What's all the fuss about?
I remember the first time I thought I was in love.
I knew, then, that this was it. This was all I needed. He was THE ONE. He had perfect skin, a killer smile, and was the funniest of all of his friends. He wore the best clothes and he when we spoke, he made me feel like I was the most special, beautiful girl in the whole world.
I was 11. We were in the 5th grade. And… he didn’t exactly know how I felt about him, mainly because he was “going steady” with another girl who was a lot prettier than I was.
I remember the second time I thought I was in love.
I knew, then, that this was truly it. He was older, wiser, amazingly funny, and looked good as hell. All the girls liked him, but he chose me, so I felt special. He'd sneak in sly smiles when no one was watching and he slipped in late phone calls when no one was around. He was my “first”; he made me into a woman.
I was 16. He was 24 and a predatory abuser who knew better than to have sex with an underage girl, not unlike so many other men in my neighborhood.
I remember the third time I thought I was in love.
I knew, then, that there was nothing more true that this one. He was sexy, intelligent, witty, had a good job, and loved Hip-Hop music. He wasn’t perfectly honest all of the time, but we got married, we had a baby, and we created a pretty solid family.
I was 26. He was no more ready to be a devoted, faithful husband than I was ready to be a reluctant, acquiescing wife.
Each time, I thought I was in love, I believed that what I was feeling and experiencing was the real, true Love.
I couldn’t fathom being wrong about it because I felt what I assumed was Love coursing through my veins. I mean, it was so passionate! How could something so strong be so wrong? Reconciling that I felt more comfortable in my less-dignified dalliances and fleeting flings than I did locked into these intimate negotiations of devotion, sex, and time spent made for interesting happy hours at the bar.
I've learned a few things about myself over the years and much of it has frightened me in some ways, I admit.
For one, I didn’t love any of them. Not really. Upon further reflection, I learned that I often performed "love", or at least what I believe was expected of me in instances like these because I was a girl/woman. I pined, I yearned, I emoted, and then I mourned—all of the standard actions of a woman in love or losing love, right?
The problem was that I didn’t feel anything.
In fact, I was often quite numb and indifferent to the reality I lived. I began to wonder if perhaps having been through a number of traumatic experiences in my life in which people who were supposed to care about me treated me horribly, I’d somehow disconnected from actually feeling love in that sense. I seemed to be watching myself go through the motions more than I was actually walking in my own shoes.
Secondly, I didn’t… care. I began to believe I wasn’t a real woman because I lacked whatever it was that caused most women to fall heads over heels with these not-so-wonderful guys, getting caught in the undertow of love that would generate experiences that did little to edify them.
There were those who poured their hearts out to me, begging for second dates, second chances, or more and I would stare, blankly, at their pathetic faces and wonder “Is this where I perform womanhood and give in to what should be whimsy and delight?” I found that I was, more often than not, incredibly bored and I'd hope for at least a moment of mild amusement.
I didn’t get what the fuss was all about. I still don’t, really.
Finally, I never quite believed I deserved love so I didn’t believe I would ever truly experience whatever it was supposed to be, which led to a LOT of settling. Be it a 2-week casual dalliance with a guy who declared I would be his wife on our first date (which he couldn’t afford) or the 3-year marriage that ended with the IRS coming for my bank account, I managed to escape Cupid’s arrow so well, I believed him to be a fraud.
I decided that every romantic comedy was a lie and every couple that had been together for more than ten years held close secrets they didn’t dare reveal for fear of shattering the well-crafted image of thriving happiness and devotion we’re all supposed to believe is actually real.
I’m sure it is real, but it took me years to even stop internally debating the idea.
So now I’m in love. Like, for real this time *chuckle*.
The other day, I remarked to myself that this must be love because it is so perfunctory, ornery, predictable, comfortable, occasionally boring, mostly affirming and supportive, sometimes difficult to sustain and… it feels like this is what life is supposed to be like for every human being.
This love is intriguing and real.
This love isn’t a poorly-written fantasy that sells millions of books. This is the love that unpacks the groceries when it gets home and complains about the toilet paper not being replaced. This is the love that calls every day and murmurs “I love you” on cue. This is a love that irons shirts and has dinner ready on time, praises in public and criticizes in private. It’s the love that is all hot and bothered at work, but barely has enough energy to throw a leg over another at bedtime.
This is the hot and cold love that knows it is enduring and is going nowhere. This is the love that accepts cynical, fractured me exactly as I am and doesn't try to fix me with strong adhesive or forced smiles. This is a love that prepares for the bumps in the road by tightening its seat belt instead of taking the next exit.
This is the love I’ve always wanted.
Hindsight is 20/20, as we’ve been told repeatedly, but it is certainly more than that. Reflecting upon past experiences really contextualizes your current situation and can lead to a greater appreciation of who you are now and all that you have and hold.
We often get so caught up in the fleeting moments that we believe will define us for a lifetime that we don’t know how to prepare for what’s next by forgiving ourselves for making occasionally horrible choices. With maturity comes new perspectives and greater appreciation for life's small wonders.
Maturity also means no longer having to play make-believe in the Game of Love. It means choosing instead to live for one’s own self and one’s own uniquely defined happiness.
I’m in a great place right now because I no longer feel the need to perform what I’d come to believe was my social obligation to the world. I can live freely, on my own terms, and truly experience the Love not of the fairy tales, but the Love of a real life well-lived and well-learned.
This article was originally published at BlogHer. Reprinted with permission from the author.