To The Girl Who’s Always Half-Loved: What Falling In REAL Love Feels Like

The other night, my new boyfriend and I stayed up all night just talking, his hands in mine, his head on my belly. Sometimes, we talk so much we lose track of time: the clock strikes 12, then 2, and before we know it, the sun’s rising.

We talked about picking up and leaving, and where we’d go if we actually could.

“Africa!” I exclaimed.

“Where in Africa?!” he asked. “Cape Town? A gringo and a beautiful Indian girl  ,” he continued, in a half-decent South African accent.

“Ha. Maybe Egypt? I’ve always wanted to go on an African safari…”

“How much do you think all that’d cost?”

“I’ve got a trust fund we could dip into…” We laughed. “I don’t care where we go,” I said. “As long as I’m with you.”

I thought I’d been in love once or twice before, but being with my boyfriend made me realize I’ve usually just been in an intense state of lust. With fuckboys, it was always about sex, every. Damn. Time. Sure, I had a connection with them, but it was just that: a connection, and not a very good one, at that. It was shaky and unpredictable and there was always static and we could hear each other, but we sure as hell didn’t listen.

When you fall in love, it feels like more than just a connection. It’s a living, breathing truth you can’t deny. It’s about friendship. Compassion. Sex, too, but also all this other stuff I’d been neglecting for far too long. It is 100% mutual. It is unconditional. It isn’t more convenient for one than it is for the other. And this person truly feels like the other half of your soul.

I wanted to put into words what falling in love feels like for a few different reasons. One of my readers messaged me the other day telling me she is 27 and has never been in love. Another reader messaged me asking if the back-and-forth she has with a guy who will only text her once a week is love. And, of course, I wanted to remember the feelings as they are happening to me in real time.

I’d like to point out that every relationship is different. But falling in love is one feeling that is uniform across all relationships; when you fall in love, for real for real, this is what it feels like…

Falling in love feels like someone’s picked you up and won’t stop twirling you around.

Falling in love feels like you’re on all the best drugs (but in a totally cool, totally non-toxic sort of way).

Falling in love feels like hearing music in your head all the time, only for once, it isn’t sad songs; it’s airy, acoustic vocals and soft, sweet sounds. It’s “oohs” and “aahs” to a melody your imagination made up just for this one very special occasion, the one of falling in love.

Falling in love feels like an irrepressible urge to cry and laugh and sing all at the same time because you never thought you’d feel this feeling.

Falling in love feels natural and right when it’s real, and you just can’t fight it, no matter what happens to him or you or the state of the world. You two are bound together by everything that makes you, you and him, him. There’s nothing you don’t want to experience by his side.

Because with him, everything is just better.

With him, it’s love.

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The Dark Truth Of Being In A Relationship When You Have Anxiety & Depression

I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression ever since I was a teen, and I’ve been in therapy for almost 10 years now. I’ve taken medicine in the past, but as of right now, therapy twice a week, daily exercise and the support of my family, friends (and new boyfriend) have been my “medicine.”

A few months ago, I began dating someone new. He’s different from the other guys I’ve dated: he’s fun, gentlemanly, kind (but not boring). It is hard (read: close to impossible) to find a guy like him.

It’s been a couple of months now, and he’s seen me at my cloud-nine highs and shit-storm lows. Unlike other guys I’ve dated, he’s well-aware of my mental handicaps and has chosen not to run away. (As for why not, I couldn’t tell you. But if I had to guess, I’d say it’s a combination of A) his otherworldly open-mindedness and B) all the great stuff we’ve got, which is often enough to cancel out the bad stuff).

My whole life, I’ve operated under the false misconception that love would “cure” my anxiety and depression; that they would disappear once I met a guy who, for once, didn’t aggravate it. Fuckboys made me more anxious than ever, and I was convinced they were the purveyors of any anxious feelings I felt.

I’ve learned that though fuckboys did aggravate the anxiety and depression because they weren’t interested in getting to know me beyond surface-level, anxiety and depression don’t just go away with the guy who’s right for you. In fact, with the right guy, your mental disabilities might even be heightened because your depression tells you you don’t deserve a guy like him. I’m learning that anxiety and depression are little monsters you carry around in your pockets at all times, no matter where you are in life or who you’re with, and you constantly have to work to manage them.

