Typically, most of us don’t remember our Wal-Mart endeavors, especially from two years ago, but I will never forget a particular shopping trip in May of 2017. With a prideful skip in my step, my hair billowed in the breeze blowing from the powerful AC Units above the entrance, greeting me like the movie star I felt like. Most shoppers shoved large baskets down the aisles while I clutched a tiny silver box close to my heart, weaving through the crowds in pursuit of the jewelry section. I was a girl in love, but the ring didn’t quite fit.
September 26th, 2016. That was the day that I met him. I was 17 years old and very insecure; I had fooled myself into believing that no one would just happen to fall in love with me. Love was something that I thought I had to actively seek out for anyone to consider loving me back, and the internet was handing me a magnifying glass in the form of an anime group chat.
That’s where I met Dustin, a boy my age with the sharpest hazel eyes, the most intense brows, the most stunning slicked-up brown hair, the cutest nose, and the most impressive muscles by my standards. Considering our mode of communication, you would assume that I’m describing a drawn character in a profile picture set to bait weeby waifus, but no; Dustin’s looks were the real deal, further proven by his very active Instagram. His good looks were what initially caught my attention, but what motivated me to talk with him was my sister’s encouragement. As a close friend of Dustin’s, she had been hoping to initiate contact between us for months.
So that’s what brought us to September 26th, 2016 in the parking lot of an Albertson’s grocery store. My thumbs flew away at the keyboard, my heart skipping a beat with the vibration of each new message.
At first, Dustin and I spent long hours discussing basic weeb shit. We found out that we liked the same characters, shipped the same pairings, and obsessed over the same genres. Yet, our discussions didn’t always remain so 2-dimensional. Our bond grew deeper within a couple of weeks; it turned out that we could empathize with each other on levels which most people in our lives never seemed to before. We made each other laugh, we comforted one another, we encouraged each other, we made sure that neither one of us went to sleep feeling lonely. When we found out that we only lived 5 hours away from each other, we realized just how possible a relationship could be. On October 10th, Dustin asked me to be his girlfriend, and I said yes.
Looking back, I can’t recall all the details of our relationship. I just remember how everyone in the anime group chat thought we were very cute together, and I remember going throughout my school days with confidence that I was loved. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my behavior was very telling that I didn’t love Dustin for him; I loved him for me. I loved the idea of this online relationship, this fun little secret that I kept between my sister and me. I loved that people thought we were cute together. I loved that Dustin was attractive and he was “mine.” I was so self-absorbed that I didn’t want to accept that anything was wrong with our relationship. I ignored all the red flags, like the long hours Dustin would spend offline, or the warnings I was given that Dustin could be toying with my heart. Yet, my newly found ego was over the moon. I thought, “Dustin loves me. He realizes that he doesn’t need to look at anyone else, because he has me.”
Because, when you are 17 years old and very insecure, you cling to the idea that someone has fallen in love with you, because this idea is empowering. Dopamine flows through your mind and washes away all sound judgement and reasoning. You are in love – not with another, but with yourself, for the first time in a long time. Anything is possible, except that which you hate to hear. Why? Because leaving your “love” behind means that you leave self-love behind – at least, that’s what we fool ourselves into believing. That’s what I fooled myself to believe, until I realized that something more precious than myself was at risk.