A few years ago, I visited an old friend who has since died. It was a cool, fall day, so we were having coffee in the middle of the afternoon. He was in a reflective mood.
Years ago, he said, when he was in high school, he fell in love with a girl. She was the most beautiful girl to him, but he mostly loved who she was. And she seemed to think he was okay, too.
My friend said he was more awkward, insecure, and immature than even a normal fourteen-year-old boy. He couldn’t see anything in himself worth liking—much less loving. So, despite what the young girl told him, he never was convinced that her heart belonged to him. After all, there were many better-looking boys who were good athletes and whose parents had money who were interested in her. He felt deep down that he was not good enough.
For two years they courted, yet my friend’s insecurity got the best of him, and he and the girl of his dreams went their separate ways. She began dating a nice-looking athlete, but my friend never had a serious girlfriend through the rest of high school. When he tried to date other girls, he ended up talking about the one he truly loved.
There was a short time in my friend’s young adult life when he had the chance to set things right, but he was still immature and was too busy being wild to realize that the opportunity would soon pass forever.
Years went by; decades. My friend grew up, became responsible, married a wonderful woman, and had children whom he adored. The girl from high school married the good-looking athlete and also had beautiful children. Life turned out well for both, and for that, they were both grateful.
Yet, throughout those years and decades, the ache in my friend’s heart never went away. He loved his wife, and his love for her only grew with the years. But his love for the girl from those years ago never went away, either.
Every few years he’d dream of her. They only talked, or at most, held hands. He was thrilled to finally be able to tell her his regrets and try to explain his youthful behavior. Or to just be around her now that he’d grown up and learned how to act decently. Then he would wake with the same disappointment he’d felt many times before, and he’d think of her off and on for the next few days.
My friend told me that he wouldn’t change a thing in his life; he was married to a woman much out of his league for many good years, and together they raised wonderful children whom became successful adults. From what little he knew, his high school sweetheart’s life turned out the same. His only regret, right up until nearly his death, was that they never got to talk again. He could never tell her he finally grew up, tell her how he felt all those years, nor tell her he was sorry.
I remember my friend’s story when my own children talk to me about the boys or girls they are interested in at school, and I don’t dismiss their feelings. I know from my own life that the bonds formed when I was young are some of the strongest to this day, and I suspect that I’ll take some to my grave, just as my friend did.