Even though I’ve learned  the tools to manage them, at times, my anxiety and depression take complete control of me in my new relationship. I’ve never been with such a great guy, and I don’t know how to handle the feelings that come with it. If you’re anything like me, you end up thinking this person is too good for you and all your stupid shit. You care about this person so much that you don’t want to drag him down into that dark hole you sink into every now and then for reasons you can’t explain (or for absolutely no reason at all other than your hormones).

And so you sabotage the best thing that’s ever happened to you. You start explosive fights, then push him away, and he calls you a cold-hearted bitch: not because he’s a dick, but because you’re too ashamed to admit the extent of your crippling disability.

You have days where you break down on the couch while he holds you and kisses your forehead. You have nights where all you want to do is lie in bed with your headphones in and back towards him because you just “need” to be alone.

My therapist tells me the time during which people like me push away people like him is actually the time we need them most. You know you’re dating the right person, though, if he doesn’t turn you away during this time. He will welcome you and be willing to push through the pain with you because that’s how much he loves you.

I never thought I’d be able to have a functioning relationship because of my mental handicaps. I wrote this post because anyone out there who suffers from anxiety or depression (or both, quite possibly the most harrowing combination to deal with) needs to know that they can, in fact, find love. And not only that, but they can keep it, as long as they are willing to work on themselves while accepting the love they’re being given. Depressed people are often the most compassionate of people, making us kind, warm lovers. We just tend to forget that sometimes.

You will both have to be patient; him, with you, and you, with your demons. But if both partners are willing to be patient – a virtue I am slowly but surely learning to practice on the reg – you’ve got yourself the opportunity to build an incredible life together.

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Where All The “Good” Men (And Women) Are Hiding

I get a lot of questions from my readers asking me where I met the ~awesome~ guy I’m currently dating.

Now, all the good peeps aren’t hiding in one place. There’s no, like, Hot Man Convention (but wouldn’t that be so much easier)? You just have to go to the right places.

I met my guy at a bar in downtown Austin. Normally, I caution against meeting people in bars because all the guys I’ve met in bars in the past just wanted to bang. (Although one guy I met in a bar turned out to be my bang buddy for a solid year and a half. No regrets). But this time, I happened to be alone, with no girlfriends to protect me. I’d like to think one of the reasons he came up to me is because I was just sippin’ on some wine, all by myself, nonchalantly reading a book and enjoying myself. 

What’s the verdict of my successful experiment? Do more stuff alone. You’re less intimidating to men this way. There’s nothing scarier than a good-looking girl gang.

The other day, a woman in her late 20’s told me she isn’t really a “bar person” and also isn’t willing to try online dating. Then, I asked her what her hobbies are. She told me she doesn’t have any hobbies other than getting her nails done with her girlfriends, but after thinking for a little bit, she wrote back that she also likes to travel.

OK. Let’s take a look-see here. She doesn’t go out, is either too lazy (or too proud) to try online dating and has zero hobbies. It’s no wonder to anyone but herself that she’s still single.

PEOPLE. You can’t not be a bar person and not be an online dating person! It doesn’t work that way! How do you expect to meet someone when over 75% of the population goes to bars and uses dating apps to try and find love?

To find love, you’ve either got to be a bar person (extrovert) or an online dating person (introvert). And even better if you’re both a bar person and an online dating person, because you’ve increased your chances of meeting someone by twofold. (Also, the extrovert-introvert hybrid is probably the best possible romantic partner, because you’re pretty much down to do whatever and easy to get along with). 

Back to this not-bar-not-online-dating girl. I suggested she travel alone. Because when I traveled solo to Switzerland, I met a ton of cool new people. Folks flock to lone travelers – especially the local singles.

Now, if you’re not into going out – or just don’t have the stamina to drink like you used to – you could also research hobby groups in your city or try meetup.com. I know they sound kind of lame, but they really are an awesome way to mingle with people that love doing the same stuff you love to do. Isn’t that what you want, anyway? A boyfriend that you don’t have to drag to an indie concert, but that will accompany you gladly because he loves the band as much as or even more than you do?

