Five months ago, like anyone who’s never been in love, part of me thought I was unlovable—because I wanted love badly, and I couldn’t reconcile why I hadn’t fallen in it yet.
Because five months ago, like anyone who’s never been in love, I thought love was something you fall into—something that happens to you and that you can’t stop or quiet or control—because that’s what people who’ve never been in love think love is: quicksand.
Five months ago, I started sleeping with a boy. Five months ago, I’d never been in love.
He was a senior two weeks out of a two-year relationship, and I was a junior who wanted a boyfriend she’d never had and was sure she wouldn’t find in college—and for those reasons, I was confident it wouldn’t last. He was just another boy who wouldn’t be able to handle me—just another boy I wouldn’t want to love (or to love me).
The first night we slept together, we stayed up till 6 a.m. and didn’t touch. He asked me if I’d ever done that—if I’d ever slept in a (straight) boy’s bed without touching him. I said I had—I don’t know why I lied. I guess I already liked him and wanted to play it cool. I guess we’d just become friends a few weeks before and I didn’t want to make shit weird with this guy I thought was fucking funny and cool, since I don’t find a lot of those. That night, we made up a religion. I can’t tell you what it’s about, because it’s a religion only the two of us can know. That night, he made me feel like a kid. A few weeks later, he told me that I made him feel like a kid—I think that’s still the best compliment he’s ever given me.
It was intense, that touchless first night. We’ve never really talked about it, and I don’t know if he agrees—but for me, it was intense.
The night after that, we slept together again. We stayed up till 6 a.m. again, till we almost didn’t touch—again. But then, around 6:01, we started to touch.
He has this lucky stone he once found on a beach that he can’t live without—he calls it his rock. We’d played with the rock all night, using it, I think, as some tiny basin for the ~sexual tension~ that’d been building for 24 hours. He started to touch me, with the rock, on my stomach. It was very intense. We’ve never really talked about it, and I don’t know if he agrees—but for me, it was very intense.
That night, we just made out. I think that was the most fun I’d ever had with a (straight) boy, just making out. I must have known I liked him after that second night.
Five months ago, like anyone who’s never been in love, I didn’t know what love feels like…but I was pretty sure I’d know it when I’d found it.
Five months ago, like anyone who’s never been in love, I thought “I love you” would be the fullest words I could possibly hear, in sequence, from a boy I loved, too.
Five months ago, I did not think this boy would be that boy.
I hadn’t seen him for two weeks, and I missed him, even though I was newly confident that I didn’t want a relationship with him. I’d asked him for one—for a relationship—when I was leaving him behind for summer while he was leaving me behind for grad week ‘n’ stuff. We’d see each other in New York in less than a month and I knew he wanted to be with me, but he still wouldn’t give it to me—he wouldn’t promise me exclusivity. He was too fiercely wedded to that false concept of independence founded on technical non-commitment to see what we had and to call it what it was—we’d had *the conversation* before, but this time, I thought, “If he doesn’t see us, I’m done. I don’t want this.”
I still wanted him, you see, but I didn’t want this. I decided I could keep seeing him while I started to see other guys, largely because, as I suspected, he was up to no good while we were apart—I’ll spare you the details (really, I’ll spare him the details—I know he’s reading this, lol), but when he came clean, I wasn’t surprised. I was, however, fucking furious…until, a few hours later, I wasn’t. I was kind of furious at myself, honestly, for not staying furious, but I couldn’t help it—I wasn’t mad.
I should’ve known then that I loved him. Because it was painful, but I weirdly understood, and I felt weirdly unthreatened. It was like all his flaws and all my insecurities evaporated the moment he told me the truth—not just that he’d fucked up, but that he was deeply sorry he had. That he’d been mindless, and that he wanted to be with me. And just like that, I wanted to be with him again, too.
I don’t know exactly when I started to suspect that, against all odds, I might be wrong—that, maybe, this boy was that boy. But I think it was then—about a month ago, right around the time this boy became my first boyfriend (oops!).
I remember kissing him goodbye one average mid-June morning and wanting to say it—“I love you.” I’d never felt (and had to fight) that semi-overwhelming urge. I’d never been in love, so I wasn’t sure what it meant, but I decided, then, that if I wanted say it, I probably felt it.
But, like anyone who’s never been in love, I was too scared to take that plunge first. So I waited. In reality—just like I’d known he wanted to be with me—I knew he loved me already, but I was mildly terrified that he’d follow the same “if I don’t say it, it’s not real” principle he’d applied to our relationship for so long. So I waited.
I’m shit at waiting.
A few days ago, he interrupted ~stuff~ to breathily say, “I like you.” Lol. I’d heard this before—many times. It was late and I was drunk. I responded, “do you love me?” He responded, “what does that mean?”
“I don’t know, dude. I’ve never been in love—I don’t know.”
But I did know, now. Because now, I was pretty sure I was no longer *anyone who’s never been in love.*
The next day over FaceTime, he brought it up—that “serious question” I’d asked him the night before. He asked me again if I knew what love was. This time, I was sober and forward:
“Well, I don’t know for sure, but here’s what I do know: I’ve wanted to say it to you—I’ve felt unnervingly compelled to tell you I love you. I also know that, one day, we’ll break up. That’s kind of fucked up to say, I guess, but it’s okay—we’ll break up, because no matter how much I like you, I’m 21, and at this point, I’m pretty sure I’m not spending the rest of my life with you. But when I think about us, I see us together far in the future. I see us, maybe, finding each other again ten years from now and then, maybe, staying together. And I don’t usually think that way. To me, that feels real.”
The next night, in person, he told me he loves me.
I said it back, and it feels right. It feels like we’ve given what we’ve been feeling a name—it feels like we’ve just made what we’ve been feeling real.
So far, nothing’s changed. I don’t feel like I’ve fallen—I don’t feel like I’m in quicksand. I feel like I’ve consciously, steadily walked into love. I feel like I’ve finally found someone who can handle me without ever trying to manage me. I feel like I’ve finally found someone whose flaws—and, trust, he has a lot of those—I don’t resent. Someone whose flaws I embrace more readily than I do my own. Someone who makes me laugh. Someone who’s smart in all the ways I find important. Someone who’s fucking fun. Someone who motivates me to be a better version of me. And someone who loves me, I think, for all the reasons I’ve always wanted someone to love me—someone who loves what I love about me.
I believe desperately in the power of language. Things are nothing until we use words to to describe them, because that which language has not named does not exist.
And love, like anything, exists only if you will it, with words, to exist. When you tell someone you love them, you give what’s happening a name. That’s what makes it real—that’s how you know you’re in love.