How I Fell In Love Without Ever Being in a Traditional Relationship

My parents divorced before I could remember—I only know of the aftermath. I remember the loneliness of diaspora, the accelerated rate of my emotional growth, my distrust of anyone trying to get close to me. My parents were young and forced to marry due to an unplanned pregnancy. I do think they were in love once, but it was the kind that involved falling head over heels, and then putting one foot in front of the other until one day, you are somewhere you don’t want to be with someone you don’t really know. I don’t think I believed in love in a tangible way—of course I understood it in theory, wanted it badly for myself—but I had never seen two people in love the way I wanted to be in love. (A combination of deep, tender love that managed to be light-hearted) I had never felt that kind of love close to me.

I lost my virginity when I was twenty years old, to a friend who lived across the hall from me. A little while later, we were being silly after sex and he said something about “all of our love-making.” My face turned bright red at the mention of love and he added quickly, “or whatever this is.”

A month later, he dumped me (it was awkward—was I even his girlfriend?) and I sort of just assumed, worried, dreaded that that’s how my life would be: devoid of “traditional,” long-term, committed love. I experienced an all-consuming depression/existential crisis and decided to drop everything to follow my bliss.

At twenty, I opted to take time off from school, move to Brooklyn on my own, and live a little. I worked hard (three jobs at a time hard) and played hard—met men in any and every way, accepted every date and set-up offer, and eased my problems with some good old-fashioned sleeping around—a la “looking for love in all the wrong places.” I concluded that the best way to avoid the pain of a broken heart was to never stand still long enough to feel it—so I moved, every chance I had. I thought that if life would only offer me sex instead of love, I would take what I could get and figure the rest out later.

And then, one night, I met a man who seemed to have it all figured out.

We met at a bar in Park Slope—he was a handsome, bearded stranger who bought me a gin and tonic. I admired his toothy smile and bright eyes as we talked about life and love for about two hours before I was drunk enough to say what I was really thinking. “Hey, I’ve had a lot to drink and I’m finding you really hard to read right now… are you flirting with me? Do you have any interest in having sex with me?” I asked loudly and unabashedly over the music. He laughed and said, “Yes, do you want to come over?” I declined because I had work the next day and the G train service was really spotty at that hour, but we exchanged numbers and I made him promise that we would see each other again.

A few days later, we ended up at his house after dinner. He convinced me to have sex with the light on, which I typically avoid, and he would do things like thank me between kisses and whisper compliments in my ear as we cuddled up during episodes of The Office. This confused me. I thought, why does he feel the need to play the seduction game with me? Doesn’t he know that he already has me? Don’t I know that he already has many women besides me? Once he called me “pretty” as he moved the hair out of my face and I pulled away. “Don’t play pretend…you don’t have to sweet talk me. I know what this is.” He looked me in the eye and said, “Who’s pretending?” And when we kissed I felt a smile on his mouth.

After everything, I tried to put my clothes on, but he snaked his limbs through mine and fell asleep. And it was there, in a brownstone in Park Slope, tangled up in a man’s sheets and limbs, that I breathed deeper than I had before. And I fell asleep with him—something I hadn’t done with any man since my first boyfriend. For some reason, this innocuous action felt more intimate than anything else we had done between the sheets.

At that point in my life, my states of being were always fleeting. I was very used to things that didn’t last. I didn’t even have dishes in my apartment. I threw everything out after a single use because I was just that kind of person.

I didn’t think things would be any different with him—but they really were. What ensued was a months-long affair with a self-proclaimed “free-spirited lover” who took orders from no one, had sex with many women, and defined his life by the love he made. I tried often to let him know that if he were willing to give me more than sex, I would take it with open arms. I would ask him on dates to movies, or on days when I felt daring, lunch in a public place. He declined all of my offers, but was always willing to make love to me and hold me all night. I would always accept. I just couldn’t get enough of him.

