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One morning I kissed my first serious boyfriend and said, “I love you.” A week later, he dumped me. For someone else. Worst part? I’d never said those words to anyone else before. But heartbreak happens. You can’t live in fear of it. My first heartbreak came late, not until the age of 21. But it laid the foundation for better relationships.

My senior year of college, that’s when I met him. We fell in love the second our fingers touched, like in the movies. A simple handshake that lasted a little too long. A smile. Coffee. And then dates. We were both English majors, introduced by a professor who liked to play matchmaker. He did a helluva job. We were topless in his dorm a few weeks later.

The guy, I mean. Not my professor.

Fucking pronouns. What can you do?

We spent the night together. A little past dawn, he walked me to my car. We kissed. That’s when I told him. “I love you,” I said. “I’ve never told anyone that before.”

He held my chin. “That’s incredible,” he said. “I love you so much.”

At the time, I thought he was . We liked the same books. Laughed at the same jokes. Rolled our eyes at the same assholes. I felt comfortable around him. We could talk about anything. Plus, he was hot. You know how that goes. I considered myself lucky.

Sure, I’d dated plenty before then. I’d had sex a few times, but I’d never said, “I love you.” It was easier for me to let go of my virginity than to tell someone I loved them. Way easier.

A few days later, the English major invited me to a party. I couldn’t go because of work. While I waited tables, he danced with another girl. A friend from high school. According to him, they locked eyes during a slow song and couldn’t let go of each other. So much for me, I guess.

Some people might say I got my just desserts. I’d kind of wooed him away from another girl. Side note: it took me a little longer to learn that stealing other people’s lovers never works out. If you can steal them, they’re not worth having. Eventually, I saw that. Yay, me.

Part of me knew better. But the dominant part won. The angel on my shoulder said, “Stay away from drama, Jessica.” But the devil on my other whispered, “Fuck that other girl. This guy’s perfect for you. Take what’s yours!”

How perfect, you ask? I’ve already told you he was an English major. Avid reader. A tremendous poet, too.

I know what you’re thinking. “Oh, god. A poet. Gimme a break.” No, a mean a poet. Like someone who actually publishes in journals. Like someone who knows the difference between free verse and iambic pentameter. He knew what dactyls were, okay? And trochees.

I’m getting a little turned on just thinking about him. No, I’m not. I’m just kidding. Really.

But imagine Henry Cavill in a tweed jacket, holding the collected works of Wallace Stevens…

A tweed jacket with elbow patches.

Okay, I’ll stop now.

Anyway, so my once true love met some other girl at a party and fell in love with her. She was a friend of his from high school. Yeah, he fell in love with a friend from high school about a week after falling in love with me. But things got complicated. Because he didn’t exactly tell me the truth.

One night after that party, we went for a walk. I tried to kiss him. And he pushed me away. I asked, “What’s wrong?”

He said, “I’m just feeling strange tonight.”

Hey, he was a poet. They get moody sometimes. At least that’s what I told myself. We kept hanging out. But the physical affection stopped. Finally, after weeks of odd behavior, one of our friends told me he’d started dating someone new.

It wouldn’t be much of a story if I’d cut ties with Henry Cavill then. Oh, no. I stayed “friends” with him for about three more years. After a few months, he dumped the high school friend, and we started seeing each other again. Then he dumped me for my best friend. Even then, we stayed friends.

After a few months, he dumped my best friend and started dating someone new. Each breakup, he came back. I thought this time, for sure, he’d see that we were meant to be together.

My fixation on this guy didn’t help when I tried to date other people. Even when I’d landed another fantastic partner, I couldn’t let go of Henry Cavill. Let’s say I threw a Halloween party with my boyfriend. We would have a great time. Except Henry Cavill would text me halfway through and say, “Okay if I swing by?” I always said , and spent the rest of the night thinking about him instead of living in the moment.

I’d be making out with someone and then stop to check my phone. “Fuck, no text.”

In case you’re wondering, don’t stop in the middle of foreplay to check on a text from an ex-boyfriend. That’s a pretty bad move.

It’s even worse to talk about your ex when you’re at the beach with someone. But I did that, too. I kept talking about how “rude” it was for my ex to say he was coming to my party and then stand me up again. Only years later did it occur to me that was being rude by bitching about one ex-boyfriend to another soon-to-be ex-boyfriend.

For almost two years, a part of me hoped that Henry Cavill and I would reunite. Alas, a romantic reunion never took root. In fact, he’s been married now. These days, I’m thinking I dodged a bullet. Or maybe the bullet dodged me.

Why the hell did I keep chasing after this one guy for so long? It wasn’t like me to bend over like that. Recently, I realized it had something to do with those words, “I love you.” I’d given a piece of myself to someone else, and that person had stomped on it. Over and over.

Before meeting Henry Cavill, I’d gone through a bit of turmoil. Bad childhood. Abusive mom. Overwhelmed dad. A history of foiled connections with other people. I’d never felt enough emotion to profess love for anyone. Barely my own family. So when I said, “I love you” to someone, and that person had treated me with such whimsy, it hurt.

His whimsy made me angry. And it also made me desperate. I had to fetch those words back, or they’d be gone forever.

Sure, I wish some profound truth had befallen me earlier. In reality, here’s how my time with Henry Cavill ended. He and one of his new girlfriends ran into me at a bar. It was the end of a semester. I’d published an article, and a short story, and won a teaching award. In other words, I was fucking wasted. Because when you’re in your 20s, you celebrate accomplishments by blowing half your paycheck on mixed drinks at karaoke night.

Anyway, Henry Cavill tried to tell me congratulations on all my success. What did I do? I didn’t gracefully shake his hand. I tried to kiss him on the cheek, and then I tripped over someone’s handbag and stumbled halfway across the bar. A friend caught me and laughed. “Jeez, Jess. Think you’ve had enough?” Instead of laughing it off, I pointed accusingly at the handbag and slurred a bunch of gibberish. At that moment, I caught Henry Cavill’s disappointed eye as he turned to leave.

There was no time to mourn. Because a big group of grad students were gearing up to sing Alanis Morissette’s, “You Oughta Know.” We were so off key that that the DJ shut us down after 45 seconds.

So it was an intense amount of public shame that ended my long-winded pursuit of that perfect specimen of mankind. That little piece of myself that I’ve given him? It died that night.

The next morning, I woke up with a super hangover. But I also felt surprisingly calm. Something was growing in me. A new piece of my soul. That’s when I decided to accept an offer from a PhD program and get the hell out of that city.

Time passed. I got busy with a new life and career. I dated. I stopped commenting on Henry Cavill’s Facebook posts. I quit trying to wedge my way into his life around holidays. I stopped trying to force some kind of platonic friendship with him as a consolation prize.

Platonic friendships with exes usually turn toxic. Mine was keeping me from moving on. So I had to let it go.

A few times after karaoke night, Henry Cavill messaged me. I didn’t rush to respond like I used to. The less of him I saw, the more control I felt over my own future. Your soul can regenerate. You give little pieces away, but those don’t leave gaping holes forever. They grow back, if you let them.

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