How many of you have had your heart broken? I’m willing to bet pretty much everyone reading this has their own sad, crushing stories of love lost.
Well, Ning Li of Ning Li Dating has graciously offered to share his first heartbreak – and why, in the long run, he’s grateful for everything that happened with her, even the painful times.
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You always remember your first real crushing, aching heartbreak. The kind where you don’t sleep, your stomach feels hollow, and food tastes like ash.
Mine actually saved my life.
I’ve always been attracted to white girls my entire life. I grew up in a white town, hung out with white friends, and spoke like a white person.
I look… incredibly Asian.
On the scale of mouse to elephant, I would probably say my Asian eyes are probably about ant-sized.
Tiny, even for an Asian.
Nonetheless, I had a weakness for white girls that looked cute and innocent, like the kind you’d bake cookies with.
While the traditional “hot club girl” was visually (and mentally) stimulating, they were never the types of girls I could see myself sitting by a fireplace with, staring deep into her eyes, and uttering those three words that made your armor disappear.
Which was why when I met Cheerio girl, my brain basically exploded.
It was my junior year at Cornell, and I was at the running club, stretching out.
There were a couple other people there, and then she walked in.
She had green running shorts, a yellow “Cheerio” shirt, and a bouncing, brown ponytail. Freckles dotted her face, and she had big doe eyes that glowed hazel in the sunlight.
Her shirt read “Graham” across the back.
“Oh, you guys are running the Forest Home route? I was just thinking that!”
Smooth, Ning. Smooth.
We got to chatting on the run, and I found out that she’s pre-medical school, a swimmer, and was from a town only an hour away from Ithaca.
We walked back to our dorms together, and I thought to myself, “oh boy Ning, we’re in trouble.”
I saw her a couple times a week for about a month, and I eventually mustered up the courage to stammer through a dinner invitation.
We went to probably the most romantic place you could think of: the dining hall.
There, we were talking about our plans for the weekend when she dropped an anvil on the table that I tried to brush off:
“My boyfriend is coming up to visit …”
It’s okay, I guess we’ll just be friends, I convinced myself.
At the next run, I pulled a sneaky, devilish move that Jesus and my mother would both have been ashamed of.
“Hey, I was thinking of doing a triathlon, and I’m terrible at swimming. Do you think you could give me a few pointers?”
We started meeting at the pool each Thursday, and then going to dinner afterwards.
I started thinking about her. Daydreaming about her.
I looked for her on Facebook under “Graham,” before I face-palmed, realizing that that had been the name of the cereal company, not her last name.
At the end of the semester, we met up after finals to feed the goslings. As we squatted next to the lake, tossing bread onto the grass, my heart hammered.
“What’s going on between us?” I asked.
“I don’t know, Ning… I really like you, but I have my boyfriend…”
“I really like you, too.”
Ugh, were we in middle school or something?
That summer, they broke up, and in the fall, Cheerio girl and I became an item.
We started eating together, doing crosswords together, and one night, cuddling on a worn out sofa and on the edge of sleep, I told her I loved her.
“I love you too.”
Before it started falling apart, we spent the next five years on what felt like a rollercoaster ride.
It would be all love, daisies, and fuzzy warm blankets for a couple weeks, and then it would crash into jealousy, insecurity, and tears the next.
Over and over again, like a record on repeat.
For what it’s worth, we went on some life-changing adventures together.
I brought her to China.
We met each other’s families.
We went on two cross-country bicycle tours.
We went on vacation together.
We ran races together.
I visited her in Nicaragua on her study abroad semester.
Her family brought me to Mexico with them.
I thought that I was going to marry this girl.
When she moved to Buffalo, we naturally tried to make the distance thing work. I’d drive up one weekend a month, and she would come down the next.
One weekend when I was up, she was taking a test, and I was packing to go, when I noticed a note she had written, lying in a box.
Something about that note didn’t feel right.
I felt like a slug for snooping, but I took it out, and as I read, I felt more and more pressure on my chest.
