I was a freshman at a small, Midwestern university. He was the "dream guy." Older, tall, with blond, curly hair, he was witty and smart. Bell-ringingly attractive. Our meeting was one of those cliché movie scenes: the first week of college at a party and everything unfolding in slow motion.
I was only 18-years-old, and I had never been so mesmerized by someone. For confidentiality reasons, and so I don't completely "out" him here, let's call him "Paul." Perfect Paul.
Later, we would see each other around campus and we would say hello, sometimes even thrown together in the same social group. If my life really were a movie, though, now would be the time to point out a minor detail: he wasn't interested in me. At all. Lacking the better judgment to emotionally pick up and move on, I continued to stew in futile fantasies. His continuing lack of interest only caused me to want him more. I'd been drawn into that piercingly painful psychological spiral that I know many others fall into.
My hope was that I could change myself -- conform to what I thought he wanted. Busily launching The New Andrew, I was morphing into an alien version of myself. My wardrobe began skewing preppy and I feigned interest in topics I neither knew nor cared about.
As my efforts to conform to his perceived desires pushed me further to pretend, the real me contorted into a spectacle I knew was absurd. I had always known there were no perks to being a wallflower, but I had now learned, over months of awkwardness, that there were also no perks to re-making yourself to fit someone else's ideal. Perfect Paul's heart never did throb and, by the dead of winter, I admitted defeat and ended my foolish efforts.
During this time of introspection, however, something grand began to happen. I guess it's the reward that comes after you've hit psychological bottom. I began remembering in my mind the many movies and books I had encountered which deal with the pain of unrequited love. My epiphany was that my predicament was one of unrequited attraction. With further thought, I came up hard on the reality that this was not about Paul, perfect though he seemed to be. This was about hollow me. The next wave of insight that startled me was to realize the over-sized, exaggerated pain that experiencing unrequited attraction can involve -- if your sense of self is a vacuum.
I began to appreciate that I didn't really know Perfect Paul. Yet I had handed over to him tremendous power -- the power to make me feel powerless. I had reduced myself to an article of merchandise and, in turn, him as well. This insidious degradation had successfully accomplished the dehumanization of both of us.
And so I returned to being me, just me, off the obsessive routine of having any social agenda. About the time I became armed with my newly-minted awareness, you'll never guess what happened. Perfect Paul began showing interest in me. Initially, this created a wonderful disorientation, but also left me with confused feelings to sort. As we increasingly encountered one another around our small campus, his attentions became less subtle.
Strangely though, I wasn't happy. I wasn't exhilarated. I wasn't much of anything. Even though I was getting all that I had wanted, I began to realize that all along I had built Perfect Paul into a caricature, and one based substantially on appearances. Getting to know him better, I could see that Paul wasn't so perfect. My need for adoration was tempered by the truth that I had an unhealthy need to elevate him in my mind. I was coming to understand why the Chinese expression, "Be careful what you wish for," has endured for so many centuries.
The merchandising of Paul, and myself, was all about my tortured need for validation. I had reduced another guy to a commodity, an unattainable one, to be purchased in the social marketplace.
We often invest so much of ourselves on symbols, labels and logos. We spend excessive money to increase our status, and rise on the social ladder, if only a rung or two. I had assigned Paul a high price tag, measured by his charm and looks. Like others needing validation by their cars and homes, I sought approval by winning over a human product.
Two years has separated me from my need to corroborate my inner worth. I'll never lose sight of the underestimated destructive power unrequited attraction can wield over our lives. Paul was just Paul. I am just Andrew. And I'm left with a better understanding of how an empty sense of self can compel someone to reduce others to objects. I continue to gain strength by accepting people as they are, and myself as myself.
Originally published by Elite Daily