Editor's Picks The Ultimate Guide to Dating Love + Sex Love

All the words I wish I could have told you

I got rid of my last photo of you, and I immediately regretted it. I realized that I will never be able to use the photos I took, documenting our love, as a bookmark.

I regretted that on any suspecting afternoon, with the sun gleaming just right twenty years from now, one of those photos will never fall out of an old book in front of my children and they won’t ask about the boy in the picture with curly hair and reddened cheeks.

I regretted it because you are – you were – my first love. And a person only gets one of those in a lifetime.

When I finally left I reacted curt toward you, almost passive or indifferent, because I didn’t want you to know that this was killing me too. Because I wanted to be strong – because the alternative was weak. Because we met un-intentionally and you immediately became forever etched into my soul.

I regretted it because we were damned from the start – because I found happiness in you before I found happiness in myself.

But, the reality is that I didn’t even know that I was looking for someone like you to save me from my misdirection. In fact, all I knew was that I liked the feeling in my stomach when your bright smile landed in my direction. I liked the comfort I felt in your eyes, I liked being desired. And, I liked how the beginning of our love story sprouted as if it were straight out of a Nora Ephron film.

The thing about those movies, however, is that they always ended just before the story actually began and reality set in.

For whatever reason, I thought myself righteous enough to pop our bubble. To be the one who decides that there is something better, grander, more extraordinary beyond the story of us.

So, I let it go. I convinced myself that I needed to get away so that I could start feeling again.

But seared inside my mind, hidden behind my self-proclaimed and glaring passions for the best love story known to man – and my belief that you couldn’t possibly give it to me – are the photos of you that I took in sepia. My hand on your chest. The back of your head against a sunset. Our hands holding one another. A kiss stolen in a gas station parking lot. Your eyes meeting mine with affection from the driver’s seat when we stopped at a red light and I told you to smile.

I regret that I didn’t give us the chance to seize just one more moment together. I regret that I didn’t give us a chance.

I know that you broke my heart in little ways for a long time, but I broke your heart in a big way all at once. One does not cancel out the other.

I loved you unconditionally. You knew it, too, but you lost me. I waited until I had enough and I left.

I realized that it is better to be single and search for myself, then to settle for something I feel insecure in.

Don’t get me wrong though. Our ending wasn’t nearly as tumultuous as I am making it out to be, nor as I would have liked it to be. One second we were, the next we were not. And that was it. We just ended. There was no thunder, no lightening. Nothing.

Even now as I am sorting through what exactly happened, I still can’t help but think that if you loved me the way you said you did you would have treated me the way you said you would.

I wouldn’t have had to beg.

Even when we did eventually try to talk about us, instead of ignoring the elephant in the room with banter or seduction, I’d be speechless. I didn’t know where to start.

But, please don’t mistake my silence for indifference. I do still love you. I always will, except it’s not the same. We spent so much time together and I know that I am saying so little right now to make up for it. I know that this is unbearable, but I promise you that every word I wish to utter to you is in my mind. I just can’t bring myself to speak when you look at me like that. When you draw yourself closer, it is a bribe which I can’t commit to. So please take a step back, I’m so tired of this. I am drained. If I stayed, I would spend a lifetime choking on words I wouldn’t ever dare to say.

I invested in you and I lost myself. I became dependent. And to be honest, this was the last thing I wanted. I spent close to a year relying on someone I didn’t want to rely on – nor could I. I knew it was the end long before you did, and I held on anyways, just in case, because I have a drastic fear of letting go and moving on.

But how can I reconcile breaking your heart and leaving everything we had together in just a few short minutes. You say that I took you by surprise, that you didn’t see it coming – but I don’t know how. I gave you all of the signs. You saw my silent tears. I always knew I wanted more. I was destined for something different. I felt it, deep in my bones, I just never faced it until I was forced to. I was able to ignore my confusion because we laughed with one another. We couldn’t take our hands off one another. We ran home in the pouring rain together, stopping only to kiss.

