The love we think we crave might not be the love we actually need.
When I was an awkward, chunky, bespectacled 12-year-old, I had this elaborate fantasy about how my first kiss would go. I would have long shiny hair that was perfectly straight with no hint of humidity-induced frizzing. It would be in a field of tall grass, with just enough wind to bend it gracefully. My skin would be clear, my limbs long, lean, sun-kissed.
It would be a beautiful summer day, and I would be wearing a long white dress, sleeveless, gauzy, not quite see through. He would be the human version of Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid, pretty much. The kiss would be soft, confident, perfectly matched mouths and sweet smelling breath.
Most nights, I would fall asleep to this playing on a loop in my mind. Sometimes, I would practice on my hand, my face burning not from embarrassment, but anticipation.
How it really happened: a dark back room of Skate 'N' Space.
It was a Thursday night, popular with youth groups because they only played contemporary Christian music. I was fourteen and he was fifteen. He smelled like he tripped and fell into a vat of Drakkar Noir before leaving the house.
I'd gotten contacts and was no longer schlubbing around all that baby weight but I was still incredibly awkward. His shirt was purple satin and I was wearing acid washed jeans. When our mouths finally met, it was at a weird angle, and our teeth clashed together.
We immediately pretended that it hadn't happened. But his lips were soft and his hands were kind, and he really did look a little bit like Prince Eric, in the right light and if I squinted hard enough.
We live in a world of make-believe love. Hollywood churns out rom-coms with depressing frequency, Harlequin romances take up multiple shelves in any bookstore, television couples look perfect and act perfect even when they are actually perfectly awful.
This is what we all grow up with, maybe even more now than ever, when all anybody ever shows on social media is the best parts of their lives, and not the ones that happen when the phones are off and the chips are down. Who can blame us for believing in the lie that love without flaws is the ideal?
But love without flaws doesn't exist. Each one of us is imperfect in a multitude of ways, so how could our loving of each other be anything less than that? Imperfect love is the good stuff precisely because of that.
What could be more romantic than seeing and accepting the things deep within ourselves and in others that are ugly and unappealing, and still extending a hand and a heart?
What kind of "once upon a time" could compare to the moment when two people recognize what they're capable of, how much damage they could do to each other, how much emotional wreckage they could leave in their wake, and fall into each other's arms anyway?
What happier ending exists than the one where we find someone, against all the odds the world lays out against us, and love them the more we know them?
We're all conditioned to look for fairytale love, to hold out for pumpkin carriages, princes in disguise, spellbound maidens asleep in the woods. But the love we think we crave might not be the love we actually need, the love that's our human birthright.
That kind of love is messy, and surprising, and unreasonable, and incredible. It's the kind of love where we feel seen, heard, safe and secure. It's a love that starts off like horses galloping across the wide open field of your heart, then mellows into something as steady as a sunset, as solid as stars.
When we let go of our impossible expectations, we make room for real love, and real love is where all the good stuff is, the stuff that gives us strength and meaning and gets us through life.
And that's the kind of love you deserve, simply by existing. Don't sell yourself short.