Remember: We don’t attract who we want. We attract who we are. My guy is more-or-less the male version of me: very active, super outgoing,  flails arms to Chris Brown. 

If you’ve exhausted all the above options, I suggest sucking up your pride and trying online dating. I have a few friends who’ve met some wonderful people on there. Of course, you will need some bomb-ass pics and an interesting bio; something to set you apart from the rest of the horny, lonely souls of the world.

But in regards to how to navigate the Tinder trenches and Bumble beehives, I’ll save that for another day.

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How To Get Out Of The FriendZone

Ah, the dreaded FriendZone. I get a lot of questions from mostly guys during my Snapchat daily advice log (follow me: Sheenybeanz) about how to get out of the FriendZone, so I thought I’d write up a post.

There’s a really good episode of “New Girl” – one of my all-time favorite shows – that deals really well with the FriendZone.

In the episode, Nick does all these mundane life things for his best girl friend, Jess, like taking her to Ikea and building her furniture. But Nick isn’t getting laid for his worthy services because Jess happens to have a boyfriend who isn’t ever around, so Nick is like her surrogate boyfriend, only without the sex benefits. (The show refers to Nick as a “fluffer,” a word I enjoy as much as “fuckboy,” which is the complete opposite of “fluffer.”)

If she’s FriendZoning you, it usually means one of two things you don’t wanna hear: A) she’s either not sexually attracted to you, or B) you’re just too nice (or A because of B). I can’t really help you guys much if she doesn’t think you’re her type, but I can help you if your problem is being too damn nice. (And hey: if your problem is indeed B, by unleashing your inner bad boy, you could even end up making her more sexually attracted to you, ‘cuz that’s usually the way that goes).

Here’s what you’ve got to do to go from FriendZone to potential boyfriend:

Stop being so available to her whenever she needs you. Stop being so nice.

Girls want guys they feel are valuable. What makes something valuable? It’s limited in quantity and everyone wants it.

As seen with the Nick and Jess phenomenon, if you’re there for her all the time, she won’t value you or take you seriously. The next time she asks you to build her something just because you’re around and she knows you’ll jump at the opportunity, say “no.”

See what happens. She’ll get the opportunity to – gasp – miss you for the very first time. Missing leads to longing, which leads to her realizing your value. She’ll realize you’re the friggin’ limited edition.

Don’t be her gay BFF.

If the girl you like tries to vent to you about guy drama/some asshole she likes, politely tell her you’re not interested in talking about that with her. Make it clear you’re not her gay best friend. Stick up for yourself a little! If you’re a dude, you’ve been given balls for a reason. Fuckin’ use ’em.

A boyfriend wouldn’t wanna hear that kind of talk – duh – so do as boyfriends do.

Just… y’know… act like you have a life. 

Dude, you’re awesome. Act like it. Act like you have other girls interested in you (even if you don’t); this will only up your appeal. A little white lie never hurt no one. There’s a reason they say “fake it ’till you make it.”

Escaping the dreaded FriendZone isn’t so much about playing games as it is about being ~sly.~ If you’re not a sly guy, you’ve gotta learn how to be sly. Being sly in this life will not only get you the girl, but it’ll help you with pretty much anything in life, like making a sale to a client, or convincing your parents to help you out financially when you’re down. I can attest to the efficacy of slyness because I’m really good at all of those thangs. Be sly to get what you want.

I can pretty much guarantee you’ll stay out of the FriendZone if you follow these rules to a T. Navigating your way out of the Zone doesn’t necessarily mean being untrue to yourself or changing who you are. At the end of the day, it’s really just about respecting yourself enough to get what (and who!) you want.

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A Letter To Single People Who Feel Extra Lonely On Holidays

Happy Easter, bunnies! I hope you’re all having a wonderful holiday.

Every holiday, I wonder what it would be like to bring someone special home to meet my family. I’ve never brought someone home before; I’ve always wanted to wait until the moment – and person – was just right.

(That’s because I never want my family to get invested in someone that won’t last. Sometimes, I think they want me to be in love more than I do, and if I were to get my heart broken, I wouldn’t want their hearts to break, too).

For the first time in almost a decade, I’m with someone that I could see myself bringing home, because he doesn’t feel “wrong.” My family would LOVE him. I love picturing him in a room with my family. Everyone would have such a blast.

