Three months ago, I went on a first date with the kind, sweet, brilliant, fun, sexy, silly, gregarious, stunningly beautiful woman who would become my current partner.
The next day, I decided to start seeing a therapist.
I grew up surrounded by — scratch that — immersed in an environment where relationships were wrought with a skewed sense of reciprocity. My father honored my mother’s loyalty with compulsive disloyalty. The man after him honored the vulnerability of my three brothers and I with physical violence. Through these relationships in my immediate world, I quickly learned the fine, immaculate, catastrophic art of repression and self-sabotage, as I found my relationships with friends, girlfriends, and role models alike strained by my incessantly fluctuating moods, my inability to communicate my longing for companionship, the inconsistencies that ultimately crippled the majority of these relationships. I would fight the impulse to speak my naked, sacred truths, swallowing my words until they settled in the knots in my throat, in the sickening feeling of desolation in my stomach. I fought those words, those cravings, all the way down to the bottom, until I could convince myself that my rage had flickered out and I was safe from rejection. For the time being, at least.
I left home. In my determination to negate the damage done in my past, I vowed to enter into every relationship swinging — determined to love viciously and unequivocally, and leave it all on the field, and place blind faith in the affection that I hoped would be reciprocated. Then I fell in love with partners who didn’t love me back. Who dehumanized me. Who slept with someone else and didn’t tell me for months. When I finally came across something substantial, I freaked out and walked (often times, ran) away before I had to face the truth behind my unmitigated, seemingly insane feelings. One partner in particular told me that they loved me, and I couldn’t say it back. It wasn’t until after another nine months of mutually destroying and demoralizing one another when I could finally say those three words. They laughed in my face and told me that I did not deserve love. In hindsight, it was experiences like this that laid waste to any vestige of hope I had in finding happiness with someone, something.
After several months of constantly alternating between multiple casual partners, scrambling desperately to find whatever means of healing and therapy I could find, I took time to be alone, to be content with being still, to take a closer look at myself in the mirror. There were no epiphanies, no moments of tremendous self-actualization. If anything, I walked away from that mirror every day feeling more and more ill at ease with what I found staring blankly back at me, seeing through me, burning through me.
And then I met her.
We shared a plate of disco fries, walked to the South Street Bridge overlooking the Philadelphia skyline at night, commiserated and laughed about the absurdities of our work, our online dating experiences, our lives. I remember exactly how I asked for her number at the end of the night.
“So, uh, if I get your number, I could get in touch with your Boston friends about booking some kind of a house show in South Philly, if you want.”
“Rob, are you sure that’s the only reason why you want my number?”
The kiss goodnight was incredible. Even if it was freezing in February and my nose leaked a little on her cheek.
Needless to say, I was a nervous, terrified, exhilarated wreck in the wake of the loud noise at the bar, her unbelievable smile, her incredible stories, feelings I had not felt in a very, very long time.
I spent the entire bike ride home ensconced in an overwhelming anxiety over what was easily one of the most inexplicably wonderful first dates I have ever been on — DEFINITELY the best first kiss I’ve ever had. I was tired of feeling anxious. I was tired of feeling so ill at ease in the presence of something so remarkable.
The next morning, I looked up the number for the counseling services at my university, and set up an appointment for every Thursday at noon.
I met someone who only needed two and a half hours and a plate of gravy-covered french fries to show me how beautiful life could be with her. I was not going to hide in my shortcomings and let that go.
That was the point I decided it was time to better myself, to start the process of healing, love, and self-actualization for the sake of what could potentially become an incredible connection with someone, and perhaps more importantly, for my own sake.
Sometimes, new love means breaking old habits. Sometimes you find yourself more at ease in relationships defined by inconsistency, anger, irreconcilable jealousy, and neglect, simply because that is what you have grown used to over the years. You grow complacent with the misery and heartache. Most importantly, you give up on yourself. When something accessible, consistent, warm, and altogether incredible comes into the picture, sometimes the hardest step is taking a deep breath, letting go of your tattered past, and taking that risk with something new — all the while repeating to yourself, “I’m worth it, I’m worth it, I’m worth it…”
Three months later, I’m continually surprised by new discoveries. I bear witness to my partner’s idiosyncrasies, and find myself falling more and more in love with her because of them. Whether it’s her fussing over leaving the bathroom door open and letting the cats in, or the way she groans at 4 AM for me to come spoon her, even the way she squeezes out my blackheads when we’re laying in bed together… I wake up next to this woman who shows me more of her soul, her quirks, her ticks, her true beauty every day. There are no oddities — just more pieces of her, which I embrace unconditionally.
It’s a funny thing, meeting someone who makes you uncomfortable with how intensely they look at you, how far outside your comfort zone they take you, holding your hand and loving you the entire way. Before her, I was never able to look at someone in the eye and just say what was really on my mind. I was never able to genuinely remain calm and collected. I could never say the words, “I’m terrified of these feelings, but I don’t want you to think that I’m leaving. I’m not going anywhere.” When you say those words — and truly mean them — that’s when you know that you’ve found something worth loving, worth bettering yourself for, worth fighting for.
I’ve found something worth showing up every Thursday at noon for, simply because I owe it to the ones I love — and most importantly, myself — to embrace change.