Once upon a time, I used to be a hopeless romantic. I used to read stacks of paperback Harlequin romances and watch “When Harry Met Sally” three times in a single weekend and dream (even though I knew reality wouldn’t look quite like the movies). I used to believe in love notes and putting forth the effort. Romance is about making someone feel special. I loved being in love and I loved showing the special people in my life how much I cared. But things have changed and I’m not quite like that anymore.
Maybe it’s because I’m not so young and naïve anymore. Maybe it’s because I’m just a hardass.
My early relationships always went the same way. I was awkward and unsure of my identity and myself. I didn’t feel beautiful or confident, but I could fake it. I would throw myself wholeheartedly into my relationships, because in relationships I could finally feel the things that I didn’t when I was alone. I would do everything in my power to give my partners exactly what they wanted, what they needed, even to my own detriment. Then it would end. They never liked me as much as I liked them and then they would leave and I’d be back on square one, feeling awkward and insecure and agonizing over what I could have done differently. But I’m not like that anymore.
On the bright side of things, I found value in myself as a woman. I had accomplished things I could be proud of. I would never again compromise myself just to make someone else happy. That’s when things really changed for me. Confidence truly is the sexiest thing a woman can wear. The better I felt about myself, the more men became attracted to me; and a better quality of men, at that. For the first time in my life, I’m the worshipped goddess in relationships. For the first time, the men I see put the same effort into me and my happiness that I do into them. I still love being in love and learning to love myself has made me love relationships even more. I still read Harlequin paperback romances and I still love “When Harry Met Sally”, but it’s not with the same rose-colored innocence that I had before.
Despite the better quality of romance in my life, I can’t bring myself to fully let myself go. I see my partner’s every slip up, every moment of vulnerability, and, instead of letting my own walls down and allowing him to see vulnerability in me, I close off just a little more. I have a sense for the exact moment that a man I’m with is starting to fall for me and, at the same time, I slam on the brakes to my own feelings. I’m not comfortable allowing myself to be the one who may love him more. Because, as we all know in this casual, technological, modern romantic landscape it’s the person who cares the most that loses.
But what does this mean for falling in love? How do you love someone without letting yourself do the falling part? You don’t. Or, at least, I haven’t. I sometimes worry that I’ve been ruined, first, by the rejections of my past and, now, by the impersonal, tragically unromantic condition of the contemporary dating culture. I’ve learned to thrive on hookups and deals forged without real attachment. I can say to myself that I want to fall in love with somebody, that I want one person to share it all with, but I know that I’ll never be able to do it. Love, real love, takes moments of weakness — the ability to place your everything into someone else’s hands and trust them to guard it and, in turn, take on that responsibility. I wish I could say that, with the right person, I could do this, but I don’t know that I can.