How I Knew It Was Love

Love, Heartbreak

Alternatively Titled: The Worst Conversation Of My Life

You know the party scene in American Pie where Tara Reid and her curly-haired friend talk about orgasms? Tara says something like: "I've had an orgasm! I think…" and the friend fires back with something sassy like: "Oh, you'd know!" It's the moment during which every teenage girl in every movie theater across America side-gazed at her boyfriend of 3 weeks, wondering if the result of his fumbling backseat groping behind Burger King was or wasn’t her first.

That mystery over whether it’s happened or not is how I have always felt about love.

We all remember the first time we told someone that we loved them. For me, it was the same night I lost my virginity. I was in college and had started dating a basketball player (let’s call him JTT) 3 months earlier. We had been close friends for a while and despite the fact that he wore size 14 sneakers, he felt like a safe bet to round third base.

Within minutes, with his sheets looking like something out of Game of Thrones, I made him stop and started crying. He responded by telling me that he loved me (you know, what every girl wants to hear while she’s sobbing over a disappointing first time). I said it back for all the right reasons –to distract from the horrible sex, because I didn’t want to leave him hanging, and because I didn’t know what love felt like so it was possible that I wasn’t lying.

When we started dating, I was a junior and JTT was a senior. We stayed together through my graduation and even when I moved to LA after, leaving him in Boston –and that’s when things went South faster than a cheerleader on prom night. There was a good deal of cheating, a lot of swearing, and ultimately, acceptance that we were great friends, but not a great couple. If I still loved the same things I had loved my junior year in college, I would have a Jackass poster on the wall of my LA apartment. Did I love him? Yes. But I never felt sure that I was truly "in love" with him.

I didn’t feel anything remotely close to love until a few years later. I was at a beer garden with my friends, celebrating Galentine’s Day, when a guy (let’s call him Taylor Hanson) and his friends sent a round of tequila shots to our table. A few days later, Taylor and I went on our first date: ice skating in Bryant Park. That tells you everything you need to know about him.

The next 4 weeks were like a dream, because they were just that: a carefully planned fantasy/scam that Taylor played out on every girl he dated. Every night was something new and spontaneous: soccer and an arcade in Brooklyn, MoMA and the chef’s table at Ippudo, closing down his restaurant to cook me dinner, a spontaneous trip to DC to see the monuments, and finally surprising me with 2 tickets to Puerto Rico for my birthday. And then at the 2-month mark, 2 weeks before my birthday, after telling my friends he loved me, as he did with every other girl, he pulled the ripcord.

He took a female intern on my birthday trip to Puerto Rico in my place. Two months later, she posted a sad song to Soundcloud about having been dicked over the exact same way.

Months later and still in disbelief that I had been duped by a guy whom I referred to as Taco throughout our relationship, I met my most recent ex (let’s call him Leonardo DiCaprio). I didn’t want to be anyone’s girlfriend, but something just clicked. Almost immediately, it felt as though we’d known each other forever. I felt like I could say and do anything in front of him –including wearing a onesie on one of our first dates. It was one of those “you just know” situations… until I didn’t know. Still scarred by Taco, once he told me he loved me, I pulled away and started to sabotage things. There were many points in our yearlong relationship after that when I questioned my feelings. Until we broke up.

One night over Thanksgiving, about a month after we had broken up, my mother walked in on me crying in my room. We weren’t together for years like JTT, we didn’t go on dates like Taylor, the end was gnarly –why is this so hard? I expected her to tell me that it was for the best, that all breakups are hard, maybe talk a little shit about my ex, but instead she said the worst thing possible: it’s because you were in love. Really in love.

I refused. I hate him! I hadn’t wanted to be in a relationship! I was so good to him, and look how he repaid me! I had never NOT cheated on a boyfriend prior to him! That, she said, is how she knew. You were never tried in a relationship before him. Only love could make you come around to make the changes you needed to make. “The one” is the one who makes you a better person.

You have always had a million friends, she continued. But you’ve always been most comfortable on your own. You chose to go to Amherst instead of Dartmouth with close friends from high school. You chose to move to LA where you knew no one. You chose not to be in relationships until college, and even then you always chose yourself over your boyfriend. You referred to every person you’ve dated as “this guy I’m seeing” well after he was referring to you as his girlfriend. After graduating, you literally marched into JTT’s apartment and said: “I’m moving to LA.” No discussion. Not even a warning. That was where your industry was, and that’s where you would be going. Take it or leave it. You never put anyone in front of yourself –until Leo. With him, suddenly, you were an adult in a relationship.

This brought me to the obvious question: If I was in love because I put him in front of myself, but he didn’t do that for me, doesn’t that mean that he didn’t love me?

My mother, who is best known for smoking weed and saying inappropriate things at the dinner table, laid down the ax. You were so busy comparing him to the asshole before him who took you to dinners and on trips that you never noticed the true love your current boyfriend was giving you. He handled your asshole roommate, helped you negotiate a raise, took off work to see your family, talked you down through numerous unfair freak-outs over his ex, took you out when he was in debt, called you every night… And, for the first time ever, neither of you cheated. The list went on, and as it did I realized that he was just as giving as I was, but in his own way.

Why, then, didn’t it work out? If it’s meant to be, it should have been.

Excited by the rare opportunity to give advice to her daughter that wouldn’t be ignored, she continued. He was in a place in his life where he needed to focus on himself and he gave you every other available inch of himself... But in contrast to what you were giving, there was an imbalance. It made him feel inadequate and pressured –questioning if he was ready, and worst of all, questioning if maybe he would have given the way I wanted “if it truly had been love.”

There’s no question though, she said, how much he loved you. He knew he could have held onto you forever, but he let you go so that he could get to a place where he could give like you were, and so that he wouldn’t ruin your chances for the future. You may think it’s selfish, but it was as much for you as it was for him. And it’s probably been just as hard for him as it is for you.

Then she dropped the mic and walked out.

Life would be much easier if you could introduce your parents to a vibrator at Thanksgiving, but love isn’t a definable physical reaction like an orgasm. It isn’t a quantifiable feeling. It isn’t best friendship, great sex or expensive dates. And, most importantly, it isn’t always comfortable. True love creates conflict between independence and the person you’ve been your entire life, and the potential implications of keeping this other person around. It makes you nervous and goes against the grain of living for yourself, as I had done for the past 27 years, and if you’re not ready for it, it will self-destruct. But true love also gives you a newfound understanding of and appreciation for yourself and for your previously failed attempts at love. True love is a willingness to forgive and be forgiven, to find the imperfection in someone else and accept it without condition, to reveal the imperfections found in yourself without fearing that you will be judged and rejected, and to be vulnerable, knowing that by opening yourself up to someone, you may reveal things about yourself that you aren’t exactly ideal. But most of all, true love compels you to be loyal, challenges you to be better and refuses to give up.

This was the worst conversation of my life, not just because my Mom didn’t take my side, but because I realized that I had been in love for the first time and didn’t know until after we had broken up. And not just in love like girls love kale, emojis, Instagram, neon, Starbucks, going to the bathroom in groups, hummus, reflective surfaces, losing shit, Halloween, being “over it,” fro-yo and wine... Truly in love. Unless you read the newspaper, that’s the saddest thing you’ll hear today.