1) This is non-negotiable: You must fall in love. Find someone you’re attracted to, maybe someone from Jiu-Jitsu with chiseled eyes and cheesy dimples who smiles at you from across the room.
Introduce yourself to them or, better yet, wait until they introduce themselves to you. Smile and agree to get sweaty with them. Enjoy this part: the anticipation, waiting for them to understand you.
2) Allow yourself to become vulnerable; you’ll never be in love if you’re not vulnerable. Open up about your eating disorder when you see them sitting outside Nine East. Wait until they say you look just right.
3) After a while of flirtatious back-and-forth, tell them that you think they’re really cute. It helps to rock on your heels and think about yourself as a nervous middle schooler. Wait until they say that they think you’re cute too. This should not take very long.
4) Tell them that you don’t want to date them, you just want something physical. Boys like physical things, and that’s all he is, just another boy that you happen to be in love with. This could take longer for him to reply to.
Look confident and ignore the puppy in your heart, the blush in your pale cheeks and the heat in your fat thighs. He will try to seem caring and pensive. He will tell you that he has to think about this for a while. Go home with a stupid smile on your face.
5) Give him space and go silent for a week. Let him think about it, all the things he will do to you when he finally reaches out.
You’ll realize how much you miss him. You’ll be scared. Remember: Fear is normal with love.
Finally, when you cannot take it anymore, give in and text him. Use a smiley face emoji and offer to sit down and talk about this huge pill he’s choking on. Offer him the Heimlich. Wait for his reply.
Pace your apartment and scream into a pillow. Try to be calm when your phone buzzes.
Let him tell you that he cares too much about you to ruin it with sex. Let him think that he is being mature. Don’t get annoyed by his boyish prudence. Reply with a simple, “That makes sense.”
6) Float the idea of dating. If that’s all he wanted, if he cared enough to carry you home, stay up past 2 a.m. to help with your assignment, text you kisses over New Year’s and your birthdays, then maybe he wants to just be with you. Make that sacrifice for him. Open up even more.
Try not to cry too much when he says no, he doesn’t want you. You are like a half-eaten can of sardines, something he would never consider. He may not say it in such words but the sentiment will be there. Tell yourself that it’s okay.
7) Try to be his friend. There are parts of this you like, despite the feelings that you know are love. Propose dinner.
8) Once at R. House, press his buttons, ask him if he wants to talk about it some more. Let him say no. Push him again because you just want a trickle of water, a stream of fluid consciousness to better understand, then watch the water fountain explode. He will soak you, and you will be sitting in a fast-casual restaurant dripping.
He won’t notice your anger. Do not show him that you are only smiling because if your eyes weren’t being watched by his, they would be crying. Do not let him see how this hurts you because you know now that you could never hurt him, never like he hurt you. Pain only comes from caring.
9) Go home. You can cry there. Decide that you are unlovable because — let’s face reality — you are. Decide that being home feels too lonely so text your friend.
Let her hold you as you sob, not because you made a mistake — all you did is try — but because you know now that he will never be the person who makes you feel safe. Realizing that he is wrong for you is the first real step to falling out of love.
10) Tell yourself that this is a learning experience. You know what you want in a relationship now from all the things he never gave you: his jacket during the cold weather, a kiss on the cheek, a text in the morning.
Tell yourself that this is normal, because it is. Tell yourself that you are brave, because you are. Start to refer to him as lost boy.
11) Be okay with not being okay all the time. Accept that fact, like you accept that you will never be with him.
Eventually, that will sound normal and all of the thoughts you had — that you could drive your kids in a Volvo to the Jiu-Jitsu gym where you met, that you would be so happy because you finally have him and are safe now. Let all of that go.
12) Realize what you do want, someone who is spontaneous and a hopeless romantic, not someone who just thinks they are, someone who spends their precious time with you, even when it is hard, especially when it is hard, and someone who smiles when your photo pops up on their screen.
13) Find someone new who is attractive. Go to your cute professor’s office hours. Make a fool of yourself. Flirt. This stage will make you feel uncomfortable, but that is okay. Meet new people who are nice and smart. Re-learn what it feels like to be safe.
14) Remember that, occasionally, your heart will leap to your throat when you see lost boy walking to their noon class in Hodson. This is normal — this does not mean that you love them.
Tell yourself that sometimes falling out of love is hard. Tell yourself that it is a lot like a concussion. It is a lot like getting hit in the head by someone in Jiu-Jitsu with months of dire consequences. It hurts.
When the headaches become too great, sit on a bench and run your finger over the green veins in your hand, all always in the same direction.