To whomever it concerns,
Bittersweet. That was the way my friend Christopher had described it to me as we sat in the middle of New York City. Bryant Park, specifically. He defined what I had been talking about and wondering myself. He asked me why I loved the person I did when it brought me both joy and sadness.
“Something to wallow in,” I said.
I loved him. More than I could say, more than I can even write about now. I thought I had fallen in love before — but not in this way. I’d fall for cities and people.
I’m originally from Los Angeles, but New York City has always been my dream. I graduated college and planned on moving to a different area code. In the middle of June, I landed in Manhattan.
In college, I had one serious relationship. That relationship consumed most of my undergrad years and taught me what I did not want in a relationship or partner. It also brought me the most defining heartbreak I had up until that point — until the following year.
I dated a little, as in by the third date we would fuck then never speak again. It was hard for me to find intimate moments with people I had no attraction to beyond their exterior. It’s also very hard for me to want to continue seeing one person, as I’m easily distracted and have what you may call a terrible case of what if there’s someone better out there? syndrome.
Later in that same year of the disastrous heartbreak with my long-term college boyfriend, I tried to be more open to dating. During that time, I found someone — or rather they found me and everything changed.
I actually had met him before, but unfortunately, we didn’t have much time together; he was only visiting New York. I wouldn’t see him again until the next fall. Unlike most sudden affinities, this did not go away. Immediately after our initial interaction, I realized how much I liked this person. And for the first time in a long time, it wasn’t because I wanted to fill my empty spaces of time with someone. It wasn’t about their appearance, but because of them. Their entirety. It felt too good to be true.
But by the time we started talking frequently again and became physical with one another, I began to realize that I was falling deeply in love with a person who would never feel the same way. By December, I finally admitted the way I had been feeling after too many tequila shots in a bar far away from him.
I was told, “I’m not looking for anything right now.”
He had missed the point completely. My expression of love for him was not to convince him that I should be his girlfriend. In fact, I didn’t even want to be his girlfriend. It was to tell him, “You’re something so important to me and losing you in any way at this point would absolutely tear me apart.” In other words, I can’t stop thinking about you and I don’t even want to try not to and I just want you to know that.
But he didn’t understand, and I’m not mad about it.
I fell madly in love with someone who I can now call one of my dearest friends. I could barely keep eye contact — if he ever looked at me the same time I looked at him I couldn’t linger on for more than ten seconds. I would be swallowed by what was between the two of us.
I felt as though I could be around him forever; never tire of seeing him, hearing him, or feeling him. I still can recall exactly what his hair would smell like after he showered and the way his skin felt in the sun. He was always so warm. And if he walked into the same room as me, the Frank Ocean’s line “Wish we grew up on the same advice and our time was right,” would play in my head.
We graduated from our university and as we separated I left him with a three-page long letter confessing my love. Not because he hadn’t heard it before, but because I wanted him to have it in writing.
Then, I started to look for new cities to live in. I spend the beginning of June in Spain contemplating my future. I then end up across the Atlantic back in the states in New York. I go there to meet up with my possible Brooklyn roommate. I always loved the East Coast, so I figured to try it out for a bit. While I was in the city, the boy who I had fallen so in love with was also there. Perhaps against my better judgement, we decided to meet in Lower Manhattan.
We spent the entire day and then the following evening together. I had never felt so deeply for someone as I looked over my shoulder to him lying in Central Park next to me. He was so close yet so far away. Although everything seemed perfect in that moment I knew as soon as I would
leave the city, it would all be gone.
I’ll never forget our night in Brooklyn, and I’ll return to this memory for the rest of my life. We shared a few drinks, some more of our thoughts on similar interests, and then we walked in Domino Park for most of the evening. It was so warm, around 75 degrees at midnight. The clouds had slowly rolled in from the south and as we looked up at the Williamsburg Bridge and over the water onto the Manhattan skyline. It was beginning to drizzle but we didn’t mind. We continued to walk along the river and share the evening. I remember slowly reaching for his hand as we stood side by side gazing at the traffic. It was the hum on the water that consisted of a few boats and the ferry that takes you back and forth from the city to the quieter streets of Brooklyn. I remember the way he grabbed my hand back and as we started to kiss in the summer rain, my heart swelled and sank even more.
I never wanted it to end. In the separated seconds of pressing our mouths to one another, I felt the sadness of everything when we stopped. As he looked at me and as I saw the lights of Manhattan behind him, I wanted to scream at him, “How can you not feel the same way?”
I mean, we were in New York, it was summer, it was raining, and we were kissing. If this wasn’t enough of a magical package of the best feelings to convince him we should be together, then I knew there was no convincing that could work. It was the way he felt. And although I respected it, I didn’t understand the way he could compartmentalize his feelings and moments with me into categories labeled “platonic.”
A few days later, I left New York. I haven’t seen him since.
But before that, I met with Christopher to have coffee after a morning of suffering a serious hangover. As we sat in Bryant Park, he asked me about this person and the past two nights we spent together. He asked me why I let myself fall in love with someone who showed no real want for me.
I couldn’t explain it. It was like I was addicted to it. I was so in love with him but also okay with the pain it brought me. I knew that no matter what I did or said, I would never be to him what he is to me. Once again he described our latest interaction as “bittersweet” because despite the happiness, it did not come alone. The sadness still lingered as I recalled his words of disbelief for my feelings for him and unreciprocated actions and words of affirmation.
That last night with him in Brooklyn was the closure I needed; he could only give me these small doses of intimacy that were not consistent with the rest of our interactions.
Although I have never stopped loving him, I have finally stopped wishing things would change. He still hinders my ability to want or try to be with other people — that’s not anyone’s fault but mine. I don’t want to see another sunset without him, I don’t want to go back to the city and know he is not there. But I will. It’s the only way I can go on without feeling as if I was carrying a brick on my chest.
I still haven’t spent a full summer in New York, but the days I visited in June felt like an entire summer wrapped up into one. Although I am still in my early 20s and have so much life ahead of me, I can’t help but think I will not feel this way about another person for a long time. As I try to date even now, I subconsciously look for him in other people. I wonder if he is doing okay. I’m not sure if he’ll ever read this, and even if he does I still don’t know if he would fully grasp it. But this was something I wanted to share. An open letter, an opening heart.
I wonder if I open it enough this love will pour out of me as easily at it seeped in. Maybe it’s to share with others that it’s okay to fall in love and be sad about it. Maybe it’s to finally put it in writing. I don’t know. What I do know is that it was all real and it was all on purpose and that’s the best thing I could have asked for.
All photos by Willow Gray.