He gave me the kind of sex that one could only dream of—sweet and fun, yet heavy with tenderness. He affirmed me every chance he had, and gave me true affection at a very lonely period of transition in my life. He was this totally zen, crunchy-vegan sex god who spent hours a day hanging out in Prospect Park. It was so easy to love him. Once, during sex, I came everywhere. When we were done, he wrapped his arms around me and I buried my face into his skin, embarrassed as hell. “I’m so sorry,” I said, “I feel like I might have just peed all over your bed.” He asked, “Did it feel good?” I nodded and he added, “Then what does it even matter?”

As beautiful as I remember it, our relationship wasn’t all sweet and easy—I was often insecure about our relationship’s ambiguous nature. There were times when I didn’t feel satisfied with what he had to offer me—I would mention something I really wanted to do with him, maybe watch a movie or go to an event at work, but he would answer saying things like, “Well, good luck with that.” Or sometimes he would start talking about another girl while we were together and I would be left feeling wounded.

And then there were times when I was so happy that I couldn’t even enjoy it because I kept thinking about how sad I would be when it would end. I thought that I had to search for more—in retrospect, I think it’s true. I believe that I always need to keep reaching, stop worrying about the sustainability of my states of bliss, stop worrying about the potential pain I might experience in my pursuit of happiness. And I think I can live with that. All of my openness that leads to feeling foolish or embarrassed, rejected or discouraged: it’s such a small price to pay. At least I could rest easy knowing that I had told him my truths.

I never really knew if I was doing things right (is sending this text appropriate? do I call him my boyfriend when I talk about him to my coworkers?) but I felt sure that we were doing a pretty good job at being happy together, even if it was only for short bouts of time. When the year was up and it was time for me to return to New England for school, we didn’t make a big show of our goodbye. We held each other tenderly, said, “Thank you,” and walked away. I haven’t seen him since.

In ways that I don’t think I can ever explain, he made me feel… loved.

Somehow, in the murky, clouded world of “friends with benefits,” “hook-ups,” and “dating,” I was able to see very clearly. It is here, with the person that you care about, that you can create your own rules, expectations, and definitions, of love. Navigating the vast expanse of sort-of relationships is terrifying—there are no rules, and infinite chances to screw up. But it’s in that sometimes perfect, sometimes miserable, space that we can learn what our wants, needs, and expectations are through trial and error. We learn what it takes to make us happy.

I didn’t fall in love, I didn’t lose myself in someone else—I rose in love and found myself—I made an active decision to let him in despite my bitter nature. In return, he saved me from my jaded introversion by loving me deeply in the context of a non-traditional relationship. He showed me that the love I crave is possible, and that I must cultivate it myself. I know that I want to enter future relationships with an open heart—prepared for play and intimacy, ready to have fun and put in the work it takes to build this from the ground up. Our relationship. Our love. Or whatever this is. TC mark

More From Thought Catalog

  • NatalieKeshlear

    gorgeous.

  • http://phmadore.com P. H. Madore

    It's good to know that women sometimes recognize when they've been saved.

    • setecq

      This is like a weird Twitter world record for misogynistic arrogance.

      • http://phmadore.com P. H. Madore

        You're just saying that because I didn't follow it up or qualify it with a

        million words to justify a simple statement.

        Were this article written from the perspective of a man, nobody would say

        the same if a woman were to say, “It's good to know that men sometimes

        recognize when they've been saved.” (I recognized it when it happened to

        me.)

        And my misogynistic arrogance is mine, at least, whereas all your character

        seems pent up in the rush to be the first to “defend women” who didn't ask

        for your defense.

        Why do I even respond? It'd be so much easier to just let you set the tone

        for five or six other small minds to say similar things. You must rest in a

        bastion of handicapped-feminist thinking most mornings, thinking so murkily

        about your inability to have a communion of equals — your inability to

        actually just fuck someone — as the polar opposite of what they are.

        What she described here is the best kind of man a miserable hetero woman can

        hope to find.

        I'm available.

