Growing up, I was a love-o-holic and a love-o-phobe all at the same time. I couldn't stand to be physically affectionate with my family, but I plastered my walls with pages torn out of Teen Beat, Bop and 16. I couldn't wait to fall in love, even though I couldn't allow myself to be loved by the people who loved me most. My ex-best friend couldn't be bothered with boys--her walls were covered with pictures of fighter planes. She couldn't wait to be competent and settled in the world. But me, I just wanted to connect with someone, whether through daydreams or kissing photos on the wall. It's why I am unembarrassed about my New Kids On the Block obsession during middle school. I loved Joey McIntyre--there it is. Judge me if you must. But in my head, I was dreaming up future families, adventures to be taken, love to be had. The force of my imagination was audible--you could hear it in the shrillness of my screams at the NKOTB concerts I attended, all three of them.
That was the thing, though. It was always only in my head. My romantic notions had no basis in reality because the real thing seemed so overwhelming. But of course things were different when it came to actual boys. In classically female fashion, I assumed that the boys wanted the same things that I did--romance and drama--and so I steamrolled my crushes without meaning to. They slipped notes into my locker--I wanted to go out to a movie. They held my hand--I wanted to be making out. Maybe my problem was that I should have gone for older men from the start. But the result was that I scared all the boys away with the intensity of my yearning for romance. When I got into high school, the boys started being a little more enthusiastic about making out, but they still had so many oats to sow. I always held on way past the expiration date of even those short high school flings, and it meant that my heart got broken again and again. The desire to be part of a couple always overrode my common sense.
Then the serious relationships started--first with Mike during college, then J right after college, and immediately after, with Glenn--and I still let my nesting instincts take the forefront. I was in love with love. I couldn't wait to start planning my life with a partner. I wanted to introduce my boyfriends to my friends and parents immediately if not sooner. I always said the L word first and, in the end, it always bit me in the ass. My enthusiasm blinded me to reality. When problems surfaced in the relationships, I'd work and work to fix things, to change myself, to make myself easier to be with, when what I really should have done was turn on my heel and walk out the door. So the relationships always ended, leaving me in tears, wondering how I didn't see it coming sooner. I looked around me at my friends' relationships and wondered how they could be so healthy about things. How did they do it?
Somehow I've done an internal 180. Call it growing up, wising up, being whole in myself, whathaveyou. I honestly don't know. But whatever it is, it has helped make everything with Lunchboy happen in a timely, organic, healthy way (god, it sounds like I'm talking about produce at Whole Foods). I'm not even sure how or whether to articulate it. Carmen summed it up well by saying that every step with Lunchboy has been a pleasant surprise. It has.
Part of it is that neither of us went into this with a ton of expectations or needs. For the first time, I have had no desire to try and predict where things are going. Or to label anything according to the way other people do it. The friend introductions are happening slowly, and I'm still not ready for him to meet my family. It took me weeks to be okay with using the term, "boyfriend," rather than just calling him, "the guy I'm dating."
When I first realized I was falling in love with him, though, I told myself I was imagining things. I fought it and rationalized it and refused to be swept away. But then there it was, the love, warm in my solar plexus like an internal hug, waiting to be articulated. It hung in the air between us, unspoken, braced by fear. For a whole weekend, the words sat on the tip of my tongue, filling my mouth so that I had to bite my cheeks to keep from saying them. It just seemed so soon. When you say the L word, it changes everything. Were we ready for that? Was it for real?
Eventually we broke the silence and when we finally said it, the words felt so natural that it was almost anti-climactic. And it changed nothing. Rather than define our perception of the relationship--like, what's the next step?--it felt more like we were establishing a foundation on which we can build whatever we want. Rather than trumpet it to each other all the time, we don't say it that often and that is just fine with me. Now I know that love is a gift and not a guarantee. I don't want grand romance and drama. I want reality and whatever ends up coming down the road.