by timsneezed at 3:40 PM on December 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

You, as an adult with a partner and children, are obsessing over the idealized memory of a teenager with whom you feel you had a special connection about 20 years ago. This is not particularly healthy.
posted by elizardbits at 4:00 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can see a 16 year old believing that that can intuit how a boy they are sitting beside, that they just met, will grow and feel some sort of deep personal connection and decide it's mutual and the angel choir starts singing. I do not understand how a 36 year old could look back on that memory and still believe it as deeply as they did as a child.

You are asking this question because something is amiss in your world, but that something is not that this 16 year old boy didn't ask you to dance.
posted by Dynex at 4:08 PM on December 28, 2012 [13 favorites]

Are you obsessed with this because you feel you made a mistake or thwarted fate? Even if you hadn't danced with that other guy, he may well have still chosen the french horn player over you.
posted by salvia at 4:16 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Iloubee, you could certainly channel this energy into writing romance stories. This story is universal and you've written it with a heck of a lot of dramatic flair. There's a market for this stuff, too. Just make sure that the dude doesn't sparkle in the sunlight and that the female lead ends up empowered in the end to follow her own path because the world needs more strong women and fewer vampires.
posted by Skwirl at 4:17 PM on December 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

A lot of replies here seem really unduly harsh and judgmental. It's fine. Seems that many similar stories are told in some pretty famous works of literature - not being able to get over someone from the past - so it can't be all that uncommon or unrelatable. I mean isn't that kind of what happened to Gatsby. If you were escaping into fantasy over like Lord of the Rings or Batman or Battlestar Galactica about 95% of respondents on the internet would be like, no problem. It is what it is.
posted by citron at 4:23 PM on December 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's normal to feel this way I think. These things happen. I don't think any of us can tell you why he didn't reciprocate your feelings, and maybe he wouldn't even know himself if you asked him now. Time, memory, self-awareness... they're tricky things.
One film that understands this stuff is Tempting Heart (imdb). It's an Asian film but its story is pretty universal, and its themes are similar to the ones you seem to be dwelling on now. I'm not sure if it will help you to watch it, but you could check it out.
posted by aielen at 4:29 PM on December 28, 2012

Somewhere in my mind's eye, my former love is still dancing on the beach in Africa, long-limbed, black hair flying, with skin so pale and delicate that I could see tiny blue veins through it. We're still walking through the streets of the old port town, holding hands, the setting sun drenching everything in honey-colored light. It's OK to have those thoughts occasionally, I think. They are mine and I don't have to feel guilty over them or share them with anyone that they might hurt. But ultimately? Whatever I did wrong, and whatever perfection I assigned to her, she went away. She found several someone elses she liked more than me, and the flickering memory of her from decades ago has nothing to offer me today. That person I loved so much, though an older version of her is alive somewhere, no longer exists. And neither does your 17 year old boy.
posted by 1adam12 at 4:41 PM on December 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you were escaping into fantasy over like Lord of the Rings or Batman or Battlestar Galactica about 95% of respondents on the internet would be like, no problem. It is what it is.

The difference is that the OP doesn't know this is fantasy, is upset due to this belief, and (if she acted on it) could screw up her life.

Sure, the question wasn't "should I try to get together with him?" But still. Suppose the question had been "Every night when I go out on the roof, I think back to when a boy at band camp gave me the power to fly. Why did he do that?" A majority of comments would be like "You can't fly! Are you crazy?? DON'T JUMP!"
posted by salvia at 4:46 PM on December 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

What's unhealthy is not so much that you have this fantasy, but that you seem not fully aware that it is fantasy. That you are asking us why this boy didn't date you, as if we could ever have more insight into that than you do, suggests that you've taken a step through the looking glass a little bit.

I am not interested in accusing you of being nutz; I actually think too many people use reality as a crutch so they don't have to deal with their fantasies. You, instead, are using your fantasies as a crutch when you should be ferreting out your true desires and working to make them reality (and not by digging this guy up on Facebook or something, okay, just leave him in your past where he belongs).

