My junior year of college, I was living in a cute-but-sketchy little apartment just off campus. My friend Anna lived with me, and while I was getting over Derek, she was mourning the loss of a relationship she thought was on its way to marriage.
I don’t know if the fact that we were both going through breakups helped or hindered us, but it was a sweet time for our friendship. Knowing that we each knew what the other was feeling gave us a bit of permission to take the grieving process quite slowly: Anna was there to pick up the pieces when she got home and found me reeling from Derek’s breakup visit; I knew to check on her when I came home from class and found the living room littered with her journal and remnants of a slice of chocolate cake and her Bible opened to the Psalms.
Anna’s ex-boyfriend used to call her in the middle of the night, waking her from a deep sleep and leaving her in tears; Derek never called me again.
My mourning process included going over and over everything that was ever said between us. I relived every moment, significant and minute, in my mind. The conclusion I finally came to was that I couldn’t do it again.
Walking through a parking lot on my way home from class one day, I told God that I wasn’t up to it – that I just didn’t have the energy to love someone, and I didn’t want to take the risk.
That was October.
Over winter break, I went to South Africa to volunteer in an orphanage. While I was there, a boy on my team started spending a lot of time around me. Where I sat at dinner, he sat. Where I played with the children, he played.
“You’re beautiful,” he said one night as I walked toward my room, and I felt an old familiar flutter somewhere between my stomach and my heart.
The night before we flew back to North Carolina, we sat up late talking, and I told him about Derek.
“I’ve just gotten out of a serious relationship, too,” he said. “It’s been pretty painful.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.”
“Don’t be,” he answered. “Things are starting to look up.”
Back home, I returned to my apartment with Anna, and he went back to his school, two hours away. Every night, like clockwork, my phone rang at nine.
“Just checking on you,” he’d say. “How was your day?”
Anna asked if we were dating, and I said I didn’t know.
“Just talking, I think.” But I could feel the fear I’d set up like a wall around my 21-year-old heart start to fall away every time he told me I was beautiful, smart, funny.
Maybe I can do this again, I thought. Maybe.
Three months down the line and the phone calls were still coming. But he had only been to visit once, and two hours is not that far when you love someone.
The conversation had changed, too. The boy I knew in Africa who talked about moving overseas to serve the sick and the hurting had morphed into a frat boy who mostly talked about whose party he’d been to over the weekend.
One night in May, the phone rang as usual. He was distracted. He asked me the same question three times. He was short with me, and it wasn’t the first time.
“What’s the matter?” I asked. “You seem weird.”
“I’m sorry, Faith.” He sounded annoyed. “But I just found out the only girl I’ve ever loved is engaged to someone else.”
I cannot exaggerate the importance of this moment: It was as if a switch had flipped somewhere inside of me. There was no anger, not even any sadness – just a feeling of complete clarity. And at that moment, I knew one thing:
There was more for me than the life I had been living.