One of my readers is chasing a married woman. One of them keeps getting stood up. One just ended things with her emotionally abusive ex, and one has given up on love entirely.

I’ve been all of you. I know what it’s like to have nothing to say when your family asks “how’s your love life?” (In actuality, you have plenty to say, but you don’t say anything because your love life is too embarrassing to talk about for one of many reasons).

I also know how much it sucks having to hide your hook-ups and break-ups and affairs and almost-relationships from your family. It’s almost like you’re living a double life: your family is your happy, safe place, and your love life is the place where all your dreams go to die.

You are all incredibly courageous. I want to remind you to trust the process. It’s normal not to get it right on the first or third or tenth try. And I bet a million dollars that your family would rather you bring home one special man in ten years, than ten unspecial men in one year.

This Easter, keep the faith. Every “wrong” person you chase is just getting you closer to the right person, because each and every “wrong” person you date teaches you to respect yourself just a little bit more.

The journey is fucking long, but your loving family deserves to meet someone who loves YOU endlessly.

And you will find that person. ❤️

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In Matters Of Dating, Listen To Your Body

Back in the day, I would get all dolled up to meet my “Asshole Of The Week” out at a bar with his friends. I’d skip there, grinning like an idiot with butterflies in my stomach the whole way there, as if what he had to offer me was somehow going to change my world; make me a happier girl.

We’d go back to his place. Sometimes, I’d stay holed up with him for an entire weekend at a time.

Then, poof. Gone. The weekend would end, and so would my short-lived happiness. He’d disappear on me and I wouldn’t hear from him for a week. Wondering where he was, I always felt like the pit of my stomach was going to drop straight out of my body. I felt anxious. Unwanted. A raging cynic and a man-hater. He wasn’t the guy I’d imagined I’d be with; I wasn’t the girl I’d always wanted to be.

This is how it feels to be chasing the wrong person: your body will literally TELL you to get away from him. I didn’t fully realize the significance of the body’s signals until I felt so sick to my stomach that I had to take a break from men for a few months. (And thank God I did, because I’m currently dating someone who’s wonderful. I never thought I’d get here!)

The next time you’re dating, pursuing or sleeping with, I want you to pay attention to the way your body feels.

We over-complicate. It’s simple, really: You’re supposed to feel better after seeing the person you’re dating, not worse.

(I know, it seems like common sense. But the reason great girls keep finding themselves in these shitty situations with these shitty men is because they ignore the signals are bodies are sending them).

I say you should listen to your body rather than your mind is because when we really like someone, our mind twists the truth. It’ll take the signals our body is sending us, regardless of how tummy-twisting they are, and put a rose gold filter over them. Your head’s in the fucking clouds, but your body will never steer you wrong.

There’s a reason that exercise, yoga and meditation can solve almost all of life’s problems: When we are in tune with our bodies, we are in tune with ourselves – and that includes our romantic needs and desires.

When you are with the right person, you will come with butterflies and leave with even more.

The right relationship can be likened to that 80/20 dieting rule we all love so much: at the very least, you should feel happy with this person in your life 80% of the time. That 80% includes the way you feel when you leave him. He doesn’t get to treat you like a queen whenever it’s convenient for him, then disappear on you.


If you feel anxious, insecure and like your stomach is Jell-O, you’re banging the wrong dude. You should feel happy and secure in your relationship even when you aren’t with him.

Never compromise on butterflies. Oh, and if you’re lucky like me, you’ll feel those butterflies a solid 90% of the time.

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Stop Stressing About Finding Love And Start Appreciating Chance Encounters

While planning my solo trip to Switzerland, I booked an eight-day stay in a Bern apartment. I could tell from the AirBnB website that the apartment owner was a beautiful woman, but I wouldn’t learn just how captivating she really was until she’d try to kiss me.

It was summer in Bern. The nighttime air was absolutely perfect. My hostess Lily* and I spent most evenings outside on her balcony, comparing notes from her small town life to my big city life, while staring at an outline of the Swiss Alps in the distance.

