When I was young, around 19 or so, I met this girl and we decided to try and play house. This seemed like a good idea at the time. In truth, I had never had a relationship before this girl. I never really had a high school sweetheart or went through the normal teenage patterns of love or at least the kind of love that teaches how to love someone else. I never felt that sense of white-picket lust or the romanticized idea of sexual desire that is often confused for love—the kind that comes with the general novelty of man and woman, together, and happy.
At best, my attempts at love were more of an exploratory search because in the mind of younger me, a young and selfish, self-centered, insecure egomaniac; I could not see how love was real nor how love could ever be real.
Mindful that there are different versions of love, such as the love one feels for their parents or a parent feels for their child. However, I saw this love as an obligation and not true. “They have to love you because they’re your family,” is what I thought.
There is a love for an animal, such as a family pet, which is a love specific and special in its own way. It is special because the family dog cannot and does not talk back. Seldom do animals lie. With the exception of sleeping on the couch when they know they’re not supposed to and with a look of guilt, slinking down from the sofa while creeping to the floor in the family room, ashamed of being caught and averting their eyes when you catch the dog by surprise—their level of deceit is not greater or more harmful than this kind of betrayal.
This love and loves like this one is not what I wondered about. I was not concerned with brotherly or fraternal love—the kind “The boys,” feel for each other in a clique or group of friends, and should something happen to one of them; it happened to all of them, and in this case, friends such as these would lay down in traffic for one another. I understood this love very well, and while often fleeting or not always returned; this is not the love I wondered or worried about.
Also, there is the pretend love. These were the times “I love you,” was said between the sheets or used in a dialogue to lead a young girl, who posed as shy. Meanwhile, she was only interested in playing a certain role to keep her female dignity from being shamed before allowing me the easy access to dive between her world.
This love was the easy kind. And of course this love was easy because this love was never real. It was never true. It was an act.
There was no risk involved—there were no reasons to be honest, open, or especially selfless.
If this was love, then this was only love for the means of convenience. And as such, it was convenient for me to use these words as a means to reach a goal.
To say, “I love you,” meant nothing in these moments because the words meant nothing to me. They had yet to become real. I had no understanding of love nor had I never felt the weight of it. I had yet to understand the substance of what love is or could be.
I never dared to even try this. I never dared, not because love was elusive or I was unsure of love existed; I never dared because aside from the novelty, I was too frightened to find out I was unlovable, or worse, I was afraid to find out I was unworthy.
I was too frightened of rejection, too frightened to be hurt, too frightened to be made a fool and foolishly stand by while suffering through the moments of terrible vulnerability, feeling helpless, hopelessly weak, worrisome, but yet exhilarated at the same time. I say exhilarated at the same time because while yes, love comes with a bitter sweetness and a sting that can slice like the fine edge of a sharp razor; if given properly, true love returned in kind is complete with a mutual reward.
I had never seen any of these rewards before. Gifts like this would require work on my part. I never knew what it meant to be so daring that I, without regard for me or my own fears, without concern for my own discomfort, and without thinking about me and my own selfish needs; I had never dared to give myself without the expectation of something better in return.
I wondered: maybe love isn’t real. Maybe love is what jaded people say it is; it’s a fairy tale. It’s a dream we hold onto. It’s a word we use to feel a sort of intangible comfort, or an empty promise we wrap ourselves in like a cloak because we all need to feel warm when facing cold and lonely times.
I saw love as something we are taught about and something used to keep us in line or to keep us wholesome. But we are not a wholesome society. I was told, “This is life. This is what people do. You live, you learn, and you grow. And when you get older, you get married and then you have a whole new list of things to complain about.”
Real or fake, I wondered if love was no more than a blanketed term with so many definitions. Same as people believe in God, it was my opinion that people believed in love to have this made up word, like a made-up spiritual being, or a phantom of expression that acts like a promise towards a hopeful salvation.
Love: if it were to be then it could only be in a dream. I was doubtful yet hopeful because same as anyone else, I also had the need for this fantasy. I wanted the prize same as anyone else did. I wanted to feel invincible to someone, as if no one else in the world could fill my position. I wanted to be impenetrable, as if all the sad things and all the bad things could happen to me at once and none of it would matter because I had a girl in my arms, causing me to feel stronger and larger than life.
How does one find love?
Where does one look?
Is it even real?
Or is it all pretend?
I had to know. I needed to find out for myself. I needed to know if this idea I had was real or just something that comes from a story book.
At 19, I decided to set out on this adventure and play the part of love. I wanted this badly enough that I would not allow it to fail. I wanted it because somewhere in my crazy mind; I believed the idea of love or being with someone in love would validate me as a man.
This would give me meaning and make me somebody. I wanted this because the opposite of togetherness is lonesomeness, and lonesomeness had always been frightening to me.
I wanted this, and because I did, I accepted a trade and settled for something lower in value. And painfully, I settled for a lower value because I had no idea what I was worth.
When I tried to settle down, to get what I wanted (or what I thought I wanted) I turned a blind eye to the obvious warning signs and forgave the unforgivable. As I saw this, I was already invested. I was in too deep and if I pulled away, I was afraid of one question. “Who is going to love me now?”
