Thanksgiving has taken on an entirely different meaning for me lately. Three years ago, I was in the midst of intense love — something I thought was going to last for a lifetime. And then it was over in a flash, leaving me bewildered and hurt.

Each time Thanksgiving week rolls around now, it brings a bittersweet swirl of intense feelings — a remembrance of sweet love mixed with the bitter pain of loss. I’m not sure which feeling is stronger, but every bit of it is powerfully intense.

I was lost in my thoughts as I left the office for lunch today. Since it’s two days before Thanksgiving, few people are on campus, so the lobby was empty and silent as I walked through.

As I was about to step out of the building, I realized someone else was approaching from the other side of the lobby, so I absent-mindedly held the door as this woman approached. Then I noticed it was someone I hadn’t seen lately.

Allison used to stop by my office a lot last year, enough that I felt as though I knew her pretty well. She had talked with me about an ex-boyfriend, one who I encouraged her to dump because he treated her badly. (He even treated her cat badly. Don’t ever trust a person who treats animals poorly.) When she had told me last year that she had dumped the guy, I’d been happy for her.

Allison is tall and beautiful, at least to my way of thinking. She has gorgeous blue eyes and striking blonde hair. In our culture, some people wouldn’t see her as beautiful simply because she’s bigger than the waif-life standards of the day. She’s six feet tall and has a body style halfway between athletic and chubby, but I find her very attractive. She’s in her late 20s and she’s close to graduating from here.

“Allison, where have you been?” I asked as she got close enough for me to hug her. I was genuinely happy to see her. “Did you drop out of school or something? I haven’t seen you all semester.”

She told me she was still in school but she had been busy. I asked what she had been so busy with. She just smiled a broad smile and held up her left hand to show me a diamond engagement ring.

She explained that she had met a man last summer while she wasn’t taking any classes and they had dated ever since. He had just given her the ring a few days ago. She was obviously happy.

“Oh, darn,” I joked. “I’ve missed my chance with you. I’m just sorry you never had a thing for fat older men.”

We both laughed and then she smiled warmly.

“It’s funny that you say that,” she said. “I used to have the worst crush on you last year. I kept dropping hints, but you never seemed interested and then I met Nick.”

In a split second, several thoughts went through my mind, but the biggest one was disappointment. Why hadn’t I noticed this romantic interest of hers? What clues had I missed?

I felt stunned and frustrated. Why hadn’t I noticed? How much different might my life be if I’d realized her interest and started dating her? Maybe she could have been engaged to me instead of Nick. Everything could have been different.

But in the long moment before I responded — as I looked into those beautiful blue eyes — I realized that nothing would have been different if I had known of her interest at the time.

We chatted a bit more — and I said all the right things — and then we went our separate ways. I got into my car and sat there thinking about what I’d just heard — and what I’d felt.

By all practical considerations, Allison would have been a great match for me. She’s smart, funny, beautiful and creative. We share a lot in common. It would make sense, at least in my head.

But she’s not what my heart wants. And my heart is stubborn.

If I had known of her interest last year, I might have forced myself to be interested in return. At the very least, I would have been flattered. My ego would have enjoyed it. I might have gone out with her. I might have even enjoyed her company. But I could never have been fair to her.

My heart was already occupied.

I can love only one person at a time and I don’t seem to have any say about who my stubborn heart loves. Even if she doesn’t want me, my heart waits for a phone call that my brain knows will never come. Until my heart gives up, nobody else has a chance with me. Even Allison.

I’m flattered that Allison was interested in me. That Nick guy is lucky to have her. I never consciously noticed that she was interested, but I see now it would have made no difference.

When Allison and I talked last year, my mind was right there with her — but my heart was a thousand miles away. That’s why I never noticed. And that’s why this is another bittersweet Thanksgiving week for me. All alone.