Lily was breathtaking. Tall and lean with wavy brown hair and a near-perfect smile, she could’ve been a model, but she chose instead to be a doctor at a local hospital (her lack of vanity drew her to me instantly). She smoked these long, thin cigarettes that said Vogue on them, and she spoke softly, but with a sexy Franco-Swiss accent.

Her 30-something apartment was the kind of apartment I hoped I’d someday be mature enough to maintain: candles lined her bathtub and her fridge, spotless and organized, was stocked with fresh vegetables to cook with. I bragged about her in my emails to friends back home. Everything about her was enviable.

Lily was casually seeing someone. Some weekends, he’d whisk her off to Italy on his boat, and other weekends, he’d take her to the north of France. I’d assumed the whole “fear of commitment” plague was strictly limited to the island of Manhattan; that Lily probably wanted something serious with that guy. But one night on her balcony, she told me otherwise.

“The guys here,” she said, puffing on her Vogue, “they just want to have fun.”

Whereas I usually said that same sentence with an eye roll, she didn’t say it with a drop of contempt. She giggled and played with her toes instead. I wondered if she even knew how beautiful she was.

Lily was fascinated by my life in New York, and even more fascinated by my decision to travel alone to her quaint little town. In her eyes, I was “brave” and “interesting” and “smart” and “sexy.”

It was an honor to be complimented by her. For some reason, when most men called me those same things, I sort of just shrugged it off, almost as if I didn’t feel the compliments were credible. But Lily was so perfect and poised that you’d be inhuman not to fall under her spell, and when she said them, I knew they had to be true.

That night, we split a bottle of wine. We stayed outside for hours and the tipsier we got, the more she had me convinced we were kindred spirits. I’d decided then I was a Lily-in-progress: one day, if I was lucky, I would be even half the woman she was.

With wine flowing through her, Lily began to get a little handsy. She got up out of her chair, stood behind me and crouched down so she was the same height as me sitting. I felt her long, thin fingers run against the back of my ear as she tucked pieces of my hair behind it.

At first, I didn’t think much of her hands in my hair; it felt like a big-sis-little-sis-type gesture. It’s what she did next that surprised me.

After standing over my shoulder for a minute, she settled back into her chair. Her eyes looked lustful and inviting. I smiled at her, and before I could say anything, she leaned in to kiss me.

Startled, I jumped back. “Oh, uhhh, I’m sorry, I…”

“Oh,” she echoed. “No, uh, I’m sorry. I thought you would be alright with it…”

We sat in silence for a minute. She lit another cigarette while I swirled around the wine in my glass. I decided to break the awkwardness.

“You know, I think you’re one of the sexiest people I’ve ever met,” I said, trying not to sound patronizing. “Like, ever. I even tell all my friends back home about you…” She looked down nervously and half-smiled. “…It’s just that I only kiss men.”

Lily took a big gulp of wine. “It’s OK. I understand. I like to kiss men and women. And you, you are… spectacular.”

I wouldn’t have minded kissing her. In fact, I chalk up my aversion to her perfect, pink lips to a knee-jerk reaction. She was spectacular to me, too.

It’s been five months since I last saw Lily, but I still think about her: about her Victorian era-like elegance, about how a woman like her could be single, but not at all jaded, about why someone so irresistibly self-assured would make a move on such a hot mess like me.

Lily, with her idyllic little life and her laissez-faire approach to it, made me feel more significant than most of the schmucks I’ve ever dated. But more than anything, without even knowing it, she taught me there’s little sense in stressing over love: over what could have been or what could still be. Because once in a blue moon, a beautiful person will just show up at your front door – or will be your AirBnB host – and, well, you’ll just have to go with it.

On a night when Lily was with her kind-of-beau in France, I went into her jacket pocket and took a Vogue cigarette for myself. It still kind of smells like her: delicate. Flowery.

I don’t intend on smoking it. I just like to hold it.

*Name has been changed.

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Eat, Pray, Self-Love: How I Found What I Needed At The Top Of A Mountain

“Sheena, you’re not going to Europe alone. Only weirdos go on vacation alone,” my sister said. We were in my mom’s kitchen under the fan, trying to cool off from the obnoxious July heat.

I stopped sipping my tea. “I think you’re forgetting something. I am weird.”

“Oh,” she chuckled. “Right.”

