I think it's endearing — even cool — that I had a high-school sweetheart. It's a souvenir of being with one person over the term of our most challenging years. It's the fairytale my parents have, and because of that, I grew up thinking we'd all marry our high school sweethearts.
I met him on the first day of high school. He gave up his chair for my best friend so she wouldn't have to sit on the floor. I could say I was boy-crazy for all of my life, but I was truly smitten when I met him. I liked how personable and outgoing he was — something I wanted to be but wasn't in my younger years. He seemed to find me funny and charming enough to date me despite all the girls that waited for him by his locker.
We dated all throughout high school and spent those years either fighting or making up, but mostly fighting. When we graduated, we joked around with the idea that maybe someday we'd get married and have kids, maybe buy a boat and live on Cape Cod.
We spent a week one summer on the Cape at his family's beach house. He put a gold necklace around my neck while we played on the beach. Later that day, while taking a long walk, we stumbled onto a street festival. We enjoyed treats and games and basked in the music and warmth of the day. To me, that memory marks not a day, but a complete emotion: true love. Love before you've ever been hurt. There is something about love before loss that is so pristine. That memory has gotten me through many hard times. That day it seemed we would be together forever, but we were heading down very different paths.
Coming from a wealthier family than mine, he went to college while I stayed at home and worked three jobs. We saw each other when we could, but the fighting only got worse. As much as we loved each other, we hated each other, too. For years, we fought the same fights, never changing. I knew, deep down, it was long over. How could I change this destiny?, I wondered. Aren't I supposed to be with this person forever?
I broke up with him and dated someone else. Moving on upset him, and I was angry that my fairytale didn't work out. He never really left the back of mind.
At the end of a five-year relationship with someone else, I was heartbroken in a way I had never felt before. I called him. We talked for hours. A few months later, he went through a similar breakup, and I got to be on the other end of the line cheering him up.
I had recently bought a ticket to France and I said, "You know what would really get them is if we went to Paris together. You should come with me!"
By the end of the week, we were officially both heading to Paris together. We were set to go on the tenth anniversary of the day we met in high school. Our friends and family were in shock at this news. Everyone thought we were going to get back together for sure.
"You're going to Paris?! You know that's the city of, LOVE right? The most romantic place in the world?"
A voice somewhere back of my mind told me, if there is anything there, any flicker at all, it's going to reignite in Paris. Whether it does or it doesn't, I will never ever wonder again.
The morning that we were leaving for our trip, he immediately reminded me why we split. He was always late; he was always selfish; he didn't care. We barely made our flight because he failed to tell me he had to be out of his apartment that day and was barely packed. We hustled, throwing piles of clothes into the back of his truck, moving out the last of it with the new residents waiting on the porch and our flight waiting to board. I was mad, but we were on our way to the most romantic place in the world — a place where something more could exist — and I tried to put the aggravation behind me.
I felt so happy when we got there. All the nagging I would have normally done left my mind, and I started to remember why this person who I hadn't been romantically involved with for years was still in my life. He gave me a sense of safety. I knew this person to be someone who was always honest with me, good, bad, or ugly and as someone who always treated me right, even in our impossible relationship. I began to see that our relationship wasn't impossible because he was impossible, but because I had been a little impossible, too.
The second night at dinner, thinking of the sting of my most recent breakup, I started to thank him for these realizations. I thanked him for being the one guy I could count on, and the only guy to never cheat on me.
"I cheated on you in high school," he said. "It was just a kiss, but it happened. I'm sorry."
It had happened eight years ago, but I might as well have been 16 again in that moment. The words hung in the air as my face slowly tightened, the truth pouring over me. The truth wasn't just that this person had cheated on me, but that now that I knew this, everyone I was ever in a relationship with had. The fear sunk in that perhaps everyone will. I swallowed the hard truth that there are no certainties in relationships.
We continued our adventure in Paris. We shared dinner at the Eiffel Tower, a beach weekend in Nice, a night river cruise of the Seine, and nights in hotel rooms set for one, no matter how much I requested it was for two. We stayed up each night talking about everything from the past, present, and future. We laughed at old jokes and told ghost stories; it was like a sleepover minus the hair braiding and pillow fights.
Our relationship began to transform. This was no longer my ex-boyfriend with questions looming — he was my friend.
During that trip something happened, which was nothing, which meant everything. Nothing physical happened between us, but I realized that I had an amazing friend. I had a friend that knew me, inside and out, and had nothing to lose by telling me the truth. No matter what the rest of the world wanted to happen between us, I was OK with nothing happening at all.
On the plane ride home, I rested my head on his shoulder as I fell asleep. For the first time, I did this without the pressure of what it could mean. I appreciated my friend who had always been there through the good and the bad, who went on this amazing journey with me. I knew I could lean on him, and he could be still be my high-school sweetheart.
I was never going to marry this man, my high school sweetheart, my friend. The years have put us geographically miles apart, but I knew I would always care for him and that we would always have Paris.