She had written this to some guy in medical school, and she told him that she liked feeling his body next to her.
In a jealous rage, I leapt in my car and sped the three hours back to Ithaca. I left her a scathing voicemail, and alternated between screaming and sobbing on the phone to my sister the whole way back.
I sat on my porch and stared, a hollow, empty gargoyle.
Ten minutes later, she got out of her car and sat down next to me.
“Did you hook up with him?”
Her eyes flickered.
“No, Ning. It’s nothing. I care about us, I care about you.”
I was desperate to believe her, so I did.
When we stopped having sex, she told me it was because she was stressed and tired from med school.
When she made plans to do a “Floating Doctors” program in Panama that summer, she swore that med school guy was in the same program purely by coincidence.
Again, I was desperate, so I believed her.
I was an idiot.
At times, even when she told me she loved me, I knew that it was a wish, not a declaration.
Looking back, I learned my lesson.
A lie isn’t necessarily a manipulation as much as an agreement. To be lied to, you have to believe the lie.
Crushed, heart broken, and lost, I decided to pull some “Eat, Pray, Love” shit and go on a cross-country bicycle ride on my own.
Across New York, Ohio, and Indiana I cried.
I should’ve been having the adventure of a lifetime, meeting people and seeing places, but all I did was cry.
My lowest point came one night as I was camped out on Carlisle Lake just east of St. Louis. I remember the moon was full, and despite being on the shore of a serene reservoir, there were no mosquitoes.
She skyped me from Panama, and on the phone with her, I cracked and had a nervous breakdown.
All I could think was, she would’ve loved this place.
“I miss you so much,” I told her over and over again.
Having a good crying session is like having a lollipop. It always makes things better, at least for a little bit.
It wasn’t until the middle of Kansas that I started feeling better.
I met a wonderful family in the middle-of-nowhere town of Riley, Kansas that took me in, fed me, and listened to my stories.
I played X-box with their son, played basketball with the father, and they even let me drive around town in their golf cart.
It was one of those magical traveling moments where you realize that no matter how different people are, no matter how strange their culture, they are humans just like you and me.
In the middle of the sprawling, barren Kansas prairie, I thought to myself, I’m finally recovered.
It had taken almost 1,500 miles on a bicycle, but I finally felt whole again.
Naturally, the next day she Skyped me.
“What do you think about me flying in to Denver and joining you for the rest of your trip?”
She was supposed to go to Peru after Panama. Apparently she had had a change of heart.
How was I supposed to say no to that?
We spent the rest of the summer camping in the desert, climbing mountains, and falling back in love.
“Okay, let’s finally make this work,” we told each other.
When we flew back from San Francisco, I moved to Buffalo.
We lived a mile away from each other, and in November, she finally came clean.
She had been hooking up with this med school guy all throughout the spring, all through Panama, and had been lying to me about it for 8 months.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I had moved to a shit-hole city, taken a shit-hole job, all for what? For this?
I told her it was over.
I moved back to Ithaca, got my old job back, and focused on one thing: moving forward.
I got some graduate school interviews, and started filling the void inside me with a slew of meaningless hook-ups and one night stands.
In June, I stopped my overstuffed van at her house in Buffalo, ready to say good-bye one last time.
We both cried it out, and finally I headed off to Colorado, where I was to start my life anew at a PhD program in Fort Collins.
From the ground up, I built my social circle and created my universe. I immersed myself in my studies and started dating again.
I felt whole.
Cheerio girl still called and we still talked, but she was seeing someone and I was seeing someone.
I was happy, and I told her that after all was said and done, I was grateful for everything that happened.
I was grateful for all that we had been through together.
I was grateful for the challenges she brought me.
I was grateful for having the chance to grow and become stronger than who I was.
I was grateful because hey, what’s life without a couple curve balls, right?
A year later, she called me and said something surprising…
“Hey, I know that you’re seeing someone and I am, too, but I got a residency interview in Denver in January. Do you want to hang out, and maybe climb a mountain or something?”
I replied with one word.