I’d never traveled overseas alone before. But at 25, my twenties had nothing to show for themselves but zero relationships and six or seven-ish flings with fuckboys (I’d stopped counting after the fifth.)

I needed to go find myself, or whatever it is people who vacation solo in foreign countries do. Unlike my more decisive friends, I couldn’t keep a guy for the life of me, and I needed to figure out why. Was it something about me? My journey would have to give me answers.

Three weeks later, I found myself at a shared AirBnB in Bern, the capital of Switzerland. It was just as beautiful as I’d imagined it would be: the people were humble and the chocolate, delectable. If you drove just 30 minutes in any direction, you’d find hip nightlife or quaint countryside.

Mount Neiderhorn was two trains and a bus ride away, and I was gonna hike that bad boy, “Eat, Pray, Love” style. I don’t what I was trying to prove to myself, really. Maybe that I was indeed a “strong, independent woman,” like my last bang buddy once told me I was in an East Village bar.

When the tram dropped me to the foot of the mountain, I didn’t anticipate how lonely I’d feel. Not to mention, local rangers strongly advised against hiking alone. But I was in the best shape of my life – eh, physically, anyway – and I was going to finish what I’d started. The tenacity of my twenties would have to be the thing that outshone all the almost-relationships I’d wished I could erase.

I began to walk. Despite there being a path for hikers, all the signs were in Swiss-German, so if you strayed off the path, you were basically screwed. Being the insatiably curious little devil that I am, I did just that.

A thin barbed wire caught my eye, and I wandered over and found three cows grazing in a contained area behind the wire. Something came over me (perhaps the desire to feel the adrenaline rush I often get from hanging with a fuckboy) and I stepped over the wire.

My adventurous move didn’t make the cows very happy. One of them stopped eating grass, kicked back its heels and began to charge towards me. And just like that, on my “self-discovery” journey, I found myself running away from a disgruntled animal. Sure enough, adrenaline took over; I unlatched my backpack from my back and shielded my front with it, then crawled under the wire and made my escape.

(In those very long 30 seconds, I absolutely could’ve died. It was both the most thrilled (and the most helpless) I’d ever felt. I imagine the scene would’ve unfolded much differently had I been there with a man).

I composed myself and walked some more. About halfway up the mountain, I heard a holler and looked down the path to find a group of kids waving at me. I waved back at them, and before I could find a chance to holler back, they’d started running towards me, their backpacks bouncing up and down.

“What’s your name?” they asked in unison.

“Sheena!” I said.

“Why are you alone?”

I didn’t have an answer prepared, so I just shrugged.

Through their broken English, they told me they were students at a middle school not too far away. I regaled them with stories about my extravagant (albeit lonely) New York life: the PG version of how I was a paid writer that lived in her own apartment and had lots of sex with lots of guys that didn’t deserve her.

I don’t know if they were intrigued by me, felt sorry for me or a little bit of both, but they walked with me for two hours up that mountain, leaving me with just one final hour to myself.

The air grew brisker. People slowly left the path. But sure enough, I eventually made it to the top, which boasted a view of a crystalline-blue river between two mountains.

It was breathtaking. I was so proud of myself that my eyes began to tear up.

I turned to my left.

I turned to my right.

I wanted to tell someone, anyone, about how I evaded near-death just to make it up there.

But there was no one to tell. The moment was so special to me, more special than most of the special moments in my life, that without anyone to share it with, it almost didn’t feel real.

At the top of Mount Neiderhorn, it suddenly occurred to me that even the most “strong, independent woman” of all the women in the world needs to feel loved.

It was like everything I’d learned about life and love up until that point was just a hoax. I thought “strong, independent women” didn’t need no man. Did my being overcome with loneliness make me weak and dependent, or just… human?

(Maybe they tell you the top of a mountain is where you’ll find yourself because you don’t realize how lonely you really are until you’re exhausted, dehydrated and being accompanied by a group of middle schoolers on a mercy walk.)

I posted a selfie on Instagram to quell the loneliness.

Switzerland taught me that “independent” doesn’t necessarily mean “alone;” it just means “strong-willed.” So after years of trying to be strong and independent, and alone and lonely, I’ve accepted my desire for unconditional romantic love: no more fuckboys. From now on, the hunt for a real partner begins – and that, I’ve decided, doesn’t make me any less independent.

