Love is a weird thing, guys. Amazing and ridiculous and awful and incredible and confusing as hell and just.so.damn.weird. And, as you grow older, it doesn’t stop getting any weirder or more complex. The love you felt for friends and first romances in high school shifts to a different kind of love in college, which shifts again as you enter adulthood. And each time you fall in love, it will be different, too — you are, after all, the only thing that stays the same in each relationship you enter, no matter how much you think you have a “type” or that you’re doomed to repeat the same relationship over and over again.
When you’re in your 20s, though, there’s a lot that flies up in the air all at once — you’re juggling a job and debt and a social life and trying to figure out who you are, now more than ever, and some things feel like they slip through the cracks here and there. Relationships sometimes seem like more trouble than they’re worth unless you’re in them (and sometimes even then, on the bad days), but that doesn’t mean that you won’t fall in love. You can try, to avoid it, but it’ll happen. You can’t outrun falling in love, even with those spiffy new Asics on. It’s inevitable.
And whatever the outcome — heartbreak or happiness, forever, or just that momentary second — it’ll teach you something about yourself, and about what you do and don’t want in your life. Because you need love, and you need it in multiple forms. But what does it mean to love, when you can barely juggle your apartment and your student loans and everything else in between? And who do you choose to love? Do you even choose at all? (After all, sometimes it’s the love that finds you.) But those are different questions for a different day.
Here are five people who you probably, more likely than not, perhaps, maybe, for surely will fall in love with at some point in your 20s.
1. A complete stranger.
It’ll be the cute guy with the perfect hair you see on the bus, or the girl whose carefully-edited Instagram lures you into thinking you really know who she is, or the sales rep who you swear always flirts with you when they make the rounds to your office. It could be anyone — someone whose coffee you accidentally grabbed for at the shop, someone who interacted with a tweet once, someone who you saw in a restaurant and imagined a whole future with in five seconds — only as long as you keep them at a distance. This is crucial. You might never see them again, or you might see them under the circumstances that you cannot make a move to be something more. But you will unload all your craziest fantasies onto them without their ever knowing, both because it is less of a burden for you to carry — all of these goals and no one to share them with, turns into all these goals with a make-believe someone else — and because it is less of a risk. You never have to put your heart on the line. You can love from afar. And even unreciprocated love is real. But it is not sustainable, and you will have to give them back their stranger status eventually, even if you felt like you knew them inside and out. You never did. They were never yours to know. Your idea of them was the only thing you had a right to love.
2. Someone who could have been.
This can happen frequently now that we live in a world where our memories are preserved forever online. You’ll see someone’s name pop up on Facebook, or in a throwback photo or at a reunion, and you’ll wonder. What could have gone differently? What would you have to do differently to keep them in your life, to keep the relationship going, or to have a relationship at all? And when your 20s are a crazy whirlwind of ups and downs, it seems like a great escape to revert back to your past, and what was once familiar and safe. This is not where you grow, however. Sure, sometimes you realize someone’s been under your nose the whole time, but not always. Life isn’t a Hollywood rom-com, and often, people were left in your past for a reason. Playing a game of could-have-been is an endless freefall. See what lies ahead. You know what could have been, but you don’t know yet what could be. And that surprise is magical.
3. Someone who could give you everything.
You will fall in love with them in the abstract way — that you love the idea of who they are, of where they’ve been and what they’ve achieved — because you’ll either want to follow in their footsteps, or glean off their success. It’s natural to do the latter; in your 20s, you’re still young and starry-eyed despite your crappy walk-up, and moving in with a boyfriend or girlfriend who lives in an apartment with a doorman and a resident lounge seems like the way to beat the system. But beyond the material, you’ll also fall in love with a boss you really admire, or a mentor whose career you’d love to learn from, and you’ll realize that falling in love is not always romantic. Sometimes, it’s just fuel. Sometimes it helps remind you why you need to keep pushing to achieve your goals. Sometimes it’s just a sign that the path you’re on is the right one.
(Just don’t get inappropriately moon-eyed around your boss. Pretty sure that’s the definition of weird.)
4. Your best friend.
Your early adulthood is going to be cold and quiet and lonely at times, and you’re going to wonder how it is that people meet other people, and you’ll reach out and latch onto the few people who you already have in your life. You’ll never want to let go, and you don’t have to. Help each other move into crappy apartments and eat pizza on the floor before you unpack. Order one more round of shots at the bar even though you know you shouldn’t and you’re getting too old for this. Call each other and text each other and Gchat each other off the record and snapchat ugly faces and cling as tightly to one another as you possibly can. Learn what it’s like to worry about another person so unconditionally that you can tell they’re having a bad day just by the length of their texts, and that you swing by their apartment with NyQuil and your mom’s HBOgo password when they’re sick even though they live on the other side of town. Have people wonder if you’re actually in a real relationship, but know that this is the truest relationship either of you have ever been in (and that this is not a bad thing). We say best friends are forever in grade school, and we test these notions in college, but it’s in your 20s that you learn the true depth of being in love with your best friend.
At the very least, I really hope you do. Everyone deserves to know what it’s like to know that someone loves them just as they are in that moment. It doesn’t mean anything less — and sometimes, it even means more — if that person is you.
Love is a weird thing, guys. And as I have navigated these sometimes rocky and always surprising waters of my 20s, I’ve come to find out that you may have many kinds of love, love that comes in many forms and at very different times. Each, however longlasting or fleeting, is there to teach you something, to show you something, to give you a new perspective, a story to tell, a feeling of hope.
Don’t worry if you have yet to find “your person”; it just means you’ve got a few more chapters to write (and a few more frog-princes to kiss).