I once thought love was about finding someone you couldn’t live without; that loving someone was the same as your need for air. Because this is what I learned about love, beginning with fairy tales and reiterated by rom-coms and just about everything else I absorbed as a young girl. Popular cultural has been teaching girls for ages that love is something that envelops you and sinks down into your every pore. And that without it, you’re nothing.
The reality of love is far different. But it took me a long time to come to the conclusion that love is really about finding someone you can live with, flaws and all.
I am not an expert on love. I have been an utter failure at it most of my life. I do know that my thoughts have changed, and even though love has been heart breaking at times, when it’s right, it’s a wonderful thing. I’ve only been in love three times. Here’s how I found my own meaning of love.
I was probably always a little boy crazy. Most of the time in elementary school I had a boyfriend, whatever that meant. Although I do recall kissing in kindergarten during nap time. In middle school, I bloomed and got noticed more by boys. I never had a problem with boys liking me. I just usually liked a different one! Pop culture allowed me to believe that someday I’d get the boy I wanted; after all Molly Ringwald did.
But I never really had real heartache until high school. My first serious boyfriend was much older and more experienced. And for some reason he liked me. I felt special. I thought he really cared for me, and he probably did. But I was naive; life had not hardened me yet. I still remember when he broke up with me at the movie theater. I cried for days. I didn’t understand why. Hadn’t I done everything right? Hadn’t I been the perfect girlfriend? It was a good learning experience about “love.” I didn’t really love that guy. I did trust him and cared for him deeply. It changed me. It made me realize that I should protect my heart more, and that’s about the last time anyone broke up with me. Many years later he apologized to me, and I really appreciated that.
The only guy I really loved from my adolescence was a guy I met when I was dating his friend. Then he and I realized we had feelings for each other. We didn’t date long. Instead we stayed friends. I went on to date others, but my heart was always his. What I remember most about him were the late night phone calls that lasted for hours when we were really honest about everything. A few years later when I was in college, I told him I loved him. He told me he loved me, too, but he couldn’t be with me. He didn’t think he was good enough. I didn’t know what to say so I put some distance between us. And in that distance, he met someone. Not long after, he told me he was going to have a baby and was getting married. That summer was brutal. I still remember him telling me; nothing was ever the same.
A few weeks later, I spent the last night in the house I grew up in with him. But he still got married and became a dad. He still called me all the time until one day I said stop. I didn’t want those calls to stop, but he had made his choice. I needed to get on with my life. I never stopped loving him or thinking there might be a time for us in the future. Then he died. I hadn’t seen or spoken to him in years. I knew his life was kind of a mess. I only hope that he always knew that someone loved him.
I didn’t really fall in love again until my 30s. My early 20s were full of lots of non-commitment then I met my ex-husband. But as I clearly know now, I never really loved him, at least not romantically. I was not in any condition to love at that time, which is why I married a man I didn’t love.
This next love was after him, and it was a train wreck from the start. We were co-workers. I was still married when we met. We were just friends at first. After separating, he and I knew we couldn’t start something. It was too soon. But there was something very intense between us. And honestly, I had already fallen in love with him over the many months of long conversations at the office. I tried to move forward and not think of him. I started dating; met some guys I liked. It was him I wanted though, and we couldn’t stay away from each other. About a year later, we finally made a go at it. It was never easy. There was a lot of baggage. There was fighting and anger. I loved him fiercely. I stepped on my heart until it burst to stay with him. Slowly, I fell out of love with him and had to go so I could save myself. I’ll always care about him. I have forgiven him. He wasn’t my happy ending, no matter how bad I wanted him to be.
After that, I needed to just work on me. It took a long time to heal from that heartbreak. I was fine being alone. And when I was in a good place, something amazing happened, I fell in love for the last time. We were friends at first. I wasn’t sure where it would go, and that was okay. When you’re older and wary from what you’ve been through, you have a different expectation, which is that you don’t have any expectations!
He won me over with his easy way about him that’s just so relaxing to my soul. He is bright and kind. He is a good father and a wonderful partner. I never knew it could be so easy to be with someone. There’s no drama; our only fight is what to have for dinner (and that topic itself could be a blog – coming soon!).
What he has taught me about love is that it can be unconditional when it’s right. He lets me be me. I let him be him. Yes, we still have to work on our relationship, but we do that every day by talking to each other or not talking. Regardless, it’s honest and sincere. It’s a really nice way to live. I once had this checklist of what I thought love would be. It’s long in the trash! That’s not how the real world works. As I get closer to becoming his wife, I absolutely believe we will make it because he’s the one I can live with.