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Modern Affairs: My All-American Dream

The story of Charlotte “Charlie” Elliot. 

The column Modern Affairs is dedicated to the untold and imperfect stories of love in all of its many manifestations. It is written with the belief that we can start to see our differences and our diverse experiences for the strengths that they are. With this series, we will attempt to explore the human condition through the lens of love, in whatever form that may take. 

Disclaimer: For the safety and privacy of the individuals involved in these pieces, the real names of those mentioned have been replaced with a pseudonym. This series will be written in first person, which is a stylistic choice; these pieces do not reflect the experiences of the author.                                                                                                

Our first date would have ended before it had even started, if it had been anyone but Noah. 

He had chosen this little family-owned pizza shop a bit farther out, and we were so excited to try it; when we got there, though, we were informed that it would be closing in about 20 minutes. Any sane person would have left to go somewhere else or postponed the date for another night; he was determined, though. We ordered anyway and took the pizzas to go; we ended up back in his piece-of-crap car, and he drove us to the nearest Shop n’ Thrift, where we ate the pizza as we goofed around between the aisles. Eventually, even that place closed for the night, leaving us to drive around in the dark, aimless, no particular destination in mind, talking about everything we could think of and then some. 

The night ended eventually, but I remember wishing it never would. He became my All-American boy; my dorky jock, my baseball-playing midwestern-gentleman. It feels like that date was reminiscent of our entire relationship: we were all about the little things, and together, we could make the best out of anything. 

Now, I’m questioning if all good things really have to end. 

My move to DC for college was the start of a new life for me. Everyone changes when they go to college, but moving across the country is an experience that fundamentally shifts a lot of things, including the way you see yourself. The freedom of independence and self-reliance is such a huge part of the experience of moving away from home. It’s in the little things: the unstructured mealtimes, the self-motivation to do laundry, the not having to ask for permission to go somewhere. Moving from small-town to big city is an even stranger transition, because of how absolutely foreign life in the city is. 

Adult Back View Backpack BeautifulAll of these things are no longer parts of my existence when I go home. Going home is by far a bigger adjustment than living in the city. As I’m driving around in my sleepy little town in my dad’s old white pickup, past  corner stores and the Shop n’ Thrift, it feels like I never left. I’m 17 again, with no idea of where I am going or what is going to happen for me, and a very different sense of self. 

Going home also means that I see Noah. We ended things as I went to college, as most couples do; long distance was not something I wanted to put us through. He’s on his own path now and I’m on mine, but whenever I am home, it’s like we were never broken up. We practically live together during those times, and it's rare to find us apart. 

He wants to move to DC, to find an apartment and a job so that we can live together. He wants to move here, find a job, and start a life with me. That scares me. That level of devotion and commitment is what any girl would wish for and dream of, right? So why can’t I wrap my head around it? Why isn’t it something that I want? Maybe I do want it in some ways; I can admit that much, at least. I want to be with him, but I don’t think I want it to have to be in this way.

I think that if he made that decision and uprooted his life like that just to be with me, it would leave me feeling trapped. How do you leave someone that gave up everything for you? Even if I loved him, the idea that I wouldn’t be able to leave him would be too much to take. Even more debilitating is my fear that he will grow to resent me for the choices we made, and for sacrifices he had to endure to be with me. 

I wrestle with the terror that one wrong choice now will leave me hating myself ten years from now. I worry that if I were with him, it would feel like I never left home. I love him so much, but sometimes I feel like my love for him is pulling me backwards, towards the person I once was and will never be again. It feels like I will wake up one day next to him, and I will find that I have been dragging my feet through life. 

But what if I am meant to be with him, and I'm using these fears as excuses? The distance between us has not dulled my feelings, or his. What if I am so afraid of something real and enduring that I let go of the person that means the most to me? What if I am avoiding him for the sake of “being young” or because he was “too small-town” for my pride to take? What if I wake up in 10 years and wish I had never let him go? 

I know that with Noah, it won’t be a fight or an explosion that ends us. With us, it will be a slow fizzling out; the slow death of a blazing fire. I am terrified that I will have to watch our relationship crumble slowly; that we will be stuck in painful limbo for months or years until one day we just won’t want anything to do with each other. I am terrified of becoming a stranger to him, of him turning into someone I don’t know or understand, of us both growing apart. I am afraid of coming to this realization too late to actually do anything about it. Breaking up now is easy, but ending things later, when it could be a marriage? There are so many more complications. House, bank account, kids; a whole life that was built on the union of two people. burning polaroid

Have you ever watched someone ignite a fire? The flames start small, little embers flaring to life. Then come the sparks, unrestrained, flying everywhere—and finally, eventually, someone is stoking a roaring blaze. I’ve always thought that a fire is beautiful because it’s something that cannot ordinarily be contained, and yet humans have found ways to harness and temper it. 

A million poets have written comparisons of fire to love, from its dying embers to the brilliant hues it takes on as it envelops its surroundings. I should know; I was named after one of the greatest literary minds to exist, and her prose describes the nature of love in exactly this way. It’s impossible to understand what they all mean, until you can begin to fathom what it is to be in love with someone. With Noah, sparks did fly, in a way that I had never experienced before. 

So, I guess the question I need those poets to answer now is a harder one:

Do all fires have to die? 

Photos: Her Campus Media Library