I don’t remember him saying, “I love you.” We’ve been together for almost two decades. My mind scours through the memories, and easily I can recall the place where the words were first uttered, by me.
We were camping, our first time together in West Virginia’s wilderness, housed only in a two-person zip-up tent. Our bodies sweated from the humidity on a late summer’s night. The memory feels as if it happened yesterday, with the same feeling reminding me how it happened in some other lifetime. In the life before we were married, before we became adults paying bills, before mortgages mattered, and before we would be called ‘parents’ to a little boy.
Love’s relationships seem to warp a mind’s sense of time. In the passion, in the sweating, and in the connection feeling wrapped together as one working unit…. I said those three words.
“I love you.”
It happened and my heart begged to be wrapped around his fingers. And I let him. Eagerly, with no guard or shield, I allowed him to pull my stubborn strength into his beckoning.
Those words spat out of my mouth like a thousand butterflies exiting my stomach. And I didn’t want to take them back. I couldn’t take them back. They were trapped in our two-person tent. He’d eventually come to say them back, repeat them, but I don’t remember when. It took a long time. Throughout the memories, I don’t remember when he felt enough love, enough safety, and enough security to tell me how much he loved me.
People always told me: When you meet the one, you’ll know. All the women older than me, wiser than me, or the women who had found their ones.
I thought I’d found him. I believed with all my heart he was ‘my one.’ I just knew, deep in every fiber extending throughout my body.
My heart wanted to be his forever. I wanted to wear the rings and call him my husband. Even now, the memory lingers in my head of us sitting on a porch in rocking chairs, going back and forth, laughing as age graces our faces.
I begged to marry him.
I proposed more times than I can remember. Each time he told me, “No”, and gave another excuse. I waited 7 years for a ring. It didn’t come with the romance or the words I expected to hear. I found a ring on the internet, he bought it and asked me to marry him on a random December night. The Christmas tree seemed to be the only item lighting up the room.
The wedding came and went. We settled into married life. We had a child. Within 4 years of striving to have everything I wanted from my “one”, I would find out he cheated. He cheated several times throughout our entire relationship. My world crashed before me. My heart broke, I could feel the shards piercing my soul, cutting me from the inside.
Outwardly, I did what I had to do. I put our family back together. I sat in marriage counseling. I went to private counseling. And I tried to remember the times when I felt like he had loved me.
Those times he considered me to be his one. The times he knew he couldn’t live a day without me.
Time is a funny, awkward and warped demon.
Those times don’t exist. They never were real.
In trying to be loved, I had forgotten where all the value should have been placed:
Love yourself first. If they love you, they will say the words. They will want the marriage, the home, and the life with you. You shouldn’t fight to have someone love you.
You should remember the time they first said, “I love you.”
You should remember to be in love with the person existing inside of yourself. May people fall in love with the person you are, with this person first. May they never fall in love with the dream or the convenience because you’re around. Because you love them.