A human life comes to an end only once, but the spirit can die multiple times. In every life, there are a few painful deaths — deaths of dreams, of relationships, of hopes — that make it feel as though the world has come to an end.

I had to face one of those devastating and painful deaths tonight.

I loved her. I probably always will. Each love of your life feels special, but this one was different. How many hurts will I take to my grave as unresolved pain? Not many. Most losses don’t matter that much in the long run. But this is one that I will think about — and bitterly regret — on the day that I die.

I’ve known her for years. From the first time we ran into each other online about 13 years ago, I knew she was special. I wanted to pursue her at the time, but we went our separate ways instead. We remained the most casual of friends, almost never making contact until a bit more than three years ago.

And then she turned my world upside down.

As we started getting closer a few years ago, I fell in love with her. I fell very hard. She said she loved me, too. We talked about our future together. She said it was what she wanted. But in the end, she wasn’t willing to commit, for reasons I won’t get into here. They don’t matter tonight.

She didn’t say yes, but she never did say no. We would make contact again every now and then, but she showed no interest in getting off the fence.

In the meantime, I tried to have several other relationships, but they didn’t work out, either, for various reasons. Every time something didn’t work, a part of me always believed it had to be because she and I were going to end up together. My heart believed she would choose me — if she just had enough time.

But time finally ran out tonight. She wanted to stay on the fence, but I can’t live with that. My sanity couldn’t survive it any longer.

No woman is perfect. She has her faults, but they’re too few to mention here. She’s brilliant and funny and beautiful. (Like, stunningly beautiful. The sort of woman who turns heads.) She would be a perfect mother for the children we talked about having together. She’s not exactly like me. We’re similar enough that we could be happy and share a lot of things that mattered to both of us, but we have complementary skills in some areas. Even if she weren’t beautiful and brilliant, I would have respected her for more reasons than I can explain here.

If I could design my “dream girl,” she would look and act just like her. The only difference is my “dream girl” would choose me.

I told her tonight that things couldn’t continue as they’ve been. I’ve warned her in the past that things couldn’t continue as they were, so this didn’t come out of the blue. I’ve let her know things with us had to go one way or the other. Because she wasn’t willing to choose one way, I was forced tonight to choose the other.

When I told her the time had come to cut ties, she accused me of being cold. If I could cut her off like this, she said, it must mean I haven’t really loved her.

But when the world is ending — and it’s come time to admit that to yourself — there’s no good way to accept death. Although it was heart-wrenching to say goodbye, I had no choice. And now it feels as though my whole world has ended. It turns out that it was a world I built in my own heart — and it was a world she didn’t have any intention of ever living in.

I suppose things can change for me in the future. Maybe I’ll fall in love with someone else — maybe even someone who will choose me. The rational part of my brain tells me that, but the deeper part of me — the real me who lives in my heart — is wandering around in a beautiful dream which is crumbling before my eyes.

Love is fickle. Life would be easier if we didn’t have to deal with emotions and the desperate need for connection, but life would also be very different. I don’t think it would be a life worth living.

In the beautiful dreams I had built for myself — the ones she once said she wanted, too — I had love. And I had a family to love. Losing that loving connection with her feels like death.

There are a lot of things I feel tonight. Anger. Sadness. Regret. Fear. More than anything, though, I still feel the intense burning of a tiny candle in my heart. It’s just a small flame left amidst the ruins of this dead dream. It’s the love which won’t quite go away.

But as that small and lonely flame burns quietly, I can’t decide whether to protect it with all I have left in my heart or to try desperately to snuff the remainder out.

What do you do when it feels as though your world has ended? It feels like death — and there’s no one to share it with. This is what a broken heart feels like.