I used to be in love with the Princeton Partner: An abstraction of the romantic partner who I’d meet and fall in love with during my time here. I think a lot of other people are in love with them, too—the pursuit of the Princeton Partner consumes some people more totally than others. Some, apparently, have succeeded in finding that person. Most have not.
I think my parents want me to find a partner because they want to see me grow up and “become a man”—whatever that means—but perhaps more importantly, they want me to find comfort and stability. My sisters want me to find a partner so that they can have someone who’ll help make fun of me. And my friends want me to find a partner because it means having an unwavering, unshakeable source of happiness on this campus. At least, that’s what we think it means.
I have to admit it. Finding the Princeton Crush did feel nice, even if it only gave me the smallest taste of what life would be like with the Princeton Partner—the one person so special that even the mere thought of them would bring me joy. I can’t pick out a specific moment when I fell in love with them; it was more like a series of small moments—meals, problem set sessions, late-night conversations, you name it—that eventually convinced me to see them as a crush. Over time, thoughts like “Hmm, what if…” and “Maybe this could be…” started to pile up. Before I knew it, I woke up every morning yearning to see their texts.
Though coming up with replies made me anxious, the talking came so naturally. I know it’s cliché, but sometimes our conversations would be hours on end. It didn’t feel like we were talking about anything important, but that didn’t matter; we were perfectly happy with living in those moments for as long as we could, finding new things to tease each other about, learning so much about each other without ever asking for it directly.
Even with all those moments, I started to doubt that I had actually found the Princeton Partner. My friends told me to think positively—I had plenty of reasons to think that they might have mutual feelings! All I needed to do was ask.
But often, I found it easier to think of ways that I might get rejected. What if it was like last time, where I misinterpreted a hangout as a date, and the Princeton Crush had to awkwardly tell me that they didn’t see me that way? Or that other time where they already had a Princeton Partner? (And in every case where that partner was white, it only reaffirmed to me those persisting stereotypes about how Asian men like me just aren’t that attractive—stereotypes, of course, that I fight within my consciousness every day.) Or what if—and this might be the most painful possibility of them all—they never end up rejecting me directly? In other words, I’d have to connect the dots myself; a slow, sinking realization that would leave me at a loss for words.
The moment after I confessed my feelings to them, the world came to a standstill. The Princeton Crush was shocked. No, they were confused. No, they were pensive. No—they were sorry. Honestly, it could’ve been all these things. I’m not entirely sure anymore.
I remember waiting for them to say something back. From their face, I could tell that the memories we had shared were running through their head—I knew that look all too well. I had gone through this scene too many times to not know what they would say next.
I haven’t forgotten that moment of waiting. It felt like it would last for an eternity. The funny thing is that, by immortalizing it in this essay, I’ve ensured that it will.
I felt a lot of things after getting rejected—disappointment, anger, frustration, depression, regret. But there’s one feeling that’s really stuck with me: Guilt. It’s the guilt of hiding your true intentions—your intentions as the Princeton Hopeless Romantic—from somebody you care about. It’s the guilt of trying to pressure someone into the role of the Princeton Partner. In my head, I’ve apologized a thousand times over.
People have told me not to feel bad about it, but how much of that is just them trying to make me feel better? How much could they really know anyways? They don’t know all the things I was doing to try to push my crush into that mythical role of the Princeton Partner, all the things I was doing during those seemingly trivial conversations where I was falling in love and wishing so badly that my crush was doing the same.
I’ve thought about these stories so many times that the details have gotten all jumbled together, and the names of those I’ve loved have started to sound meaningless. It’s not that I wish I had never met these people—even now, I still value the memories we’ve shared—I just wish I had never been obsessed with them. I’m sick of how, even months and years later, the most random things remind me of those periods of infatuation: Taylor Swift’s “Lover,” chocolate ice cream, my olive green T-shirt—I don’t need to go on.
And yet, I like to think that there’s some worth in remembering these stories. I’ve learned a lot of things: how to recognize that you enjoy spending time with someone, how to be honest with yourself about your feelings, how to decide which ones to act on, and how to initiate hard conversations (no matter how awkward they might seem), how to lean on your loved ones in the aftermath, how to realize that someone who was previously the Princeton Crush can, well, still be your friend, and how to move on.
My telling of the tale of the Princeton Crush certainly isn’t the only one, but I still hope others can get something from it. At the very least, I hope people know that they aren’t the only ones going through this.
Even if the Princeton Partner—or just the Partner—is real; even if being with the Princeton Partner would make it so, so easy to forget about my past heartbreaks, I’m not going to wake up every day being in love with the idea of them. If I have to be completely honest with you, I’m not really in a rush to find them; the search itself takes so much energy. Besides—it’s not like having a partner will make my past magically disappear. The work of forgetting has to start with me.