I remember the first time I woke up next to him and I didn’t run to the bathroom to fix my makeup. I didn’t make sure my hair was perfectly disheveled, or that my bra was peeking coyly out of the top of my low-cut t-shirt. For the first time, I didn’t actively construct a “morning after” look that would be a pleasant comedown from the way I had been last night. When he turned to me, bare-faced and messy, I cringed in the light that poured in from his poorly-covered windows. It should have seemed strange to be so terrified of someone seeing what I actually looked like, but sometimes we get so used to tweaking reality that doing nothing it all is no longer an option.
He kissed my forehead, and asked what I wanted for breakfast. As though nothing had happened.
Time passed, and I no longer thought about being bare-faced or in my pajamas. We swam together, traveled together, lived in the same cramped apartment while I searched for my own. We do what couples always do, blending our lives more and more until nothing has a clear beginning or ending, everything is just part of the same story. The girl who was mortified at being caught looking like herself in the morning seems like an entirely different person, someone so caught up in the unimportant that we tend to imagine others take very, very seriously. But she was right to feel like that, in many ways. So often, we get to taste the outer edges of comfort with someone, imagine what it would be like to really let our hair down entirely, only to have the rug pulled from underneath us.
It’s so easy to love people who don’t really love us back, to feel the thrill of chasing after something, and the ecstasy of occasionally grabbing it by its ankle. I think we have all constructed relationships out of nothing before, dismissed our concerned friends with a “you just don’t get it,” too happy to be with someone who intoxicates us. There are years-long relationships where we never feel comfortable in the morning, where we never fully relax, where we are always afraid that one day they will realize who we really are and feel very tricked. Sometimes we feel so lucky to be with someone, so sure they’re doing us a favor by being seen with us in public, that we’d rather spend the whole time just a little uncomfortable than not have them at all.
Of course, they always leave us anyway. In some ways, you know that it’s a countdown until they leave from the very beginning. They might say “I love you,” and the more easily pleased part of you will believe them, but there’s always a minor emptiness that you convince yourself to ignore. And when they leave, the pain is always magnified by the absence of surprise.
Everyone wants to be ugly, to be caught naked with unflattering lights on and feel like they are still desired. Striving for attractiveness at all times — both physical and emotional — is exhausting. Sometimes we make an unfunny joke, we yell over nothing, we forget an important date, we wake up with a huge zit in the middle of our foreheads. And all we want is to feel like that’s okay, like there is still a person there worth caring about even in our weaker moments.
We have to live with ourselves every day, we know every intimate detail of the things we have to hide to make someone want to get to know us. But we know that, even in our ugliness, we can be great and kind and loving and want so badly for someone to feel the same way about us. We don’t want to spend another year chasing someone who will never fully want us back, so we turn away from the light coming through the window. We run to the bathroom to make ourselves pretty, and we only talk about the things we think they want to hear. We present something good, something constructed from only the best parts of us.
But then someone kisses you on the forehead, and asks you what you want for breakfast. You wonder if they notice that you are not as pretty this morning, that you are sleeping late and have left your clothes in a pile on the floor and have three different cowlicks all at once. You wonder if one day they will, and that will be the day they leave. You wonder if this is the thing you have heard about for so long, wanted so badly that you chased it in so many people who would never give it to you. You wonder if you ever really knew what love felt like in the daytime.