I also think it's better to have strong feelings and try to find a way of dealing with them than just to sit on them and spend your time on productive stuff like planning your funeral. Just, you're asking for answers to this question when what you need to be doing is figuring out your actual question and finding answers to that. One of these things is attainable and fulfilling and the other one isn't.
posted by tel3path at 4:52 PM on December 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

I promise you, if lloubee was saying, "I will always love Boromir, I have loved Boromir for twenty years!" I would also suggest that those thoughts might be redirected into more productive channels.

Recognizing the value and resonance of the feelings of attraction and excitement and love you felt for someone you knew slightly and briefly twenty years ago is great and all, but being stuck there isn't useful.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:02 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are so many paths we can take in our lives, and there's no "one path" that is the Ultimate Perfect one. There's almost definitely no way you will ever know what he was thinking, short of looking him up on Facebook and asking him, which would be extremely creepy and off-putting and would probably not get you anything approaching useful results.

However, I'd say it might be worth it to look him up on Facebook (or elsewhere on the internet) just to get an idea of what Present Him is like. Not to contact him. It's always possible, maybe even likely, that his life didn't take the path you envisioned. Maybe a family member passed away or grew gravely ill, he had to care for the family member, and it derailed his career plans. Maybe he became heavily religious (or, if you are/were religious at the time, maybe he's not anymore). Maybe he married someone who is absolutely nothing like you in any way at all and they are deliriously happy and have kids and a house with the white picket fence and two dogs. I don't say this to make you feel bad about yourself, but I think that if you understood something about what Present Him was like, it'd bring you some closure about Past Him. It did for me.
posted by agress at 5:05 PM on December 28, 2012

Also, in great works of literature, when people are constantly thinking with intense love of someone they barely knew---that isn't portrayed as a good thing once you get out of the Middle Ages. Death in Venice is a cautionary tale, not a how-to manual.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:06 PM on December 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

"I had been searching for that first love in every guy I met, and that I still search for him"
Well everybody somehow does. My guess is that you would be very disappointed if you were ever to met this guy again.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 5:09 PM on December 28, 2012

Your story is so poetic and beautiful, I love how people are described by their instruments. Everyone has a need for fantasy and dreams, and I feel the people here who are very judgmental are not honest about their own dreams.
I live in a small city with a cultural attitude that means no one gets to not see each other for decades. I had a crush very, very similar to yours at 16, and decades on, but we saw each other regularly at social events and still do, and sometimes he would try to get together, and sometimes I would, but it would never fit. And I guess that is because it was a dream. At this point, my feeling is: we both know someone out there thinks we are the best. When we argue with our current spouses or fail at work, there is this ideal lover who still has an ideal image of us. That is nice, and unlike when it was intense and real, I openly admit it to anyone who asks.
But there are other things which are far more important at this stage of my life, like my real family.
posted by mumimor at 6:25 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

A few weeks before I started seeing my future husband, I had a wonderful weekend with another guy. We really meshed and I still think about him and even see him from time to time. The best metaphor I have for that experience is that it's like I had been reading a book that was just perfect for that time in my life. And then, I left the book somewhere, never to be seen again, just when it was starting to get really interesting.

I still wonder how that book would have ended. But I'm really happy with the book I'm currently reading. And even if I did find that book again, this isn't the right time in my life for it. It's like how The Breakfast Club makes sense to high school age kids but not people in their 30s.
posted by kat518 at 9:28 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

bear with me a moment...

Two monks were traveling together, an older monk and a younger monk. They noticed a young woman at the edge of a stream, afraid to cross. The older monk picked her up, carried her across the stream and put her down safely on the other side. The younger monk was astonished, but he didn't say anything until their journey was over. "Why did you carry that woman across the stream? Monks aren't supposed to touch any member of the opposite sex." said the younger monk. The older monk replied "I left her at the edge of the river, are you still carrying her?"

