I am forty two years old and, until fairly recently, I was a virgin at love. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not claiming to be a virgin IN love. I have been in relationships before. I have even been married. I have children. I have had sex. I have just come to realize that I was a virgin AT love.
Love for me has always been fairly confusing. From early on, I was bombarded by polar extremes. Like many young girls, I dreamed of a fairy tale romance that ended in that cliched happily ever after. Yet, at the same time, reality and my parents showed me how volatile and destructive love could turn. I knew what I imagined love should be like and I knew that truthfully love didn’t always end up with fairy dust and carriages riding off into the sunset.
I had a handful of relationships that, looking back, were filled with fondness, caring and compassion. I was with my high school sweetheart for five years, my ex-husband for eight and an ex-fiance for eleven. I have spent the majority of my life since I first blossomed in a relationship of some sort. Children were even conceived out of two of those relationships. Those partners were each a big part of my life and mattered a great deal to me at one time. But if I have to be honest, looking back, I don’t believe I was ever truly in love with any of them.
We had connections and sparks. We had interests in common and activities to share. Yet it always felt like there was something missing, something forced, like I was desperately trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I went through the motions, trying to be who I felt they needed me to be, who I thought I should be, never quite feeling like I fit into my own skin.
There’s an old saying, something about not knowing quite what something is but that “I’ll know it when I see it”. I cannot think of a more fitting way to describe love. Until you finally have it, feel it, find yourself emmersed in and enveloped by love, you only have a vague concept of what love truly is. It took falling deeply, thoroughly, hopelessly in love for me to realize that everything else I have ever felt was but a pale reflection and a poor substitution.
The love of my life started out with all the sweetness of an after school special. I knew him years ago when we were both growing up. He was my older brother’s childhood best friend and my first crush. Even back then, we had an undeniable connection, though we were honestly too young to explore it. We had a series of fairly innocent interactions that never quite led anywhere. We never even shared a single kiss all those years ago, though I had often wished he had been my first. Fate would ultimately send us on different paths and in different directions for decades.
After twenty five years apart, our paths crossed again. He found me on Facebook of all places, listed as a friend of a friend he might know. From first contact, we talked almost nonstop through every free moment we could find for the first couple days. By the third day, we knew we had to see each other. We arranged to get together that next evening. Sparks flew that night and we have been together ever since.
While I have always been a hopeless romantic to some extent, I always fell short of believing in love at first sight or soulmates. I had been in relationships before and cared for them all equally, yet differently, in their own way. I stood firmly in the belief that people could, and would, love many different people over the course of their lifetime. I could never wrap my head around the idea that anyone could just KNOW they wanted to spend the rest of their life with anyone else right from the start. That is, until he and I were sitting down by the river, in the town we grew up in, talking all night under the stars. Now, I could never imagine spending even a portion of my life with anyone else.
Right from that first night , I had never before felt so comfortable, so safe. It was like I could say anything to him, knowing that nothing would scare him away. Likewise, there was nothing he could have said that would have made me turn away. I knew him and he knew me. We were those same children we once were all those years ago, only grown and somewhat scarred by life. That first night, we shared things with one another that even our closest friends do not know. Because on some level, we just KNEW.
I’ve discovered that I am different when I am with him. Not a different person. If anything, I am more myself with him than I have ever been with anyone else. For the first time, I don’t have any walls up. I have no need for them. I don’t have that overwhelming need to keep up my guard or protect myself from him like I have always had with others in the past. I no longer worry about letting my true self come out.
I don’t want him to be anyone but himself, either. I love him not for what he has or what he does, but for the person he is inside. So much in life can change. Appearances, wealth, stability. If you choose someone for fickle reasons, you’re likely to turn away when the wind blows them in a different direction. First and foremost, at the top of my list of reasons I love him, is his heart. He has the same warm, beautiful, compassionate heart I knew all those years ago.
We have been together just over a year. Circumstances and tragedy thrust us closer together less than a couple months in. Yet it never felt rushed or forced. Nothing else in my life has ever felt so right, has ever made so much sense. We have spent virtually every day together, with very few exceptions, over the last year, though we never tire of each other. On those rare moments we are apart, it feels as if a part of ourselves is gone and we genuinely miss each other. When people ask how we are not sick of each other yet, I respond that it is because I love him with all my heart.
With ll this talk about love, it begs to wonder what exactly is love?
From time to time, I see people trying to sum up what love is. I honestly don’t think you could fit an accurate explanation into the characters of a tweet or the square graphic of a meme. Love is too complex to be summed up that tersely. Love is so many things, so fluid and abstract, yet solid and concrete. It is the both coveted and feared, misunderstood and misidentified. You’ll know it when you see it.
Love goes far beyond the comfort and trust of communication I described earlier. Love is both fragile and small, appearing in a thousand little ways to remind someone they matter. At the same time, love is immense and all-encompassing, never wavering or faltering. Love is the for better or worse of the wedding vows and yet it is also so much more.
Love is sitting up all night with their head in your lap because they do not feel well and their comfort is more important in that moment than yours. Love isn’t about giving up your own identity or sacrificing your own self-care. Rather, it is about being willing to put them first when they need it because you trust them to do the same for you. It is about accepting that everything is not always a clear cut fifty-fifty split and being willing to make adjustments on the percentages as needed so neither person feels unappreciated or insignificant. Love is a lifetime dance of back and forth, give and take, where you learn to move through life as one.
