I used to fall for men who I knew would never love me.

Men who were married or who had girlfriends or were otherwise tragically unavailable—I'd pine for them from afar and convince myself it was love, but it was never love. It was all a game I played to distract myself from a real fear of commitment. I’d develop these useless feelings for men who were never going to be mine—and who, admittedly, I never wanted to be mine—so  I could stave off another day of facing my own reckoning.

There was a boy I thought I loved. He was the least emotionally available person I had ever met. It’s like I zoomed in on the person least likely to ever reciprocate my feelings, and it immediately set off an internal alarm—ding, ding, ding, ding! We worked together in the same office during college, and I pined after him for months. I decoded his words like I was a detective on the case of whether he loved me or not. I tried to read between the lines of his professional demeanor to find some subtle meaning, some little clue that told me he wanted me.

Throughout most of my 20s, I believed the best decisions were the ones that could be quickly undone.

It was a game—an all-consuming obsession that was just distracting enough to make me believe I was putting myself out there, that I was being vulnerable with another person. I wasn’t. I picked him on purpose; his flirtations were just enough to reel me in, but never enough to betray any real feelings. He was the perfect target for someone in denial about their own emotional unavailability. I projected that shit all over him: He was the unavailable one; he was the one incapable of love; he was the selfish one.

It went on for months—this cat-and-mouse chase between us, some weird competition of who could be the most fucked up. It existed in the air between us, but was never discussed outright. We both skirted around the issue so aggressively that it was dizzying.

As the school semester came to a close, I accepted an internship in Los Angeles that would last all summer. I’d be 600 miles away from him for three months, and couldn’t decide whether I was happy or sad about that fact. On the eve of my departure, we got splendidly drunk together like we had done many times before. But this time, my leaving for L.A. hung in the air like an invitation.

As we drank whiskey, our knees came together. Our touches were more urgent. The subtle sweep of his hand across my arm came with a warning. It was all leading to something.

So when he asked if I wanted to go back to his place—something he’d never asked me before—I nodded quickly and we began the mile-long walk to his place. We strolled across campus lazily, drunkenly, and let the walls around our feelings come crashing down. As we walked through the campus garden, he pulled a red rose from a bush and handed it to me; it was as romantic as we were going to get.

That night, when we found ourselves in the darkness—those unspoken words between expressed through lips touching lips, limbs touching limbs—the tension finally eased.

When I woke up in the morning, I left without saying goodbye. I moved to L.A. the next day, quickly and furtively as if I were escaping. This was not coincidence. This was not irony. This was not cute. I only allowed myself to open up to him when I knew I was leaving. I pined for months, got what I wanted, then left him asleep in his bed—fleeing the scene as if I had done something I hadn’t fantasized about doing for months.

Throughout most of my 20s, I believed the best decisions were the ones that could be quickly undone. I left enough room in every life change to allow me to go back on my word. Every commitment—no matter how big or small—felt like a noose around my neck. I never wanted to be pinned down, settled, or comfortable. I always wanted the opportunity to say yes, to be able to pack a bag and go whenever I needed an adventure. I wanted to be able to say fuck yes to whoever came into my life, and offered their body up to me. Choices felt like the buffet of life, and I never wanted to close one off.

there’s a perverse sort of freedom in commitment.

Yet, this fear of commitment always held me back. It made me scared. It made me timid. It made me think I couldn’t trust myself to make good decisions. It made me feel like I was incapable of sticking it out and doing the hard work. Because what I never realized is that there's a perverse sort of freedom in commitment. The juicy stuff comes after the committing part, whether it's to a person, a project, a life.

There is something that happens during commitment, when it starts to become satisfying. Beyond the uncomfortable part, beyond the part of your brain that says you’re crazy for closing off options, there’s a little sliver of light that starts to emerge. It's when you know a person as well as you know yourself. When you look at a face you’ve seen every day for the past year and still think it’s beautiful. When you see your sentences progressing, becoming better and better because you’re writing every day. When the muscle peeks through. When you’re new again. When you’ve changed. When you’ve become a better version of yourself.

It cannot be theorized; it can only be experienced. There’s something beautiful in staying, in working for something, in not allowing fears to dictate your entire life. That sliver of light is everything.