I said I’d never be that girl, yet I became that girl: your classic young adult Catholic woman who fell in love with a guy in her young adult group only to discover the feelings weren’t mutual. Or maybe they were, but for whatever reason the guy decided he didn’t want to pursue them.
At first, I was rather disgusted with myself, chiding my adult crush as pathetic and stupid. Yet how could I not fall for the handsome guy who shared so easily and passionately about his love for the Faith and desires for an authentic Catholic family? The deep brown eyes and a defined jawline didn’t help either.
The sting of rejection — or rather the bitter taste of what could have been and will never be. I mulled over the sequence of events over and over again and analyzed every detail of our interactions with my closest friends. I recalled every word he ever said to me and every moment we spent together. The electric conversations and belly laughs, over beers and looks my intuition told me were more than just friends.
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Too much time had passed to do nothing, and previous failed relationships had taught me all too well. I dropped my handkerchief more than once, only to find it covered in careless footprints of a man who would not, for whatever reason, love me the way I wanted him to.
For several weeks, I listened to Bon Iver on repeat. You probably know the song I’m talking about, and if you don’t, take note — the piano ballad cover of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” slaps every time and is particularly good company in the aftermath of any failed romantic endeavor.
Yet after a few months of this song and sentiment on repeat, I’d had enough. I took a walk to my local chapel and sat before the Lord. It’s not that I hadn’t brought this to the Lord before; it’s that it took several months for me to totally open up to him.
I entered into prayer swinging (figuratively of course.) “Men are the worst … and Catholic men are the worst of all!” I recounted the story again, as well as every other grievance from the ghosts of ex-boyfriends past.
After the recitation of my little litany of a broken heart, I ran out of words. I looked up at Jesus, exposed on the altar. We shared a glance for a long time until I couldn’t stand to have him look at me any longer. I hung my head in defeat, and the dam finally broke.
I wiped my tears and snot on my sweatshirt, tucked my hair behind my ears, and looked up. “Lord, I just want to love someone, and I’m tired of men not reciprocating with me or men taking advantage of me. I just want to be free to be loved and to love. I can’t make him love me. Why won’t he?”
Jesus didn’t say anything, but in a moment, memories started to play in my head like a movie. Flashes of faces flickered in my mind. My best friends, my church community, acquaintances, as well as known strangers I interact with on my daily commute and places I frequent.
I sat in a sort of daze, beholding the multitude of souls that make up the mosaic of my life. The flickering went faster and faster, until I couldn’t quite make out the individual faces, yet the face of another emerged from the multitude of images: the face of Jesus.
I locked eyes with the Lord, finally seeing his image in all the people who make up my life. His face was calm and kind, yet also stern and serious.
Finally, he spoke: “I can’t make you love me.” I sat there confused for a moment, but as the images of the people continued to flicker, I was reminded of the words of Mother Teresa: “Every person is Jesus in disguise.”
Disappointment and disillusionment are the enemy’s weapons of choice. They create walls and chasms in our hearts in order to cut us off from and keep us away from love. We fall prey to the lie that we will either be alone forever, or that in order to be loved we must sacrifice our dignity and settle. When we are presented with situations in life that do not allow us to love and live how we would like, we often fall into disappointment and despair. If we cannot love in the way we want, we believe we cannot love at all.
It can seem like a cop out to encourage the broken-hearted to focus on how they can love instead of how they cannot. When our heart is broken, it is easy to armor up and isolate ourselves. Yet I find that, although we are wounded through relationships, we are also healed through them. Real courage is when one can live from the heart, no matter the season or circumstance, and continue to strive to make a gift of oneself.
I find great consolation in knowing all the love I have stored in my heart, for the guy I thought could be the one but for whatever reason is not, does not have to go to waste. The recognition of Christ in my day to day life, through his abiding presence in every moment as well as in my neighbor, provides endless possibilities for me to be able to make an authentic gift of myself and receive the authentic gift of my neighbor. It’s a foreshadowing and a taste of the type of communion I deeply desire to have. When I can enter into communion with Christ in prayer and community, the soil of my heart is prepared for the day in which the Father deems right for me to find the one my heart longs for.
I cannot make anyone love me, yet no one can stop me from loving. My heart is a gift to be received, a force to be reckoned with, a source of divine life like no other. In the wake of disappointment over a man I am eager to love but not able to, I dare to dream and ask for the grace to see the true man of my dreams disguised in the people all around me.