Warning: long and personal read coming up.

I saw Amber for the first time when I was fifteen. There was something about her that appealed to my teenage self: she was petite, pretty, and got my hormones pumping. My friends and I talked about her a lot, but were never able to talk to her—she was popular, and just enough out of our league that she had the allure of the unattainable. Looking back, I think my crush had more to do with the idea of being seen with her than actually enjoying spending time with her—but what do 15 year olds know? She was a real head-turner, at least to my eyes, and isn’t that what matters?

As luck would have it, I ran into her again when I was 20 and in college. My immediate course of action, naturally, was to ask her out and make all of my teenage dreams come true. She said yes, we started spending a lot of time together. But as the months wore on, I found out there was a lot about her that no longer appealed to me. Her style and personality—that had been so cool when I was 15—had not matured with my own. As the months—and eventually years—wore on, I tried fixing here little tics that bothered me, insisted on her getting a new haircut (hers was a bit too “out there” and now attracted a bit too much attention for my taste), and became pretty close to trying to change her her entire wardrobe so that she could fit in better with my and my friends’ style. But, eventually, I realized that none of this would help, since it wasn’t her style that was the problem—it was that I had outgrown her. Even though she seemed cool and exciting in her own unique way, all that “look at me” business just didn’t appeal to me anymore. Eventually—and I realize now that this was inevitable—she got so sick of my interferences and my refusal to accept her that our relationship just ended with a crash. At the time it felt like it came out of nowhere, but looking back it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Indeed, I wasn’t even shocked or disappointed when it happened. Instead, I felt free. In trying to mold her into what I wanted her to be, I had trapped her and myself in this cage in which neither of us were free to be fulfilled.

A little while after the breakup, my good friend set me up with a friend of his. When I first saw her, I was not too impressed: Beth was practically the opposite of Amber: big (not overweight, mind you, but on the opposite end of the scale from petite) and nowhere near as hot as Amber (though she was attractive in a more traditional sense). But as we talked during our first meeting, I found out that she had a rugged, adventurous, and completely approachable personality—the kind of woman you knew would be just as happy watching Netflix with you as going camping in the backcountry. It took less than an hour, and I was sold.

Our first few dates were amazing, and the more I learned about her, the more intrigued I became—she was born into a well-off family, but had grown up on in the countryside on the family’s ranch. She was used to dressing in fancy clothes but didn’t mind putting on cowboy boots on and getting dirty when necessary.

A few weeks into our relationship, I got a call that had the potential to change everything: Beth was in the hospital. She had some internal issues that required pretty serious surgery. This spelled a long recover process, and one in which I was going to have to play an active role—basically taking care of her and nursing her back to health along with some help from friends and family. This process took several months and helped to cement the bond between us.

For the next couple of years, Beth and I had the time of our lives. Though we spent almost every day together, even the most minor details of her life were fascinating to me. She was always by my side, always smiling even though she her health issues popped up every so often. But even though others may have seen her as a borden or a chore, I never felt that way. She deserved the best care I could offer her.

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Beth got along with all of my good friends, but others didn’t seem to appreciate her so much. It got to the point where I began using the way others treated her as a barometer for how much respect they deserved. Whereas my best friends valued her just as much as I did, some others questioned our relationship and asked me what I saw in her. But I never felt the need to explain it to them or to make excuses on her behalf. If they couldn’t see what made her beautiful to me, I wouldn’t be able to make them understand.

All of a sudden though, after a few years of bliss, everything changed. I was given the opportunity to move to Europe for study and work (something I had always dreamed of doing), but—as adventurous as she was—I knew she would not be able to make the move due to her health issues. Don’t get me wrong—I tried to figure out any way I could to make it work, but it just wasn’t possible. With a good share of tears, we said our goodbyes and I hopped on the plane. We had a good run for a few years, and there were times when I seriously contemplated spending the rest of my life with her, even though when we met I was only 23 years old.

After that massive breakup, I was turned off from women for a few years. Every once in a while I’d see a girl who reminded me of Beth—her hair, or her legs, or the way she sounded—and I’d wonder why I didn’t try harder to make it work. But I knew that the decision we made was the best one we could have made at the time.

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Then, one winter’s evening, I met Clara. I saw her and couldn’t look away—she was “The Lady in Red”, even though she was wearing a light gray dress. The night after I first saw her I had trouble sleeping. You know how it is. We started dating a few weeks later. I loved the way she looked, the way she felt, and the way she made me feel when I was with her in public. I felt like people—at least other guys who saw me with her—respected me a little bit more when they found out she was with me.

As time went on though, I found that there was a price to pay for all this attention I had begun to enjoy. There are women out there who are relatively care-free, and there are those who are high maintenance. Clara was like high maintenance in a war zone. Forget hiking or even going out when it was snowing—she would have none of that. She had expensive taste, and made me pay for everything—even a chipped nail somehow ended up costing me hundreds of euros. And keep in mind that all this time, I was still a poor student. A poor, infatuated, should’ve-known-better student.

As this relationship dragged on, I found myself longing for the times spent with Beth. Though had had our share of problems—we spent a lot of time addressing issues and fixing things—I never felt like it was a chore, because I knew that both her and I would end up better for it. But every time Clara and I argued, I felt like the thin, rusted out cable that tied us together was just waiting to snap

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I broke up with Clara a year later, after some deep life lessons and thousands of euros spent to keep her looking good. It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would, and I’ve never once regretted it. Now I’m just trying to find someone like Beth again.

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Amber never fully recovered from the crash that ended our relationship.

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Beth undergoing surgery in 2009, a month after I met her.

Clara looking her best back in 2014. Now I’m sure she has gone on to find other masochistic objects of abuse.

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