Who will tell me those three, sweet words?
“I love you.”
Who else would care enough to lie enough and say three words that are supposed to make everything better?
“I love you.”
“I love you,” are important words to hear. If delivered properly, the words, “I love you,” have a special magical sense to them.
So what, if the words weren’t real?
So what if the words were a lie?
At least someone said them to me . . .
There are times in a young man’s life which he never forgets. He never forgets the first girl he ever saw that made him trip over his own tongue. Mine was a girl in the parking lot of Woodland Junior High School. I remember her well. I remember her perfectly, all the way down to the radio she was carrying while listening to Led Zeppelin’s, “Black Dog.”
A young man never forgets the first girl that gave him the green light, go-ahead, and allowed his hands to touch, feel, and search the girl’s body. And it’s enough to cause a stir; it’s enough to have him sit back with a smile and remember what it felt like when he touched a girl between the legs for the very first time. A young man never forgets his first true sexual experience or the moment when he loses his virginity.
I will never forget my first kiss. I will never forget the first time I spent an entire afternoon with a girl. There was no one else around to impress, no one around to interrupt, and no one else to stop us from making a few wonderfully regrettable mistakes. I recall walking home from that girl’s house. It was late autumn and the orange shade of sunlight moved across the brown empty branches of trees in an empty field across from my home on Merrick Avenue. I was young, but suddenly, I felt a bit older. I also felt a bit cooler too.
I will never forget the first time I saw a girl undressed, or the first time I sexually entered adulthood and found myself between a girl’s legs.
These things are unforgettable. Along with these unforgettable moments of first time experiences; I also remember my first heartbreak. I remember what it felt like to learn that I was a fool.
At the age of 19, I learned what it meant to be betrayed and laughed at. I was given a taste of my own medicine and learned that women are equally as capable of using the words, “I love you,” for a selfish gain.
Cheated on, I planned to forgive because I was too afraid of being alone. In the middle of this struggle, my family life, home life, and working life was undergoing change. Too afraid to face these feelings, I wrapped myself in the “I love you” lies until finally, in the throes of midnight embrace, naked with her—she called me by another man’s name. I had never felt as broken or as humiliated as I did then.
“Never again,” I told myself.
After this, I went from one girl to another. I swore to always maintain a dominant position. In some cases, I overstayed my welcome. Yet still, I wondered if there would ever be love for me. I pretended and sold myself as someone I wasn’t. I acted the part to buy some time with a girl between the sheets. I tried relationships but never felt satisfied. Once the act of being someone else became tiresome, I moved on.
In which case, either I, she, or both of us were disappointed in me. I tried to be the gentleman. I tried to seem caring and interested, but I really wasn’t. When it came to a girl, I acted as if, but when the act became boring; either I, she, or both of us were disappointed in me.
It became so that I lost my belief in love. I tried to become content with feeling loveless or unlovable. To find contentment, I decided to share no love at all that was not temporary or quick. I pushed myself in places where I did not fit. I dated girls I never belonged with.
I did this because dating someone was better than dating no one.
I tried though. I really tried. When it came to the women I chose, in the end, it was either I, she, or both of us that were disappointed in me.
Before admitting defeat, and submitting to the loveless loss, I made a very clear decision. I would never allow myself to mold, adapt to, or settle for anything less than what I wanted. Never again.
I had truthfully never loved. For most of my life, I lived a lie. And the women I was involved with lived the same lie. They lived this way for similar reasons because no one wants to be alone. Like-minded people always find like-minded people. They are the yin and yang of co-dependency. One breathes out so the other can breathe in, and together, they keep each other sick. And with regret, I admit this was me.
No woman wants to be a bride’s maid and never a bride herself. I took advantage of this. I suppose I was not too far from them. Everyone I knew was moving on to the next stages in life. They were growing up, starting a family, and buying homes with yards, and filling bedrooms with children. I suppose I wanted this too. I suppose I needed someone to validate me as a man, same as I would validate the girl as my woman. I figured I had to do this. Otherwise, I would feel as I were a failure.
Along the way, I realized something. Love can never be forced or coerced. Love is not fake, one-sided, or selfish. Love is very natural. Love is mutual. Love is the most giving emotion, yet it is selfish at the same time because once we truly feel it—we never want to let it go. Of all emotions love is by far the bravest we will ever feel.
Love comes when it does for a reason. It is not planned or created. Love above anything is a natural occurrence and this became obvious to me when love opened her front door, and there she was staring me back at me; her eyes twinkling in candlelight and I was made instantly whole and instantly youthful.
After years of trying to find out what live is; I learned I cannot make someone love me. I cannot make someone want to be with me, nor should I.
Along the way, I have learned that if love is not mutual then it runs the risk of being painful. I am not interested in a love like this.
I have been told about unconditional love. I am not sure what I think about this. I think love always comes with conditions because love is a living and breathing thing. Without proper treatment; love dies, in which case, love comes with conditions.
Along this long, winding road, I have found something. I have found love in more definitions than one. And at last, I can say this . . .
I know there is love for me.