      • http://www.facebook.com/gregpphoto Greg Petliski

        What on earth are you trying to say? I seriously cannot follow.

      • http://phmadore.com P. H. Madore

        It all adds up to: shut up, dude, I was only saying what honestly first came

        to mind and here you are trying to kick me in the balls because your

        worldview slants differently than mine. Not to you, though, the other guy.

      • http://www.facebook.com/gregpphoto Greg Petliski

        Hahaha. Was gonna say, I did not kick you in said balls!

  • chelseafagan

    I really loved this, it's really very beautiful.

    I have to say, though, I always wonder how the subject of such personal, explicitly descriptive works must feel when they read about themselves like this. Do they contact the author? Do they even see it? It must be like watching a video of yourself you didn't know was being taken.

    Great work.

    • PERFECTCIRCLES

      Usually we just comment on the articles.

    • Sara David

      sorry it’s taken me so long to respond, who knows if you’ll even see this, but…

      for this particular partner, he reads almost everything i write. he reads my blog, and our brains are very similar, so when i’m struggling with longer pieces, i usually ask him to give them edits. for this piece, i didn’t show him until i thought it was done, and he thought it was an honest portrayal of what we had, and what it meant to me at the time.

      oddly enough, we were on the same coast about two days ago and we met up for a picnic in madison sq. park. i told him i missed him. his answer? “i wish i could say the same, but i’ve been too preoccupied.” and a lot of people won’t get that answer or think he was being a jackass or “emotionally abusive” or what have you, but i know exactly what he meant. (of course he followed it up with how much it made his trip to see me, how happy he is that i am well and thriving, that i look better than ever, that he knows i’m going places in life, etc etc blah blah) and it felt really good to have someone in my life who used to be my world but isn’t any longer. it felt really good to know that we were both able to look at us from the inside out, from the outside in, and that even though we’re not together, not missing each other, and not in constant contact, we love each other still, in a very fluid way.

  • vicky

    beautiful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gregpphoto Greg Petliski


    He was this totally zen, crunchy-vegan sex god who spent hours a day hanging out in Prospect Park.” “
    I would ask him on dates to movies, or on days when I felt daring, lunch in a public place. He declined all of my offers, but was always willing to make love to me and hold me all night. I would always accept. I just couldn’t get enough of him.”

    So not having a job and being non-commital is how you get women to love you? So glad I'm gonna live in the woods soon.

    • http://phmadore.com P. H. Madore

      He might have made his fortune when he was in his 20s or something. Points for snark though.

      • http://www.facebook.com/gregpphoto Greg Petliski

        That would make more sense, women are definitely attracted to money.

      • http://phmadore.com P. H. Madore

        'I thought, why does he feel the need to play the seduction game with me?
        Doesn’t he know that he already has me? Don’t I know that he already
        has many women besides me? Once he called me “pretty” as he moved the
        hair out of my face and I pulled away. “Don’t play pretend…you don’t
        have to sweet talk me. I know what this is.” He looked me in the eye and
        said, “Who’s pretending?” And when we kissed I felt a smile on his
        mouth.'

        In the whole article, he bought her a drink. Conceivably he may have paid for dinner, but it wouldn't surprise if she wouldn't have allowed that.

        It seems to me that she was attracted to his authenticity, not his money, but as I get older I understand that there are people who will always aim to be someone besides themselves, so I find your erroneous, unfortunate take on this to be excusable.

    • http://twitter.com/andshewasnt genna mae

      It worked for me (and I hate myself for it). Go get 'em, wild man!

  • http://phmadore.com P. H. Madore

    The other day, actually yesterday wasn't it, been working too hard this fucking weekend, anyway: I was walking to breakfast with a woman I would love to see again.