You ostensibly are seeking an answer from us that there is absolutely no possible anyone could accurately answer. A more productive and interesting question might be why an unanswerable question about a trivial event would occupy so much of your thinking decades later. What part of you is not being fed that the thoughts continues to arise?
posted by jcworth at 11:17 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I often find myself attracted to people who remind me of the boy I loved when I was 15. Something in the shape of their hands or the way they walk or a favorite song or something. And it appeals to me because that was the first time I felt those feelings - I joke that I imprinted on him. But it's quite clear to me that the nostalgia is for the feeling, not the guy. It's such a giant windswept moment in a person's life when you first think Oh! It's you! and begin to think they feel the same. But that awakening is in you, not in him.

Some people get lucky and have this amazing first moment of awareness at the same time their object of affection has it about them, but most of us wind up brokenhearted, briefly, because our object of affection imprinted on someone else, and we then go on to lead perfectly happy lives with other people.
posted by judith at 11:58 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

This dance where he paired up with another girl took place "near the end" of the first week of camp. You had a total of about 4 days with him before your dreams of a life happily ever after with him started crashing down. You went to different schools and though you saw him around from time to time, you never approached him and he never approached you. You asked him out once and he turned you down.

At what point in the story did you actually get to know this boy? You had less than 4 days with him before he took to spending all his time with someone else, and that seems to have been the end of any meaningful contact with him. You scarcely knew him. It's not possible to have true love for someone you scarcely knew. It alarms me that you believe yourself to be happily married, but have yet to reach this basic understanding. True love is only possible when you accept a person whole, flaws and all. Meanwhile, this boy occupies a pedestal in your mind - as far as you know, his only flaw was not choosing you.

Maybe he emits deadly farts in his sleep. Maybe he's a bad tipper. Maybe he gets really obnoxious when he drinks. Maybe he thinks Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim. "No," you're thinking, "He would never." And yet you have. no. flippin. clue. who he really is. You don't.

So why didn't he ever reciprocate your feelings? What a strange question...it's as if you believe that the sheer strength of your feelings should have created a force to draw him to you. But they're just your feelings, he probably never had any idea that you felt destined to be with him. He seemed to like you enough to be friendly and nothing more.

You'll be haunted by your fantasy of this boy until you're willing to come down to earth and accept reality. Why are you so invested in keeping a teenage daydream alive? What's missing in your life?
posted by keep it under cover at 12:05 AM on December 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

Due to various forms of adolescent stupidity, we didn't date in high school. But, after college, we reconnected. Two years after that, we got married.

Reader, we were divorced within a year.

As the guy in an uncomfortably similar story, let me assure you that the reason I didn't ask you to the dance doesn't matter. It was a dumb reason then, and now I've forgotten it. What's important now is we aren't 16, and what we thought we knew at 16 we didn't.

Man, I wish someone could have convinced us of that. I hope you can convince yourself of that.
posted by solotoro at 2:40 AM on December 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

If a girl that I talked to at camp when I was 17 called me up 40 years later and asked me why we didn't fall in love, I would tell her I didn't know she liked me (even if that wasn't true) and politely chit-chat and catch up. Afterward, if we had any mutual acquaintances that knew her better, I would ask them if she was doing alright.
posted by benbenson at 5:29 AM on December 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

I mean isn't that kind of what happened to Gatsby

Yes it is. Did you read to the end of the book?

Listen, OP, it's time for some real talk, because I think a big part of yyour problem is the language that you're using to tell yourself this story. Here's what happened. At 16, you met a guy. Like all 16-year-olds, you had crazy hormones coursing through your body all the time. You wanted to fuck this guy. That's ok! Lots of people want to fuck other people, and 16-year-olds want to fuck lots and lots of people. But you were not old enough or mature enough, and didn't have enough sexual experience to process it as simple sexual desire and move on (CF Rushmore - "do you think we're going to fuck?" "That's a pretty crude way to put it." "Not if you've ever done it.") So instead of just saying to yourself "that guy is hot and I'd like to sleep with him," you told yourself that you were in love with him. That's also ok - lots of people do that at that age.