Love, though, comes in many forms. So until I find a partner, a group of foreigners falling in love with me on a mountain will just have to do.

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Please Don’t Be Afraid To Tell Him How You Feel

It all started when I was 18. I’d just started my freshman year of college and was elated to be meeting new people. High school was hell, new friends were exactly what I needed, and a boyfriend was the last thing on my mind.

When the day came to choose classes, I chose “Hinduism and Buddhism 101.” It was an easy A, I’d heard. Oh, and I guess I also figured it was time to get in touch with my Indian roots.

That’s where I met Marc.*

Marc was the class clown. He was also a suck-up, the kind everyone rolls their eyes at, and he’d never miss a chance at shooting his hand up to answer a question. Our professor, an eccentric but lovable woman in her fifties, loved him for his eagerness. Well, that made one of us.

I didn’t like Marc at first. He was like the annoying little brother I never had; playful and immature, loud-mouthed and obnoxious, and cute, but in a Leonardo-DiCaprio-in-Titanic kind of way, from the blond bowl haircut to the pretty blue eyes. They were all the reasons I hated him, and they were all the reasons I’d grow to love him.

Marc also lived in my dorm. I’d bump into him while wearing just a bathrobe and brushing my teeth, and even then, he’d think I was beautiful. We were silly together. One time, we were both so drunk I challenged him to unhook my bra with his eyes closed in a room full of people. (He succeeded, and we all took a shot to celebrate).

Six months into our friendship, I began to “like like” Marc. His friend group and mine would frequent campus parties together, and we’d end most nights boozed up and holding hands, and his friends and my friends would make fun of how stupidly giddy we’d become in each other’s presence.

It was at a bar in downtown Atlanta, holding me by the waist and pushing hair out of my face, that he called me his girlfriend. We’d never talked labels, and I remember even my tipsy mind was confused by his choice of words. I was confused and I was dumbfounded. Marc was the first guy that made me feel I was worthy of being loved just the way I was.

I didn’t know what to do with the feeling. So I ran.

Marc’s frat brother, Nate,* sat next to me in English Lit. A week after Marc’s drunken confession, I started flirting with Nate. It was easy enough. He’d call me “beautiful,” I’d bat my eyelashes. He’d offer his help with papers on Odysseus, I’d accept his offers and hang with him in his dorm room. By the following semester, Nate and I were publicly a “thing,” and Marc had a girl of his own.

I wanted to tell Marc everything I was thinking: how I didn’t like Nate, how all I wanted was to be with him, and only him, how I was afraid I’d scare him away because when I love something, I love it so strongly that I forget to love myself.

But it was too late for me, I’d figured. And if it wasn’t too late, my feelings for him couldn’t drown out my relentless fear of being rejected.

I  dropped Nate; being with him only made me feel emptier. I didn’t know it then, but at 18, I’d develop a lifelong habit of keeping my feelings a secret from the one person I’d always want to be honest with most. Again and again, I’d hold back, too scared to take a chance on something that could have been wonderful. Again and again, I’d miss out on love by an inch or two.

I don’t think I ever got over Marc. Occasionally, I still wander over to his Facebook to check up on him. Nothing’s changed much; he’s been dating the same leggy blonde for the past five years or so.

Marc and I met eight years ago, but every guy I’ve been with since him just seems like a lesser version of him. Because all the noise that surrounds me – the noise I so desperately try my best to suppress – tells me he’s still the one for me.

I can’t help but wonder if things would’ve been different if I’d just spoken my truth. Maybe he’d have taken me to his big sister’s wedding instead of the new girl. Maybe I’d have gotten to meet his parents, who’d eventually realize my fears don’t define me and I’m one of a kind. Maybe he and I would be crazy in love, and I never would’ve let all the guys I’ve hooked up with in the past decade treat me as awfully and embarrassingly as they did.

Maybe, maybe, maybe. What a bitch the past ends up being: You can’t change it, but you can only hope that when you meet someone who makes you believe again, it’ll have made you courageous enough to be honest with him. Honest with yourself.

Being honest with yourself, I’ve heard, is the most freeing feeling in the world.

*Name has been changed.

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