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"Right" or Not?

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the“right" person, part 1 How did you know you were in love the first time? Was he the perfect guy? If you aren’t with him now, how are you going to know the “right” person when you meet him?—Mexicali, 16, CA


Shayna Answers:

Dear Mexicali,

It took me several weeks to come up with an answer for you that could encompass everything that I felt when I was in love with my ex-boyfriend, N. Like I mentioned last week, “being in love” is usually a combination of experiencing several types of love at once, so there wasn’t one single thing that made me know that I was in love for the first time.

In fact, during the time I was dating N—my sophomore year of college—I don’t think that I was aware of being in love for several months. Rather, it was a gradual process that started with a friendship, then a dating relationship, and then eventually, acknowledging that I loved him.

N and I shared a similar academic, cultural, and social background. So from the beginning, we had a lot in common. I liked his sense of humor, his wit, and his intelligence. We had also both returned from taking a year off from Johns Hopkins University when we met.

Because we were living in the same building and had shared many unifying experiences, we started spending a lot of time together as friends. N grew to know me better than most of my other friends, and this created a solid base for us when we started dating several months later. We knew each others’ habits and philosophies, which made it possible to circumvent disagreements and misunderstandings later on.

Once N and I started dating, it was probably a few more months before I started thinking about him differently than I had about any other boyfriend. I no longer found myself having to constantly work at the relationship. I knew that N accepted me exactly how I was.

I trusted and valued N’s opinion, and I knew that I had his unconditional approval about almost anything that I did. This inspired me to reach for goals that I usually wouldn’t, and it bolstered my self-esteem. For N, I met his ideals for a girlfriend and complemented him well.

Eventually, I started to consider N as family. What I mean is, I started caring for him in a way that surpassed lust or friendship. The only level of commitment that I had felt before was toward my family.

In the same way that I think about bonds between family as being permanent, I started to think of N’s presence in my life as being immovable. This was only reinforced by the fact that our actual families thought we were great together.

We would frequently drive to N’s parents’ house and stay weekends. Our parents also became friends with one another and remained so for a little while after we broke up.

As I grew to love N, I found myself caring about his needs and wants as much and sometimes more than my own. This effectively blinded me to some signals of an unhealthy relationship, though.

In our relationship I made compromises that I shouldn’t have and excused situations that concerned me. When we did break up, it was devastating, and it took me several years to heal.

Next week I’ll share more about why N wasn’t the “right” person for me, and more about who that “right” person will be.

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