We experienced the best of one another for a short period of time, and I know that our relationship lasted as long as it was meant to. We loved each other until we couldn’t. We chewed us up and spit us out. We got everything we needed to get out of one another. We fell in and out of love from worlds apart. But I still feel terrible. And I feel like I should be feeling more even though I have been overcome with intense conflicting feelings every day since we said goodbye. Every day for close to a year.

I guess I just want you to know that I didn’t make this decision in haste. I needed to get away in order to understand more of myself.

I regret not thanking you enough for watching me blossom and believing in me so that I could believe in myself. I should have told you just how much you helped me realize the endless bounds of myself, for better or for worse.

I should have thanked you for letting me go, even though it hurt like hell.

I regret doing this to you because you waited for me. Because I gave you dozens of silent chances in my head. Because you would take me back in a second and I am here telling you that I am confused. That I need more time. That is – time to think. Time to learn and explore and dream. But all you hear is that I need to do all of these things away from you, that I need time alone. That I would rather work on building my sense of self alone than by your side.

But I deserve someone who makes me feel alive. Someone who is generous and who makes my heart jump when I tell people that they are mine. And you deserve someone who doesn’t give you an expiration date.

I am scared that maybe I made a mistake, that maybe I am foolish, or maybe that this is all that my love amounts to. I am having trouble accepting the normalcy of the end of us. The lack of explosion.

I am scared that I will forget. I am scared that after a few months everything we had will feel just like a dream. A dream that is open-ended, a dream that will constantly be on repeat in our respective minds until the end of time. Fated to carry each other’s baggage.

I regret that I now have to give you to someone else. That someone else will nuzzle into your chest, and devour your smell. I regret that I gave it all up so easily and have only in hindsight realized the weight of my naivety. Or did I? Because I also remember being so incredibly devastated, and being met with oblivion, with dismissive niceties. I remember my anxieties being belittled or made to feel small. I remember that I didn’t have the means, or the patience, to heal you.

I remember crying on the dance floor a year ago. Turning around so that none of my friends would see. I was staring at your messages. They were curt, broken and hard to make sense of. I remember being confused, I remember when someone told me for the first time that I deserved a love that was better. A love that nurtured. A love I didn’t have to settle for. A love that swept me off my feet.

I regret that we were different together than we were around everyone else. That no one got a real glimpse of us, in love. I regret being so quiet. I regret that I couldn’t love you like you loved me. I regret that you couldn’t love me the way I needed you to. I regret that we’ve run out of things to say.

I regret that our relationship was already broken even when your fingers were strumming through my hair or when we sat across from each other on the floor in a fit of laughter.

I regret knowing it was the end before you did, and holding on anyways just in case. I regret not telling you just how nervous I was and just how serious I was when I said that I thought we lost our spark. Our magic.

I regret it all because I wish that I held on to those pictures for a little while longer. I wish I studied them. Even though I knew the ending wouldn’t change.

Neither of us can fully heal our heartbreak unless we are apart. We have to heal for ourselves, rather than for the possibility that one day down the line we will be together again.

Seeing you that day, when you came by to collect your things, actually helped me realize that I am better off without you. That I am happy now. Really happy. And I no longer doubt myself. I no longer rely on you for happiness. I no longer get angry or sad because you couldn’t make me happy.

In hindsight I had absolutely no idea who I was when I met you. I still really don’t. I’m not even sure that I knew what genuine happiness looked or felt like.

Maybe that’s what ruined us after all. My indifference. My sadness. All of which at the end of the day amounted to nothing.

Soon I will be able to think about you without ripping my heart out.

Looking for more content like this? Follow our brand new Instagram account!

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter.

Love Books Advice

On love, heartbreak and strength: how author Aafiyah Shaikh inspires us to rise again

Who among us hasn’t been in the deepest throes of heartbreak and known exactly what we want to be told, but can’t seem to find anyone to say it? Our own Aafiyah Shaikh, Digital Product Manager here at The Tempest, had enough of that feeling, and did something about it.

Her debut novel, Letters to Youis a love letter to everyone who’s ever had their heart broken and just doesn’t understand why, or how to cope with it.

