In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d write about true love.
No. I’m sorry, I can’t even type that without wanting to gag. I really don’t mean to sound cynical, but I f**king hate V-Day.
Now, if there were a day honoring the single folks, my attitude might be a tad altered. Maybe. If there were a “Congratulations! You’re Not Dating a Douchebag Day,” or a “Good for You! You Didn’t Marry Someone for the Wrong Reasons and End Up Divorced Day.” But alas, there isn’t. I therefore reserve the right to be resentful about the stupid Hallmark Holiday that’s basically the one day a year I feel crummy about being single.
Nevertheless, this year, I actually did find myself reflecting on the handful of times I’ve been in love throughout my life; and I realized how the ways we love change as we grow.
I was 13 years old when I first fell “in love.” I’m using the quotes because I can now say – with the wisdom and life experience of a 33 year old woman – that being in love at that age is more infatuation than anything else. That’s not to say that it doesn’t feel like love – it totally does – but it’s drastically different than being in love as an adult.
Childhood and adolescent love is all about sensation. Everything about it is brand new – the tingles, the butterflies, the nerves, and the consuming, rapturous fascination with this other person. It’s not necessarily about knowing the person on a deep, intimate level – it’s about how we feel when we’re around them, and how our hearts flutter each time we think of them in between.
My first big fall was the older brother of one of my closest childhood friends. He was (and still is) an extremely handsome guy, with huge blue eyes you could go swimming in. But even at 13, it wasn’t his appearance that captivated me. He was (and still is) a gifted thespian with a beautiful singing voice, and I remember watching his inner light just SHINE when he was performing. It was a beautiful thing to witness, and I was beyond star struck.
However, other than being involved in many of the same theatrical productions, and spending a massive amount of time with his family – I really didn’t know him very well. As such, could I have been “in love” with him? Or, was it an intense infatuation that felt like love?
Not to diminish the feelings of myself 20 years ago, but I’m more inclined to believe it was the latter. This doesn’t make it any less significant – it was a pivotal experience for me, and thus began my journey of crushing on the menfolk.
I’m going to fast forward a few years, to the GLORIOUS days of high school. Oh boy. What a clusterf**k of drama, raging hormones, and more drama. There were definitely a lot of boys I thought were “hot” throughout my high school years, but there were two noteworthy young gents whom I fell for – hard.
The first was a fellow sophomore, and someone I initially couldn’t stand on principle. The more time I spent with him, the more we talked, and the more I realized he was actually listening to me when I talked, the more I began to see that I’d been wrong about him. We became close friends, and I developed a gigantic crush on him; but he had a serious girlfriend, so I was yet again yearning for someone out of reach.
He was like a drug. I knew he loved his girlfriend, and he knew how I felt about him – and we both behaved like 16 year olds. He flirted, I flirted back, I loved every minute of it, and I always wanted more. As unhealthy as it was for me, I couldn’t not talk to him or spend time with him. I’m sitting here laughing to myself as I write this, because it was so silly…!
For my junior year, my parents decided to send me to a private boarding school in a neighboring state, with the hopes of me being in a less intellectually restricted atmosphere. On my first day, I saw a boy who literally made the world around me STOP. I still remember the moment I first saw him, and I remember exactly how I felt. A swarm of butterflies erupting in my stomach, my cheeks feeling like they were on fire, and this warm, hazy glow around his face that made me feel like I was looking directly at the sun.
This may sound corny, but come on – you remember being 17, don’t you?
Alas. Neither of those boys felt anything romantic towards me, and I knew that. Still, I was head-over-heels crazy about both of them. I was drawn to their intelligence, their huge hearts, their perceived unattainability, and their humor… Goofy, dorky humor, in the case of boy #2. To this day, I’m still a sucker for that.
Anyway, here’s the thing about being “in love” in high school. It’s a step above blind infatuation – there is definitely more to it, at least there was for me. But the infatuation is still what guides us – it’s also what keeps us captivated, even after we know that nothing is going to happen. Instead of making a conscious decision to let go and move on, we remain under the love spell until the torch burns itself out.
I’m not suggesting that letting go is any easier in adulthood… In fact, I believe it gets harder the more we grow. What’s changed for me in the decade-plus since high school, is that I’m now aware of why I need to let go; and I can make the choice to take active steps to move forward. I can also distinguish between genuine interest and infatuation, and I understand that the two are not mutually exclusive.
The next big fall happened in my mid-twenties, and it came out of East Jesus Nowhere. I was vacationing in my hometown over the summer, and met an old friend for lunch – a friend I’d known since I was five years old. There’s a three year age difference between us, so I’d grown up thinking of him as a little brother – and that’s what our friendship had always felt like. At least until I saw him as a handsome, mature, remarkable, 21 year old man.
That was a difficult experience. I knew in my heart that a ‘Monica and Chandler’ outcome wasn’t going to happen. He’d never felt that way about me, and I was fairly certain he never would… Call me pessimistic if you must, but when you know someone really well – you know the type of person they’ll fall for.
Since we lived 2,000 miles apart and rarely saw each other, it was easy – at first – to compartmentalize those feelings. As I look back now, I also see that it was equally easy to romanticize him. This is not to say he isn’t an incredible individual. He remains a dear friend; and he’s one of the most thoughtful, genuine, intuitive, and kind-hearted people I know. I adore him. But. None of that would have made us romantically compatible. We were always well-suited as the best of chums, quirky weirdos that we are… But as a couple, it would’ve been an awkward mess.
Was I in love with this one? I’m inclined to say yes… And no. I felt deep affection for him, which went much further than friendship – that much is certain. But as much as I loved him, I was more “in love” with the idea of ending up with one of my oldest and closest friends.
It’s a romantic notion, and I’ve seen it happen… But it takes much more than a one-sided desire for idealism.
Moving onward, we’ve reached my most recent big fall. This man, by far, has been the hardest to let go of. He was everything I’d ever wanted in a potential partner – even qualities I didn’t believe existed outside of romance novels and chick flicks, he had in abundance. He was the Real McCoy.
Even though we were never a couple, I was more vulnerable with him, more real, more open, than I’ve ever been with a man. I could be mistaken, but my intuition tells me that this was not one-sided, that there was potential, and a great deal of mutual affection. Unfortunately, our lives were leading us in two different directions, and he was nowhere near ready for the things that I wanted. I couldn’t blame him for that; I could only blame myself for knowing better, and falling for him anyway.
This happened a little over two years ago. As I look back, I’m seeing that one, tiny, crucial detail that I couldn’t see when I was in the midst of it, trying desperately to crawl back out. In a man whom I regarded as nearly flawless, or ‘perfectly flawed,’ as I like to call it – I’m seeing his biggest flaw:
He didn’t choose me.
From where I stand today? That, my friends, is the definitive deal breaker.
As my bestie, Sara, always says – “NEXT!”
For me, what’s next will (hopefully) be, falling for someone who is just as ready to have me in his life, as I am to have him in mine.
So, in the past two decades, what has all of this taught me?
Infatuation is exciting, stimulating, and very important; but it’s not an adequate foundation for falling in love.
Common ground and similar interests don’t always equal romantic compatibility.
You can’t fall in love with potential – you have to love the person who is right in front of you, exactly as they are, and you cannot expect them to change. Whether it’s a change for that person to make from within, or if it’s changing how they feel about you – you can’t pause your life and wait for a ‘maybe someday.’
Timing is EVERYTHING. Truly. And if timing isn’t on your side, once again – you can’t pause your life and wait for a ‘maybe someday.’
Real love, I believe wholeheartedly, is well worth the wait.
Cheers to that, my friends.