    We were halfway there and she cordially said hello to this creepy, heavy-breathing, broken-English speaking Mexican fellow. He said hello repeatedly and then jumped on the sidewalk, stopping us from behind. She stopped, I wouldn't have, so we stood there a bit awkward. He looked at me and said, “This your girlfriend?” In retrospect, the right answer would have been to say, “Ask her.” Instead I just said, “Nope. She's a friend.” He made some short-winded speech about what he does with his life, and said he was still a bit drunk from the night before. He gave us his name, Ramon or Ramos or something. All of this entirely unsolicited.

    What were we doing? Going to breakfast. Did we live around here? Yes. Again: is she your girlfriend?

    As we finished breakfast, I said I'd like to walk her home, or that she should take a different route. I got a really bad vibe off that guy. I wasn't being protective or anything. I just really didn't like the looks or sounds of that guy. She said that was unnecessary, I was so close to my place, and she knew I was pretty behind on work that needs doing, which is perhaps the only reason we were up so early in the first place, not to mention that she'd skipped dinner the night before, apparently for my sake, or for whatever reason. She had just left her order at the rice place.

    Point is, if she had called me her boyfriend just then to get that guy to back off, I would have been okay with that. I wouldn't have corrected her. And if she's told her mother that she has a boyfriend today, which I suspect she may have, I wouldn't argue with that. After all, she's made no demands on me and she's very nice. As I said, I would like to see her again.

    Anyhow, about ten minutes after I got home, she texted to say that the dude had followed her. I called her right away, was she okay? She has a big dog, she said, and now she was in her apartment. This is fucking Baltimore, after all, is how my thoughts always start out on matters like these. Anyway, he passed by. If I'd called three minutes faster, I could have suggested that she not go home at all, just lose him someway.

    This is all to say that it would probably have been okay to describe him as your boyfriend. He'd probably have just taken it for what it is: a word.

    • ricky sccchitliyz

      ugh wtf i get the worst vibes off you [not from this comment specifically.. this one is whatever.. i mean ones like the one below about saving]…. like reading a “””pick-up artist””” site and they talk about women and conversation like there is some 'formula'…. your ideas and ideals are different, but your level of bullshit is the same

      • http://phmadore.com P. H. Madore

        I'd tell the story of the woman who saved/changed my once-miserable life but this isn't my article. You seem like a very frustrated man and I'm sorry for that, further sorry if I've added to your frustration. If my comments bother you so very much, I suggest you just not read them, because I'm quite mouthy and verbose in said mouthiness.

  • ricky sccchitliyz

    wtf this fucking sucks, he wouldn't do anything with you besides have sex? how are you even saying that it's a non-traditional relationship, its just sex this article bums me out hard how seriously you took it when it was just straight fucking

    • http://twitter.com/misszing Zing

      @b27908c507a133e99829727f9eae1dcd:disqus I totally agree. I like the writing but something about this is just a bit off. It also feels like a bit of a non-event to write about: “Me and this guy were fucking and he made me feel less insecure and commitment-phobic. Except he didn't want to commit so it ended. Oh wellz, life goes on!” @twitter-215834595:disqus is right, TC is becoming Cosmo for romantically ambivalent hipsters.

      • amilena

        Did you read the thing? Nowhere there did she imply she wanted him to commit– her time there was ending soon anyway. From the sound of it, she wanted to keep it as casual as he did, but casualness doesn't imply it's meaningless.

      • http://twitter.com/taylafederer Tayla Dam

        She did imply that she wanted him to commit “
        I tried often to let him know that if he were willing to give me more than sex, I would take it with open arms”
        did YOU read the thing?!

  • http://twitter.com/straponheart Evan Hatch

    thought catalog seems to be incrementally shifting from an interesting, entertaining site that represented an ill-defined yet undoubtedly existent cultural movement well to a dumping ground for increasingly similar and cosmo-esque sexual tales from an emotionally ambivalent female youth's point of view

    • ill Mami

      Even if it is becoming a “dumping ground” for “emotionally ambivalent” females, so what? Does your ire ignore the many other articles published daily? Or are these emotional diatribes by females striking a nerve? In my opinion, emoting of this degree is acceptable given the title of yhr article. We all knew what we were getting into when we began to read this. Let's not shit upon “the females” because of your distaste for wherever you think Thought Catalog is going.

