You can never quite remember the actual moments when someone says that they love you for the first time. You wait for it so long, practice how you will respond, prevent yourself from saying it before them (you wouldn’t want to look desperate), and then it happens, and it’s like you go temporarily deaf. There is a ringing, like a TV show that has cut off to go to an emergency announcement. This is an emergency announcement. And you can’t even hear it. It’s almost like your brain doesn’t want to process these words, because then you’d have to acknowledge them, and not just in your imagination.
Besides, everyone who has ever said that to you before has left, so you might as well not even listen.
“I love you” will mean nights staying up watching someone sleep next to you, wondering why they haven’t left you already, wondering when they will. It means having to be naked with them with the lights all the way up, stinging every dimpled plane of your body with unforgiving clarity. It means having to take the risk that, as has happened so many times before, you will be disappointed. You will be proven wrong. You will live the reality of that fear you always have, the fear where they wake up one day and look in the mirror and say “What was I doing here? I could do so, so much better than this.”
So you have chosen aloneness. You have chosen the security and the relative freedom of solitude, because there is no risk involved. You can stay up every night and watch your TV shows and eat ice cream out of the box and scroll through your Tumblr and never let your brain sit still, not even for a moment. You can fill your days up with books and coffees and trips to the store where you forget what you wanted the second you walk in the automatic sliding door. You can do so many little, pointless things throughout the day that all you can think of is how badly you want to sleep, how heavy your whole body is, how much your feet hurt. You can wear yourself out again and again on the pavement, and you do, and it feels good.
And if you need to get laid, you can. You can go on a website and order a date night like you would a value menu at Burger King and have them in your bed before you can even refuse the dessert menu at the Thai restaurant. You don’t have to turn the lights on, because they don’t know you. You don’t have to worry about whether or not they will leave in the morning, because you know that they will. Everything is up-front, so nothing has to be a disappointment. Not like “I love you.”
Sometimes, you think that no one has ever loved you. You have almost flippantly doubted it, even when someone was saying it to you. Even if they are saying it to you today. Because, though you wouldn’t like to admit it, you’re not terribly sure that you love yourself. You reject all of the simpering notions in beauty magazines and you learn to say nice things about yourself when you look in the mirror. If someone asked, you could provide an objective list of your qualities. But you’re not sure that “loving yourself” is something you ever really learned how to do.
Sometimes, you wonder if everyone is faking it, even the people who seem to have it all down to a science.
Because you’ve never looked at yourself and felt blown away by the privilege of being in your own body, of having your own mind, of living your own life. You’ve never felt that thrilling infatuation, that deep connection, that shit-eating grin kind of pride. Not about yourself. And maybe someone else did, but every time they told you that they loved you, it was as though the words had gone through several translating programs before they came back to your ears. You kind of knew what they were trying to say, but it was an expression whose meaning you didn’t really recognize. They said, “I love you,” and you said “You too.”
You think that no one ever will, because how could they? No one will ever bridge that gap and point to your stomach or your hair or your eyes in the mirror and magically make you see the wonderful things about getting to be next to you. And maybe that’s it, after all, this fear that no one will ever truly feel about you the way you want to be felt about. Maybe what you want is someone to make you love yourself, to put sense into all that positive rhetoric, to make it so the aloneness of TV and blasting music in your ears at all times isn’t the most happy place you can think of. Maybe you want someone who makes you so sure of how wonderful things are that you cannot help but to tell them your feelings first, even at the risk of being humiliated. Because you will know that, when you’re telling them you love them, what you’re really saying is “I love who I become when I am with you.”