Love is being perfectly content curling up together with a tray of chili cheese fries and a nostalgic movie or sitting down by the river, talking under the stars. Love doesn’t have to provide excitement and the thrills of an adventure. Love itself is the adventure. Whether doing something momentous together or doing nothing at all, love will always be present. Love isn’t about the thrill of the hunt or the victory of the capture. If you look for your partner to provide continuous excitement in your life, your attention will waver whenever a peaceful lull occurs. Love is cherishing those lulls, being content with each other, even on mellow days.
Love is about accepting one another completely, without demanding change. When you love someone, you do not pick and choose what parts of someone you are willing to take and which you will not accept. Even their quirks become endearing because it is part of who they are. Love is about cherishing their cracks and their scars because they would not be the same person without them. Love is not about taking the good with the bad. It is about seeing them wholly for who they are and loving it all because they would not be themselves any other way.
Love is about craving each other’s touch, not just as a precursor to intimacy but because you genuinely long to have them close. Love is reaching out in the middle of the night just to have a part of yourself touching them, of not being able to resist kissing the top of their head when you pass their chair or wanting to clasp their hand in an unspoken “I love you”. It is about holding hands whenever we’re driving anywhere because it just feels natural to touch. It is about the way you feel inside when they react to your touch, as well, knowing those cravings are reciprocated.
Love is knowing you can share interests without judgment. It is being able to put on a childish or obscure movie for comfort and having them curl up to watch it with you, not because they would have ever chosen it themselves but because it means something to you. Love is about being able to let your nerd flag fly, knowing your partner will embrace it all, too, simply because it matters to you. It is about creating a home together that truly reflects yourselves, complete with racing walls and nerdy shelves, and everything else you both hold dear.
Love is about feeling secure about your place in each other’s lives. It is not about being reminded that you were their first choice but rather knowing you are their only choice. It is about trusting one another to never go searching for those fabled greener pastures. It is about never worrying that someone else might be waiting in the wings, searching for an opening. Love is about only having eyes for each other to the point that the rest of the world is romantically irrelevant.
Love is all-inclusive. There should be no one in either of your lives who does not know how much you matter to one another. Your partner does not have to always be involved in whatever you do, but they should always be welcomed along if they choose to go. Love is building a life together that encompasses both of your lives into one new life together.
Love is about highs and lows, for better or worse. Love is knowing that they are in it for the long haul and not only for the good times. Love is standing by each other even when the world feels like it is collapsing around us because our worst day together is still better than a great day apart. It is believing we are stronger together and will find a way to get through everything as long as we have each other. Love is about not giving up on each other. It is about facing everything life throws at you, all the hardships and traumas, together.
Love is about the way their smile brightens your whole day and their touch warms you inside. Love is about knowing the curves of their face by memory and the sound of their voice in a crowded room. Love is about being so in tune with each other, knowing each other so well, that they feel like an extension of yourself, a piece that you miss dearly when they are away. Love is about the way their touch settles your nerves and makes the rest of the world disappear, if only for a moment. Love is about finding peace in their presence and knowing them as well as you know yourself.
Love is being happy when simultaneously together and apart. It about not needing to always do everything together but still enjoying having them near. It is about being able to do different things while still in the room together, feeling content knowing they are still close by doing their own thing. It is not about losing your own identity but rather being able to both maintain separate activities in tandem while still relishing each other’s presence nearby. We could spend hours in the same room, each doing our own thing. Yet we still reach out to caress and kiss each other every time we pass one another and to send errant love you messages and memes throughout it all so we always know we are in each other’s minds and hearts. We are as comfortable doing our own thing as we are doing things together.
Love is about always appreciating one another. It is about not taking love and kindness for granted, acknowledging how we each go out of our way for one another. It is about doing things in return, not because it is owed, for balance or to fill a quota but because you legitimately want to show one another how grateful you are to have them in your life.
Love is about doing things for one another you would never do for anyone else. It is having that one person who will always go above and beyond. It should never be expected nor demanded. It should always be freely given or done because you know it is truly appreciated. There are so many things I have done for him that I could not even imagine doing for anyone else. Things he never asked for or expected. Things I did purely in the name of love because I knew it would make him happy.
Love should have its roots in friendship. It is not enough to consider someone the love of your life. They should be your best friend, as well. You should be able to say anything to one another, share anything, be partners in crime. When you want or need someone there, your partner should always be on the top of your list, even if only for emotional support. Love is about being able to laugh together, cry together, depend on each other and trust each other. Love is the strongest bond of friendship.
The evolution of love, in many ways, is much like friendship. As a young child, friendships are simple and transparent, lacking any true depth. If a child shares a cookie with you at lunch, you consider them a friend. As time goes on, however, your understanding of friendship evolves and deepens. Looking back, you cannot believe you ever considered something as trivial as a cookie as the core foundation of a friendship. Yes, a friendship may be built upon that first interaction but it is not strong enough to stand on its own as the sole foundation. Cookies crumble.
Likewise, I cannot believe I ever considered the relationships of my past to be on the same level of the love I have now. I am surrounded by the crumbs of a past that did not have the strength to withstand the test of time. I may have once thought it was love but that was only because I didn’t truly understand the depth of love. Looking back, it all feels superficial in nature, going through the motions without ever diving into the deep end.
I could spend all day going on and on about love, giving example after example from my own life. It would easily be enough to fill a dozen fairy tales or turn a hundred stomachs, depending on who you ask. Unfortunately, though, love is truly one of those “you’ll know it when you see it” things, something you will never truly understand until it is right in front of you, staring you in the eye. Until then, you’ll be how I once was, stumbling through life with a vague idea of what you think love is and a concept of what it should be. A virgin at love.