Elizabeth Watson

I’ve thought a lot about how we fell for each other out of necessity. The conditions were too perfect: being unable to see anyone meant I lost touch with a ton of people, but those who remained in my life became essential. Playing Jackbox over Zoom and watching movies every weekend, FaceTiming between online classes, having picnics and taking walks and swimming. We’d been friends for three years, since our very first class together freshman year of high school, and it felt natural to be with him. In a way, it felt inevitable. 

Past trauma with men left me scared to show affection. But with him, the pressure was off. I felt comfortable with him in a way I thought impossible for myself; I was surprised at how easy it was to be at his side. I loved being able to sleep next to him despite my aversion to naps. I loved having seasons of “Survivor” explained to me and the way he let me gush about movies. I loved seeing him listening to our playlists on Spotify. I loved the way he would let me warm my freezing cold hands against his back — although sometimes he hated it. I loved the way it felt to trust someone so much.

We were never the best at communication. There were a few moments throughout our relationship where one of us was silently fuming, too afraid to say anything that might break us. There were buildups and small eruptions, tense moments where we struggled to carefully put together the words to express how we felt. As August crept closer, a lot was left unsaid about our future. There wasn’t a moment we spent together when I wasn’t thinking, “What’s next?” But I didn’t want to break the bubble around us, delicate as glass. 

I stated my case at the beginning of August, a few days before we’d be separated by 1,800 miles. Getting into this relationship halfway through my senior year of high school, in the middle of applying for my future, I felt committed to ending things just as the end of summer came. Only fools agree to long-distance relationships. High school relationships don’t survive. But the closer the time came for us to leave, the more I felt I couldn’t bring myself to let go of the first person who had ever made me feel truly safe. I didn’t realize that at some point I had abandoned my grudge against long-distance, that this decision to stay together was taking hold of my heart. Why should we give up something so good? 

We didn’t talk about it again. He took the bus to Austin, I drove up to New Haven and things changed almost immediately. For the first few weeks, I was miserable here, constantly and unavoidably alone and afraid. And jealous. 

A lot of our friends ended up at UT Austin, and he fit right into life there, or at least that’s what it felt like to me. While I was staring out of my window at Harkness Tower, my only thought being “Stick it out for one semester and then you can transfer,” he was drinking rum and playing Smash Bros in our friends’ dorm. The more I told him about how I was feeling, the less he revealed to me about his new life. Our calls became increasingly silent. 

I was walking out of Sterling Memorial Library one night, and I called him to hear some updates, but all I heard was … nothing. I stared at my shoes, hoping to hear anything on the other line. A laugh. A comment on his day. A whisper. Breathing. God, please say something. This is awful. Please say something. When I looked back up, the crosswalk timer was over, and I’d missed my chance to cross Broadway. I told him I had to go. Okay, he said. I hung up.

I stopped giving him pieces of my day, of my new life: the weekly trips to Bowtie on Temple Street, the sun in the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library in the middle of the day, Grilled Cheese Wednesdays, the people I was meeting and the people I felt I had yet to meet. I hardly ever knew how or what he was doing. I was tired of all the silences, the disinterest. My jealousy, frustration, sadness kept festering.

I broke up with him the night before The Game, the day before we’d both be back in Dallas. I’d meant to do it weeks earlier, but with both of our midterm seasons approaching, I thought it would be best to wait. We’d been calling for about an hour — he had left a party he was at to talk to me — and I took a deep breath and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” The silence that came after that was worse than all of the silences from all of our calls over the past couple months combined. 

Immediately after hanging up, I felt how much of a coward I had been. How unfair the entire situation was. I had let my anger take the frontmost part of mind, and it was driving me desperate. I’d acted not impulsively — for all I could feel for two months was how miserable it made me to think about us — but irresponsibly. Selfishly. 

A few days later he asked if we could have lunch together back in Dallas. We talked about our relationship openly, candidly, maybe a little solemnly. It was the most honest we had been with each other since we’d left Dallas.

We talked about wanting to stay together a little longer, spending winter break together. We expressed how we didn’t want to go through long-distance again, that we were happy together at home but neither of us could handle the pressures of staying together while 1,800 miles apart. We would weather three weeks between Thanksgiving and winter break away from each other, then spend one last month together. Bittersweet plans.

Small things about our year-long relationship stand out to me as examples of how we weren’t the right fit, at least not long-term. When I first said those infamous three words —eight letters — he didn’t say them back until the last day of Thanksgiving break, over four months later. I became tired of hearing about what he was coding or how nightmarish his discrete math class was but knowing nothing about his social life at college. I was annoyed at how he seemed to think too much but never revealed what it was he was thinking about.

But when we were together, at home, we made each other feel a bit more whole. Every moment had meaning. It meant so much to feel someone’s unconditional understanding. His presence was reassuring and warm. 

I wrote him a letter the day before he left for Austin again after winter break. I told him to read it on the bus, make it cinematic. I wrote that I don’t really believe in soulmates, but I do believe that sometimes two people who find themselves connected in a meaningful way can eventually find their way back to each other. I don’t mean that after seven more semesters and three more summers we’ll get back together. I don’t mean that we’ll never move on. I just think of the way we’ve grown together, learned about each other, in an unforgettable yet ineffable way. This relationship meant everything to me. It was my safe space, even when I dreaded it. It was home.

But if Yale has taught me anything, it’s that home can change. I can change. I’m slowly but surely finding my place here. I’m making this place mine. After all, what’s Valentine’s Day for if not falling in love all over again?