The Should And The Should Nots In Life And Love

The Fish And the Bird

I have never been good at following “shoulds.” Now don’t get me wrong, I pore over “shoulds” like it is my job; if there is an article, a book, a TEDTalk that tells me what I should do to succeed in life and in love, I have read it. Maybe even twice. I’ve attended to culminating and understanding the “shoulds” of life with the same diligence and devotion of the very religious. “Shoulds,” in a way, have become the holy texts of my life. The trouble, of course, was that, yes, I read the “shoulds” but I hardly applied them to my actual life. That is to say that just because I learned I “should” do something, didn’t necessarily mean that I did it.

Before I went on my semester abroad last fall, I narrowed down my “shoulds” and “should nots” in how to have the best study abroad experience possible. During my eight months abroad I decided that I should be spontaneous, be smart, and open to every new experience provided that it was not illegal and had a 49% chance or less of life-threatening injury. I should not, however, spend all my money on useless goods (a bad habit of mine), I should not overpack on my weekend excursions, and under no circumstances whatsoever was I to fall in love. I memorized my “shoulds” and “should nots,” I made them my internal mantra, and then somewhere along the way the lines blurred, the universe intervened, and all my “should nots” became “shoulds.” Simply put: I bought a ton of useless crap, I overpacked on literally every excursion, and lo and behold I even fell in love.

There is this one saying about relationships that always sounded nice to me but never made sense: “A bird and a fish may fall in love indeed, but where will they live?” I mean, what kind of crazytalk was that? I had seen Leap Year and The Holiday and The Prince and Me. Birds and fish could make it work, right? Now I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t entertained the notion of falling in love while being abroad. But that’s all it was: a ridiculous, imaginary notion. After all, I was hardly Amy Adams or Cameron Diaz or Julia Stiles—hell, I could hardly make a relationship work in my own country. There was no way that it was going to work out in the short time that I was abroad. But as a precaution I told myself that should I happen to meet an attractive foreign boy, I was allowed to flirt with him, to kiss him, to keep it casual, but I was not going to fall in love. However, as we’ve established, just because I compile my “shoulds” doesn’t mean I always heed the advice.

It started out simple enough—falling in love that is. We randomly met at a bar through a mutual friend, we ended up talking for hours, blah, blah, blah, the minute details aren’t so important here. Great, I thought after our first few encounters, he seems like a nice guy. He’s attractive, funny, really interesting. I wouldn’t mind something casual for a few months. The simplicity continued when he asked me on a real, genuine date, when he afterwards asked me on a second date, when he took me to the zoo, when we kissed in the rain. It was all so simple and all so perfect. However, after every casual lunch, every date, every heart-racing kiss my brain would politely remind my heart that I had “X” number of days left. And, after that mindful reminder, my heart would tell my head to get over itself—I was having fun! Moreover, it had been over a year since I had felt this happy, this alive, this (dare I even think it?) head-over-heels for a guy. Skeptics, call it what you will, but during a weekend trip to London in January I realized that I liked this boy far, far more than I should. I was in big trouble, I was falling for him. Suddenly my head and my heart were in agreement: I was, without a doubt, totally and completely screwed.

I knew from the moment I met this boy that he was a Fish and I was a Bird (or was I the Fish and he the Bird?). We were a few years apart in age, we were at slightly different places in our lives, and, oh yeah, we were from two different countries. But, as that other saying goes, “We are all fools in love.” After every encounter I told myself that things with the Fish were not going to go past January. I heard other girls in similar situations discuss long-term plans, but every time someone asked me about the Fish I told them what I truly believed at the time: That this was the way the world works and things would end in January. I was going to go back home to the States along with the stark reality of the impossibility of long distance relationships at our age. The idea of extending our relationship further was not to be entertained. I have a weak emotional disposition by nature, and I knew my heart could not physically take a long-distance relationship. Yes, great things often come along in life that are temporary or transitory, and doesn’t the saying go something like good things “must come to an end?” I’m a bird and he’s a fish. Where on Earth could the two of us find common ground, or air, or ocean to be together?

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But the Fish was a thousand kinds of perfect: He was by far the nicest and most interesting young man I have had the privilege of knowing, not to mention we had incredible physical chemistry. We could talk for hours without pause, we acknowledged each other’s flaws with humor (I work too hard, he gets too stressed at red lights), and he sensitively and patiently understood the reservations I had about certain aspects of our relationship. It was for these reasons that I fell for him and it was for these reasons that I experienced unprecedentedly painful heartache when the Fish left for the first time in December (we hadn’t planned the January trip until weeks later). I cried so hard that I couldn’t breathe. I had never experienced that kind of pain before and it scared me that I had become so attached. When we met up after the Christmas holiday in London I decided that I should end things. We could be friends, right? Maybe. I thought I’d at least try. Except the Fish, per usual, surprised me. We didn’t make any sort of promises to one another; we spoke openly and frankly about our fears, our concerns but also our desires, our hopes, our longings. When we left the second time there were no tears, only the promise of seeing each other sometime soon and the open acknowledgement of wanting each other more than we could describe.

Today we are still working through things; unwilling to tie the other down, but not wanting to be with anyone else, we are both somewhat stuck between a rock and a hard place. After all, he is still the Fish and I am still the Bird. I wish I could give young women in similar circumstances some advice, but truthfully all that I know is that “shoulds” and “should nots” are helpful in some cases, but hindrances in most. By all accounts (and trust me, my friends have told me about them) the Fish and I should not be together. I should be with another bird—it would be easier, safer, more secure. But, although I am twenty, I understand that often the best things in life take a lot of work, that happiness is hard to come by, that life is short and I am willing to search for that common ground, despite all the “shoulds,” as long as I am in love with a Fish and he is in love with a Bird.

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