"I Found Love in a Hopeless Place" is a celebration of love in all its forms, with one new essay appearing each day until Valentine’s Day.
My high school meet-cute had all the makings of a sappy teenage rom-com. I was smart, athletic, and headstrong, the type of girl who was more likely to be cheated off of in French class than asked out to dinner and a movie. I painstakingly planned everything from my tennis team's homecoming costumes to the art club's charity fundraiser. In typical type-A fashion, I even got my prom dress three months ahead of time. I had it all figured out—except for a date.
Luckily, I did have a fearless best friend, who took it upon herself to just casually mention that I was still date-less to a guy in her bio class. He was a Joseph Gordon-Levitt lookalike who was known for his baseball batting average. He ran with a crowd of jocks, but according to my BFF, he was sweet and a bit shy. We had lived on neighboring streets since age five, but our school district was just big enough that we had never really interacted. You know, aside from story time in first grade.
The funny thing is, I spent most of my high school experience seeking out the lovable boy next door. Nora Ephron movies had taught me that he would be lurking somewhere under my nose, so I vetted each guy in my circle, wondering if he could be the one. By the time junior prom rolled around, I had all but given up, deciding that I would find love in college instead.
We had been on the same bus route for years, but I sat near the front and he posted up in the back. We never had any classes together throughout elementary school and high school, nor did our extracurricular schedules overlap. We had grown up together, but by junior year, he wasn't even a blip on my radar.
As fate had it, he also needed a prom date. With confirmation from three mutual friends that I was "cool" and would accept his invitation, he decided to go for it. Wearing an adorable baseball windbreaker, he marched up to my locker. I'm not sure what happened next, but I'm told I said yes too quickly and engulfed him in a bear hug. Years later, I’m still struck by the idea that we hadn’t interacted even once beforehand.
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For the next two months, we did the high school dating thing. We held hands through the hallways and showed up together at parties. We became regulars at the restaurant where we had our first date, bonding over paninis and Diet Coke before driving home to check another movie off of our endless watch list. Star Wars became interesting with his helpful commentary, and somewhere in between Moneyball and Harry Potter, I started to realize that he was way more than a prom date.
When the big day came, we danced until my five-inch stilettos pinched my toes and then cuddled up in a corner, lost in our own world. He whispered "I love you" for the first time, and we made out on the dance floor until his baseball coach gave him a discreet tap on the shoulder. (Ah, young love.)
Over the next 12 months, I dutifully sat through his chilly spring baseball games and he cheered on my every tennis match. I proudly wore his varsity sweatshirt through the halls, and he brought me iced coffee during his free period. We were supposed to experience all of those high school "firsts" together and then go our separate ways for college, like all those couples before us.
Graduation came, and then June melted into July. Our coupled-up friends were planning their break-ups in advance, scheduling D-Day before they parted ways for orientation. Everything I read told me that long-distance wouldn't last, warned us to end it now instead of waiting for the Turkey Dump. But I couldn't give up on something that was still so perfect.
We told each other that we would do it until we couldn't, but we both knew that was a lie. The truth is that breaking up was never an option. We stayed together throughout college and when I moved into an apartment in Manhattan senior year, there wasn’t a question that he'd be living there, too.
When I tell people our story, they inevitably ask if I ever regretted meeting him so young. Long-distance is so hard, they'd say. How do you know that he's the one if he's the only guy you've seriously dated? But for me, given the choice between having him or dating around, he won every time.
So, somehow, in high school, I met a guy who didn't care what anyone thought–at a time when his peers did everything for validation. I met a guy who treated me like a princess but loved my brain most of all. I met a guy that I didn't want to let go of—and, six years later, I never have.