“I’m going to tell you something that’s going to sound really weird,” I said over football commentary, between sips of gin and soda. I was about to tell someone I loved them – really loved them – for the first time.
“Okay,” he said and he sat back in his chair and folded his arms. Does he see this coming? Does he know what I’m about to say? He must.
I had rehearsed it in my mind hundreds of times, and I figured it was going to be easy. I didn’t care really, whether he said ‘I love you’ back. This wasn’t romance. We weren’t in a relationship. In fact, we had just ended a potential one, and managed to weather the storm of that with a close, meaningful friendship, despite both having moved on and met other people.
“I…I….” He just sat, looking at me, though his twinging mouth led me to believe that he had possibly felt inclined to interrupt before thinking better of it.
“I love you, okay? I’m just not ‘in love’ with you, but I love you so much.”
“Um, you’re right, that was really weird,” he said. Sarcastic. Always, always so sarcastic. “I care about you too though, a lot.” And that was that. We kept drinking and hanging out like the friends who loved each other that we were, and are. I could see the words almost, their letters scattered on the table on front of me. I scooped them up gingerly and put them back in my pocket before we left the bar.
This was the only time I had professed love to someone who wasn’t a girlfriend, or a member of my family, or that I wasn’t saying while I was drunk or being blase, as many of us do, about the words ‘I love you’ and the gravity of them and what they mean. What it took to utter those words was a great amount of strength and confidence that I did not believe myself to have possessed until that moment. But what I said was true; I did love him. I do love him. Just not… that way.
So when you feel, you know, ‘that way’, about someone, when’s the right time to tell them so, without freaking them out, or without leaving it so long, that they start to question your feelings about them? Or will they? Perhaps they will surprise you and say it first, catching you off-guard, like you’re the recipient of a surprise party. And then, how do you react? You must decide whether to say something because you mean it, to say something to make someone feel good, or to say nothing at all and devastate someone and maim them for daring to express the innermost vulnerable piece of their mind and heart and body.
The word ‘love’ is a cage to some and a bird to others. It is something that manifests itself in ways that are ugly, beastly, powerful, or ways that are flowering and blossoming and breezy. In this regard, you cannot predict love – what it will do to you, what it will make you feel, how it will make you smile, or cry, or pray, or hug, or fuck, or say hello, or goodbye. Love is one of the most confusing and scary emotions there are. How do you know you’re in love? You feel it. How do you know when to tell someone you’re in love? It depends on how ugly, or how beautiful, your world is because of it.
I’ve been in love once before now – maybe twice.
The first time it something I’ve oft-written about, it is a story that has become quite legendary among my friends, family, acquaintances. I have written about it and shared it in public, aloud and in my blog. It is the story of a vulnerable silly little writing student who fell in love with an egotistical, boorish poindexter writing student, to the point where she couldn’t eat, or sleep, or concentrate on anything else except catching his eye, buying new outfits and new makeup to get his attention, write something that would subliminally spell out words she never had the guts or gusto to say. It is the story of lost innocence which was lost and gone forever, to the wrong person. It is the story of the final time a young girl was ever able to have beautiful, fantastical crushes that were idyllic and sweet and innocent and puppy dogged because she was so incredibly shattered. Love made her ugly.
I am in love now.
My love story now is the story of support – about how a young man who didn’t even know it, lifted the spirits and confidence and professional and emotional vigor of a devastated, stressed, anxious, nervous girl who felt broken and un-fixable, and then was fixed, before she even knew she was in love and she still hasn’t forgotten it. It is the story of boy-meets-girl and miraculous coincidences and butterflies and turtle doves emerged. It is the story of a relationship – the first one for a girl who has always wondered what it would be like to safely and comfortably reach out and touch someone without fear of rejection or fear of being ‘too fast’, ‘too clingy’, ‘too foreceful’. It is the story of a man who brought a girl soup when she was sick and looked after her beloved black cat while she was away from home, and who shared with her inner-most thoughts, ugly incidents of the past, and who held doors open and paid for meals and made her feel like she was worth more than the boy who she loved once before who shattered her. Love made her beautiful.
I’ve read that men should never say “I love you” first because it is taboo, and because women should be the ones who say it; according to the internet, the wealth of accurate and sound information and advice that it is, women should be the ones to become vulnerable first. I cannot be vulnerable first. I cannot shove those words with frivolity and meaninglessness down an unsuspecting person’s throat. All I can do is gaze at them with caring brown eyes and give them rides in the morning and buy them scotch to help them through the stressful parts of teaching. Does this translate to “I love you”? Not in so many words but yes, it does to me.
I love you.