I celebrated my 26th birthday this year and spent a lot of time in the days comparing my life as it is with the life that I, as a 10-year-old, imagined it would be. My parents married when they were just 21, as did my older brother and his high-school sweetheart. As a result, I spent the early part of my life assuming that was the norm, expecting that I, too, would be married in my early twenties. Instead, like so many others, I’ve found myself in relationships that have led me far from down the aisle.
In the wake of each relationship, I’d often find myself relying on that old adage that “everything happens for a reason,” and realized that if I believe that to be true, then I must also believe that so does everyone. This positive spin allowed me to see my relationships not as failures, but as chances to learn and grow in love and life.
So now I ask that you join me as I navigate my loves lost and lessons learned — the opportunities that have led me to exactly where I should be.
Zack Morris taught me what it means to be crazy in love. I pined for him. I made t-shirts that read, “I <3 Zack Morris.” I cut out photos of him and scotch-taped them to the top bunk of my bed so that I could look up at him from the bottom bunk before I fell asleep every night. To put it mildly: I was obsessed. In fact, I actually hold Zack responsible for what I consider to be my very first sexual fantasy: I jump off the diving board at the public pool I used to frequent as a child. From underwater I see Zack follow my lead by leaping in after me, at which point he swims over and we — oh my — kiss, yes, underwater. (This makes sense because I’m a Pisces, so I like water and stuff.) Zack taught me the importance of bedroom chemistry long before I even knew it existed. But what was more important, and what I slowly learned over the years was that what I thought was passionate love was really just my own burning desire to tame a wild playboy. Zack Morris always claimed to be a one-woman man and A.C. Slater was pegged as the flirt, but it’s much clearer to me now in hindsight. While Slater was forthcoming with his machismo and straying eyes, Zack was that dangerous breed of flirt that goes unnoticed behind backs and closed doors. Zack had an undeniable charm that he could turn on and off for anyone. And he did. Don’t forget Stacey Carosi, Krystee the female wrestler or Jennifer, the Bayside High school nurse. Hell, even Lisa Turtle and Jessie Spano fell prey to the Zack attack.
Lessons Learned: Chemistry is key, but trust is paramount. Also, people never change. Even if they grow up and go to college, they’ll still be the same person that they were in junior high.
This was a brief crush. It didn’t even reach the like-like stage, but still, it was significant. Capeside, MA was extremely lacking in male selection. Pacey Witter was just a brown-haired version of Zack Morris (but with baggage) so I steered clear from the beginning, and Dawson, ugh, Dawson. To this day Dawson Leary remains a prime example of what I do not look for in a partner. I don’t want someone who is whiney and more emotional than I am (read: very). So when Jack McPhee came to town, my hopeful heart leapt for joy. But the crush stalled when it was made clear that Jack was hiding one too many secrets (the dead older brother, the sister with mental health problems… oh, and the whole “I’m gay” thing). So, I moved on.
Lesson Learned: Don’t settle for someone just because they’re the best option available. Especially if they’re gay.
Max and I met in middle school, and his photo quickly became a staple in the cover of my daily planner. I felt like I was melting every time I looked into his warm brown eyes. Zack had left me wondering if true love was possible, if any man could ever stay loyal. Then Max Evans came into my life and dropped the people’s elbow on that broken, bitter pessimist inside me. Max’s love and commitment literally defied time and space and reminded me that yes, soul mates do exist. Sadly, over time, it became clear to me that a relationship with a human-alien hybrid just wasn’t going to work. Max was too closed off and protective of his royal alien past, while I longed for an open, loving relationship. I come from a small, close-knit family, and Max’s distrust of humans proved too significant to ignore.
Lesson Learned: Deep and loyal love does exist. Unfortunately in some cases, differing backgrounds just don’t match up for a joint future.
I fell in love with Seth Cohen my sophomore year of college. I hadn’t met anyone during high school that made the cut; my only encounter worth mentioning was an uncharacteristic love affair with Colin Farrell (it was the dark brown eyes and accent. More on accents later). When I met Seth, I fell hard; the very first time I met him, I ended up spending an entire weekend camped out in my dorm room with him and only him (and a few bowls of Easy Mac). With Seth Cohen, my cold, dead heart sprang forth with reckless abandon. I loved him – of that I was sure. He had the puppy dog eyes, tousled brown hair, tight soccer player’s body and the most genuine devotion I’d experienced to date. The self-deprecation, the sarcasm, the irony, the witty banter with his parents. Seth Cohen was, and will always be, a rarity. He believed in himself without being cocky. I valued that attitude. And with a shared love of holidays (Chrismukka) and naming inanimate objects (Captain Oats!), Seth and I were kindred spirits. However, while I adored his boyish charm, Seth sometimes seemed to be just that — a boy hesitant to face adulthood and make grown up decisions.
Lessons Learned: My type. Though my affinity for the attractive nerd had been building, Seth successfully secured first place for hottie geeks everywhere. I also realized that sometimes the timing just isn’t right. Seth was reluctant to figure out his future and needed the time and space necessary to discover it on his own. Unfortunately I had to move on and live my own life.
Nick Andopolis was different. A passionate drummer and frequent pot smoker, he was painfully sweet. I liked Nick and I feel bad that he got caught up in my own inner turmoil. Still reeling from losing Seth, I saw the type of devotion Nick brought to the table and I took advantage of it. I knew in my heart that he wasn’t the one, but I wanted to be wanted and Nick provided. But once that void was filled, his affection turned stifling, and I had to end things before they went any further.
Lesson Learned: Don’t move on to a new relationship until you’re completely over the last.
One word: rebound. Next word: accent. Despite my initial reluctance, Chuck Bass won me over. He was new and exciting. And British. Deep down I knew he wasn’t the one for me. Far from it. He was smarmy, self-aware, smug, unabashedly filthy rich, promiscuous, and more stylish than I am. Thankfully, I wised up and cut ties.
Lesson Learned: Listen to instincts, not accents.
Looking back, I really thought Seth Cohen was the one, but now I know that I just wanted him to be the one. Jim, on the other hand, is the whole kit ‘n’caboodle. True love is rare, and when it happens, all the stars align. The moment I knew was when that one, single tear dropped after he confessed his love. Then he had to go and take charge with the first kiss. Jim has everything that I’m looking for in a man. He’s funny and sarcastic but good-natured with an open mind and heart. He’s loyal, affectionate, emotional but not cloying, and above all else, genuine. Bonus: He likes to invent games and play pranks, and I’m a firm believer that love should always be fun.
Lesson Learned: Don’t settle for anything but the best and when you find it, snatch it up and never let go.
You can read more from Casey Cline on her blog.