I’d always felt people fall in love as they might fall into a hole; it was something I thought a smart man avoided.
– Middle Passage, Charles Johnson
Happiness is not uninspiring if we don’t allow our imaginations to fail us. I want to believe there is substance to fairy tales. I want to believe there’s something to hold onto, even when dealing with the slick smoothness of idyll, of joy.
– Bad Feminist, Roxanne Gay
My first love destroyed me. Before, I believed in true love. I believed in soulmates. I believed in The One. Hell, we all know I love a love story. But when that promising future, that stuff of fairytales, was ripped out from under me, something changed.
It took me a long time to get back into dating. I wouldn’t even kiss another guy for a year and a few months after the break-up. Physical intimacy was threatening and formidable. (I should mention my first love dumped me during sex. Yep, during.) I dated guys but only for a first or second date. The one guy who made it to a third within the year got left standing on my doorstep as I dashed inside to avoid the long-awaited first kiss. It took so long to build up my confidence again to a reasonable degree.
I was only able to become physically intimate again when my romantic philosophy changed. I reverted entirely from my previous outlook; love — in my opinion — was, is, and will not be for me. This is what I tell myself. I’ve changed my five-year and ten-year plans because I do not anticipate getting married, something I once dreamed about. I’ve told several unwilling listeners that I plan on IVF when I reach thirty-two, not seeing the necessity of a partner when it comes to raising a child. I’ve become aspirationally self-sufficient.
Because, in truth, that young girl who believed in the fairy tale is still alive — wounded, but alive. And it gets me in trouble all. the. damn. time.
The crux of my identity problem comes around the fourth date with a guy. Admittedly, at this point, we’ve slept together, so perhaps my Catholic sex-ed indoctrinator was correct when they said that women release an attachment hormone during sex that makes us desire for it to last a lifetime. Don’t worry: I think this is bullshit for an abstinence argument. But around the gap between the fourth and fifth dates I get anxious. I start wanting to see the guy more but know if I reach out any more I’ll seem clingy. I overanalyze text messages (Read receipts are proof that the Devil is alive and well). I can’t eat. I can barely sleep. I largely embarrass myself in my efforts to remain aloof and “a cool girl.” And the pattern begins again.
The four date mark signifies when I think it’s worth it to go for something more. And so my identity crisis begins. Do I believe in true love? Yes. Do I believe in it for me? The jury is still out. Am I undeserving? Too hungry for it? Where do I fall in the spectrum of Charles Johnson and Roxanne Gay? Is this a self-esteem issue? Do I need therapy? Am I self-sabotaging because I don’t know the answers to any of these questions?
Perhaps it’s youth, something I need to ride out and “enjoy the best years of my life,” that keeps me confused. Perhaps it’s the remnants of a prior philosophy, or the unsettled foundation of a current one, that keep me up at night.
I wish I had the answers that I could share with you, reader. I really do. Because then I could stop eating ice cream and watching romcoms to ignore my own complex love life. That would be nice.