  • http://twitter.com/and_susan Susie Anderson

    just said aloud 'so nice'

  • http://profiles.google.com/sophiaciocca Sophia Ciocca

    Your style of writing is just lovely.

  • http://profiles.google.com/shewit.zerai Shewit Zerai

    I can dig it

  • Guest

    I enjoyed reading this, but it seems like this guy just wanted to fuck and was good at making women fall in love with him. The title should be, “I Had Sex With A Guy And Then Fell In Love With Him, But He Didn't Want To Commit–But That's Okay”. I like the lesson that you learned, but the guy seems like a hipster-vegan-asshole.

  • Anna

    He sounds like a fucking asshole – don't you see that!? Maybe I am just fucking bitter, but “defining one's life by their lovemaking” is a pathetic cop-out.

  • Scarlett

    Into it until the narrated TV drama-style wrap up.

  • Lilly

    I've been reading your tumblr for a while and feel like i've gotten to know you in a strange way. I think this piece is so beautiful and thoughtful. These negative comments seem to be coming from people who don't understand your style- of writing or living. I love reading your stories, keep it up.

  • guest

    this happened to me. to anyone reading this and thinking it's “just fucking”–yes, i agree. it can be read like that. it's easy to read something like this article and think it's “just fucking.” but i get where she's coming from. i've been there just recently. it's what he makes you believe while you're with him that makes it more than sex. it's much more than that. feelings are bound to develop when you have consistent sex with one person for a good amount of time. it's a shitty feeling, but it just happens like that. and then you feel stupid.

    • Guest

      well yes, great sex. if the sex sucked this would have never been written. so i guess it all boils down is find someone who's good in bed. :) i'm not sure if the author knows the difference between the definition of love and lust

  • Guest

    The writing's good, but if it's based on your life you need to grow a metaphorical pair and tell people what you want from them.

  • http://brianmcelmurry.blogspot.com/ Brian McElmurry

    I liked this a lot. Love gets you when you least expect it, especially when it's casual but something more, undefined. That often leads to love when the feelings are right.

  • Scytle

    there are a class of people for whom this way of living is both rewarding and healthy. If you are not one of these people try stretching out your imagination to encompass the kind of person who might have no problems with this way of living.

    There are a lot of ways for two humans to love each other. This essay really spoke to me, not only because it was beautiful, but also because it reflects how my life is.

    Its good to know others have successfully managed the intricacies of love in a non-traditional relationship.

  • ohboy

    “Good luck with that” How can someone who took you for granted be any means to self-love or love or whatever attempted rhetoric your choose. It was just mind-blowing sex, that's it. Our concept of love is so skewed by the overwhelming lust out there in our generation we can't even differentiate. Just say, great fuck!

  • Sarah

    Crying like hell after reading this but thank you for writing this.

  • guest

    This sounds quite unhealthy. Since when is emotional abuse a “small price to pay”?

  • Gutierrez Riamae

    family backgrounds really have a lot to say on how a person's perspective would turn out to be in the adult years.

  • --_--

    I get this. Honestly,  sometimes when you grow up with parental issues, that sh*t follows you around and can mess with you for a good portion of your life. It can be hard to trust, and definitely hard to believe in love in the traditional sense.

    This spoke to me as someone who often feels stifled in romantic relationships, and yet has had moments like this with people that felt more like love than anything I’d felt before in “relationships”–Even though it may not last long (call it lust, if you will.)

    It’s eerie how I had a similar experience with a hippie type of guy and had similar feelings, but ultimately I think I saw past his whole “Free Love!” philosophy. Still, gaining those feelings of trust and intimacy for another human being can really be great for setting you on the right path to learning to trust again.

  • JEN

    FUCKKKK YOURE SO GOOODDDDDDD

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