What's less ok is that the intervening years don't seem to have given you any perspective on this. The reason that you haven't felt this way about anyone else since is that you don't have the brain of a 16-year-old anymore. And thank god for that. But if you had dated him you would also have outgrown your 16-year-old brain.

"I wish I had slept with that person" is a super common feeling, and nothing to be ashamed of. But there's nothing to be gained by dressing it up as anything else.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:12 AM on December 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have done something, well, not as seriously delusional as this, but in a similar enough vein that I can say with total confidence: you never knew this person at all.

You have been carrying a torch for a person who doesn't exist outside your own mind. This is painful to digest. Especially given the amount of time. There's a person out there with the name and physical shape of the imaginary-person-in-your-head, but that's where the similarities end. The rest is you feeding a need you have in your own mind.

Trust an internet stranger on this one: there's no there there. You can look the person up if you want; it will not "reconnect" you. I'll only teach you in more-convincing, likely quite embarrassing terms, that there was no connection, no person.

You will need to fill in that mental space with something else, eventually. That will become your new task, when you accept that the "person" was an illusion.

I'm very sorry.
posted by ead at 1:31 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

It seems exceedingly unlikely that any of your story would align very closely with reality if there were a way to compare the two. You've built all of this up as some romantic story in your head, and that's all it is. Look at how you've written this. "Sotto voice?" You've written a short pulp novella here.

There are two movies I'd recommend. One, a documentary, deals with the amazing distortions we can impose on these kinds of memories. Sherman's March. The other deals with the consequences of taking these self-delusions as reality. Young Adult.
posted by cmoj at 1:37 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I just want to know why he didn't reciprocate my feelings

As others have said, no one else can know this. He might not know it, and even if he did, he would probably not tell you if you asked. But I wonder why you need to know at this point. If he was the first in a lasting pattern, then I could understand, but you're married now, so obviously at least one of your love interests did return your feelings. I also wonder, is there an answer that could satisfy you? If you ran into dude's best friend and he told you definitively "you were too tall" or "he wanted a girl less accomplished than he was" or "he simply wasn't attracted to you in that way" would you then be ok? What are you planning to do with the answer, that makes it necessary for you to have it?

I don't think there's any point in people telling you here that you didn't love him or that your intuition was wrong. That's insulting, and I believe both things are possible in theory. If you'd ended up married to him, everyone would say what they say about couples who meet as teenagers - "Aw, they just knew, even at that young age, how sweet, how unusually mature", etc. But that didn't happen. And the whole idea might be laughable to some but it's obviously fairly tragic to you, so better imho to really deal with that loss than to attempt to pretend it was nothing.

And if you just want a stockbroker, well, there's boat-loads of them, and they're just now - or will be soon - getting divorced from those girls they met really young who intuited the great stockbrokers they would become.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:35 PM on December 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: @Destinationunknown: Nope, I never wanted a stockbroker. His choice of a second profession is surprising to those who know him and who knew his Scandinavian-style upbringing. :-). Thanks for your nuanced and sensitive answer.
posted by lloubee at 10:00 AM on December 30, 2012

He didn't want to be with you. It's really that simple. I don't know if you have any significant dating experience, but you should know that just... happens. People are complex. It's hard to say why he didn't want to be with you romantically -- it's impossible for us, and it's very possible even he couldn't tell you. Attraction is hard to figure, and then on top of that, relationship desires are hard to figure.

I'm sorry, but the answer here, I think, is that you aren't going to get an answer. You just need to find a way to move on (and no, an answer won't give you closure -- closure is something you give to yourself).
posted by J. Wilson at 9:52 AM on January 1, 2013

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