As someone who’s had their heart broken, I identified with the book, but was particularly drawn to the unique format. Each letter thoughtfully explores a new scenario, starting from “what do I do next? How do I approach the next five days?” to “What happens when my partner has a new girlfriend?” to “How do I deal with seeing them in public?” Something about Shaikh’s advice being written in letter format made it feel all the more personal; in writing the advice she wishes she had received herself, it landed to me as the reader as if she’s gently giving advice directly to me as a friend.

In covering so many different scenarios, Shaikh ends up covering that full lifecycle of heartbreak, from the disappointments in the relationship, the pain of breaking up, to kind of the long slow trudge to moving on. Her book ends on that last celebratory note of finally knowing you’re over someone you thought you’d be attached to for life, but what I appreciated the most was that it still demonstrated how recovery is never truly linear.

[Image description: Book cover of 'Letters To You' by Aafiyah Shaikh] Via Aafiyah
[Image description: Book cover of ‘Letters To You’ by Aafiyah Shaikh] Via Aafiyah
Coming out of any relationship – whether it’s a breakup or just a lost friendship – is a messy, ugly process of alternating between waking up one morning and thinking you’re fully healed, and struggling to find the air to breathe the next. Shaikh’s letters embrace you in a warm hug and remind you that you’re not the only one trying to navigate the rollercoaster, and that there is an end in sight.

Eventually, you realize you love the memories more than you love the person in front of you. As Shaikh describes, you eventually hit a point where you realize you like the person that you knew, but the person you knew doesn’t exist anymore – but neither do you, because you’re continuously changing and growing as a person, too.

Not that that growth process isn’t painful, too. It’s certainly a hard pill to swallow when I occasionally remember that there are moments in life that I can no longer share with people I thought would always be my first phone call when anything happens. There are so many times after I’ve parted ways with someone that I’ve had raw insecurities and fears brought up to the surface – what if I don’t ever find someone else to be that first call? Or worse, what if I do find someone and they drop me out of nowhere, too?

And yet, Letters to You reminded me that there’s strength to be found in leaning into the vulnerability. Strength isn’t being upbeat all the time in the face of all adversity; it can also be diving deep inside yourself and learning how to love and respect yourself when it feels like no one else does.

As Shaikh reminds me, the way self-respect manifests itself looks different for everybody – a point she touches on in the nuanced letter “What to Do When He Cheats.”  But the end of the day, Shaikh firmly believes that self-respect is just fundamentally being able to look at yourself in the mirror and being able to say I respect me at this moment in time – if I do this at the age of 22, I can look back at myself at the age of 32 and think that even if it’s the wrong decision, I made the best decision for me at the time with the information that I had.

It’s a point I’m continuing to mull over long after reading (and re-reading) Letters to You. I know that I’m going to keep making mistakes and getting hung up on the wrong people, because that’s part of life. But I’m no longer going to hate myself every time someone falls out of my circle.

[Image description: a photo of Aafiyah Shaikh smiling] Via Aafiyah
[Image description: a photo of Aafiyah Shaikh smiling] Via Aafiyah
Instead, I’m going to remind myself of Shaikh’s point – that I trusted myself, I took a worthy risk, and that the even if I ignored useful advice, the people who gave me advice who really care about me will stick around, even if it goes horribly wrong. I’m going to be more self-compassionate, and remind myself that knowing my vulnerabilities and actively working on them is what gives me strength. And then, I’m going to curl up with Letters to You, and enjoy the warm hug of a good letter to help me in my recovery journey.

You can buy Letters to You in the Kindle Store or on Gumroad today, and keep up with Aafiyah’s next steps on Twitter, or on her personal site at

Official synopsis:

Letters To You is, undoubtedly, a story of heartbreak. But it’s not the screaming and crying that occurs during or after the fallout. It’s the quiet moments, the ones we don’t see in films. It’s everything that happens in between grieving and learning to be okay again. It’s nurturing your pain, replaying good and bad memories. It’s looking at them through new lenses. It’s learning to rearrange your world as it shifts back onto its axis – yourself, not him. It’s those moments when there is no music playing, no big moment of realization because broken hearts require time and patience to be mended, but they do mend. Letters To You is, above all, a story of strength and triumph, through adversities, against all odds, about finding ourselves again.