A Third Person Journey to an Otherwise Rather Straight Forward Question
PUBLISHED July 19, 2020
X armed herself with the smooth new Z-Grip medium weight ballpoint she had swiped from the LA airport Mexican restaurant and sat daunted by the question blinking at her from the blank page of her next advice piece: What is it like to fall in love again?
She had picked the query because at first blush it appeared harmless–a simple, straight forward account of something she had experienced and so should be able to speak to. She had in fact been in love 3.5 times: a biracial soccer player who she spent the four years of high school falling asleep on the phone with; a seven year whirlwind that started as a gut punch of summer love and survived the evolution of fame and the cruelty of long-distance; a half-love with her best friend’s cousin, six years her senior, whose love it felt more interesting at the time to return than deny; and Current Boyfriend–the steamy college throwback who made an unexpected return during her first year in New York and gave her enough space to both grow to love him and feel truly herself–a first.
Back to the question at hand. The Reader was asking if, after the dissolution of her first love, she should expect to ever fall in love again–to feel that awesome power of “first love” again?
There did seem to be some consensus amongst girlfriends that first loves, young loves, feel especially… powerful; awesome; all consuming. Being in love for the first time is like being haunted, except for instead of cold chills you get hot sweats–a warm flush to the face when you lock eyes, or touch hands. It’s dizzy and disorienting, a bit like a sickness. Here, perhaps, is the best metaphor for first love: a sickness.
When you first fall in love, X thought, it’s like a foreign entity in your body–some new combination of chemical reactions. You have nothing in your immune system to combat this condition. And so powerless, you submit, you fall at love’s feet to be consumed by, to be enflamed by, to be at once destroyed and brought to life by…
Yes–brought to life! The fullest version of life. Existence pressed to the inside of your skin, bursting through, totally alive, present…present in a way that makes all life before feel like a shadow; alive in a way where you can’t remember where you came from, how you got here, only that there you are, nose to nose on the mattress on the floor, window open; no noise from the street below; falling or floating you can’t quite be sure.
What is that? What is it about a someone that detonates this chain reaction?
It all started with a thick-haired friendship seeded in elementary school. Their playground pack “The Group” included a hot-shot loud-mouth leader-type who had, at eight years of age, the biggest crush on her. Series of innocent elementary school sleepovers continued into middle school basement hangs and then high school parents-out-of-town parties with beer, and clove cigarettes, and the Black Keys. And all the while he loved her. And she realized that because of him, this best friend, this oldest friend, this dearest friend, who now is of course over her and onto something else, that she has had, since a child, since the time she could first muster memories, someone absolutely madly in love with her.
And how much of our attachment to first loves is our lust of youth; our nostalgia for a time when we could even be so taken over? When we faun for our first loves, X thought, aren’t we also and at the same time reaching out for the soft, round cheek of teenage; for a time when we felt with such an urgency; full of promise and potential and possibility?; a time when you loved someone and the future was a total unknown; and all you had was this love you couldn’t see the otherside of.
So no, X concluded, you never love like your first love. But thank God.
When you fall in love for a second, or a third, or a half time you start to understand that love will never feel the same as it moves from person to person. Forever after your first love you will now have a point of reference; your antibodies are armed, so to speak.
The truth of any love, a lesson you learn after the first, is that with love often comes pain. The two exist entwined. They are necessary opposites that give each other meaning–pulling in opposite directions creating the tension needed to stand upright. After the pain of a first love lost perhaps now you are cautious, or choosey, or closed off. You don’t feel ready, or willing, or able. How do we ever let ourselves go through it more than once, knowing full well what it entails?
And that, X decided, is what most distinguishes new love from first love. Why yes, Dear Reader, you will fall in love again, and no it may not be madness, may not be messy, but it will be, and what it will from now on become, is a choice. We get a bit older, get better acquainted with ourselves, build a few boundaries, and instead of slip and fall madly into love, we chose it. We choose to give it and we choose to accept it. And it feels so much freer to not be under a spell; to see clearly; to make no sacrifice of self.
X had a theory that we love people for who we feel we are around them. And eventually your love starts to seek safety. You just want to be the most yourself possible, with someone who cares for you, and respects you, and who you also happen to be incredibly attracted to.
Current Boyfriend was a hot summer of late nights, loud music, and empty bellies lined with cold tequila. The Manhattan skyline and his Mercedes arriving after a two hour drive; pulling up in a fitted suit and dark sunglasses; left her biting her lip Monday morning at her desk, head filled with the tangle of sheets and sweat that was their weekend.
She was damaged and a little lonely and brutally honest. She never considered it would go anywhere, and so had nothing to prove or to hide. He seemed attracted to her sadness–seeing something she hadn’t yet noticed needed healing or even could be healed. And he read her so well; as if he had studied her for a test. She couldn’t outmatch him, and he seemed dead set on loving her. It was as though in a dream he had received some vision of their future together; knew it would be so. And so he smiled slyly with his secret, amused at her attempts to put off their inevitable.
It was the only time she felt she didn’t have to fix someone–that this person was whole and just fine without her, but would simply be damned to give her up. In a way he still felt like a stranger to her–something separate from herself, like a piece of art she admired and adored and wanted in her home but had no hand in making and so couldn’t explain its method and many parts.
She liked this abstraction. She liked, no, needed a relationship that was not in and of itself an identity; not a thing to feed but to enjoy. She was, for the first time, both understood and supported; cherished and released; loved and left the fuck alone. It felt so much stronger, so much surer than anything that had come before.
But would any of this answer Dear Reader’s question? Would any of this make sense? How are there any answers at all when it comes to love? And if there were, how would she know any of them? Though she had spent a lifetime with love, she knew but two simple things: it finds you in the strangest places, and it’s always exactly right at the time.
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