I used to enjoy romanticizing those around me. All it took was a single glimpse, catching someone’s eye, and I would feel connected. Bonded with your universe. I would create a mental relationship, overthink a whole thing between us. You'd become one of the boyfriends I never had. And some of you exploited that.

Nowadays, I realize real relationships come and go. Their variety makes them unrepeatable. But for me, they have always been a roller coaster, imagining real relationships with all the boyfriends I never had. Between real experience and mental idealization. Between reality and expectation.

I remember all the boyfriends I never had

You were all intelligent and mysterious to me, yet unattainable.

Our eyes might have crossed in the university corridors we happened to attend at the exact moment in time. Perhaps, we also might have found ourselves hanging out in the same spot for a while.

I introduced myself to you.

Eventually, I would end up frozen, imagining and idealizing things in my head.

Shyness used to make me blush. So the easiest thing to do was to desperately try to close all my thoughts in an asylum.

Dear toxic crush: I deserve my happily ever after, don’t I?

I pretended to binge-watch a movie in my mind: tracking down clues and imagining events. Time flew.

A single gesture from you would send me down a path, connecting dots one after another.

Don’t take me for a fool. I wasn’t the only one. You kept feeding my imagination.

When you liked that post. Or if you just “posted this to say something.”

I got comfortable in between the fears and enthusiasm, in this communicative gap, powering my imaginary world.

That alternative universe became an indestructible shield. There, I was protected from broken hearts and social courtesies. I just had to lose myself in those repeated conjectures.

Illustration by Anđela Janković

Ideal vs. Real

(what happens when you meet a toxic crush head-on)

The funny part was seeing real-life encounters take place. When I stumbled across one of the boyfriends I never had, we never spoke face-to-face. Just waved at each other. Sometimes, a rare event, I had the pleasure to wear his headphones and silently listen to a song he chose for me. As simple as that.

I felt my heart float into space.

Most of the time, our interactions were on social media. A thumbs up appeared on a status about a cooking recipe or a profound poetry line. There it was - non-logical, yet it spoke loudly to my heart.

It reassured me that the guy I liked was interested in me.

In reality, all the boyfriends I never had wanted to exist in my head. A like, a song sent privately, a DM, they were all all signals for me to interpret and keep writing my script.

Deep down in my heart, I knew this was going to hurt me in the long run. Could I just cage these feelings in my mind?

Most of all, they were becoming more and more based on abstract gestures. Gestures that I loved, but knew were worthless.

I needed answers. I was falling for another idea of a boyfriend I never had. It consoled and damned me. After some time brooding about it, I decided to step out of my mind.

Like a detective who had solved a case, I spurred myself to reach one of the boyfriends I never had.

At the end of one of the lectures we had, I followed him and used a book I was reading as a protective tool to point at him and say, bated breath: “I need to talk to you.”

When he realized what I was saying, he just went away. He left the talk for tomorrow.

Out of my mind, just in time

I vividly remember that day. My head rested on the wall of a crowded university corridor during lecture shifts. He stood in front of me, waiting for me to spit it out.

My heart was on my sleeve when I said I liked him. His eyes tenderly looked at mine while his mouth pronounced a solid “Thank you.”

After that, he made many excuses just before going away, saying, "…still friends, right?”

Were we? I didn't know. Looking at our social media, we were closer than ever.

Surprisingly, the next day, this toxic crush had a girlfriend. He made me smile but not with my heart.

No resentments, I felt at peace with my heart and mind: I walked in the same corridor, heads up, fearlessly. That’s when I learned that I needed to unwrap my imagination. To make myself accessible to real experiences. Sure I had been rejected, but my heart was pumping blood like never before.

Still dazzled, from time to time.

Not to lie, the fascination for the unknown still makes my mind buzz as soon as I meet someone new. The naïve side of me would be delighted. The courageous one, as well.

What I changed was my approach: I stepped out of my mind and learned to organize more concrete ideas. I leave the unsaid, unsaid. And only have reactions to concrete actions.

It is the worst and best in life.

Because real life can hurt you. But so can bad thoughts. And a toxic crush can hurt much, much more.

And a broken heart can heal, if it’s given time and space outside of a thinking bubble.

Anna Rita Germinario