On the eve of my 25th birthday, I can say that I physically feel myself growing up. I don’t think my height is changing. But I feel my mind expand and compress and expand again as it absorbs the weight of increasing awareness. I am unlearning idealistic love, replacing it with newfound knowledge of loving imperfectly.
I don’t mean to paint a sad picture of encroaching cynicism affectionately known as reality. I mean to paint a picture of beauty: in learning to love imperfectly, I grasp just how limitlessly one person can love another.
She came into my life as a symbol. She stood for strength and perseverance, for moving on and up. For freedom. I met her a mere two months after my first serious relationship had met the retrospectively predictable fate of a college romance turned long distance. Two months sounds like a short while in the shadow of one’s First Love. But the truth of the matter is, that first relationship was far from my first love. My first love was unrequited, as was my second and third. Three years of self-imposed pining had taught me a great deal about caring for another without an agenda.
I met her after I had proven to myself my self-worth and my ability to love another. I met her after I had proven to myself I can empathize and care selflessly for another. I met her after all the selfish points were made in my heart, and just before I learned deep, passionate, all consuming love does not exist in a vacuum. It is bombarded by the world external to the dense space shared between two lovers’ feelings and bodies. It exists under the auspices of happiness, for there can be no love in the void of individual happiness.
More and more lately, she comes to me at night agitated by her job, by the increasingly fragile confidence she desperately tries to project out to every but me. The world sees the woman I fell in love with, while at night I hold the woman I cannot fathom not loving for the rest of my life. As she cries and yells and lies numb from the pain of struggling to make her life the vision she has of it. From the exhaustion of her emotions. I listen, feeling her aches, pulling her into me as if the only solution to her problems is melting her body into mine. Sometimes, when I gaze into her face, I lose track of her speech, getting lost in the most majestic almond-shaped eyes before me. Eventually her storm subsides, she curls into me and looks up into my face peering down at her. She smiles and I melt.
I do not love her because she hurts, or for the vulnerability that exposes, or for the intimacy of being her confidante. I love her with the greatest urgency in those moments because of the person shaped by a lifetime of tirelessly overcoming her own weaknesses and aches.
Sometimes, I am worn thin by her barrage of stresses. Sometimes, I want us to laugh. Sometimes, I want more attention and more time to talk. Yet I never demand. I never impose. I wait, absorbing the life of another being into my core as much as she will let me, hoping to overcome impossibility and make another individual feel completely safe in the unmoving company of another. She is not alone.
And it is in those moments I feel growth of character. I realize then that it’s her turn now. A loving relationship is founded on equality, but it is an equality of feeling above all else. She can break. She will know I am waiting just beneath the wreckage. That is her prerogative. That is her knowledge to take for granted. For in order for us to survive, it is not sufficient to merely love. We must love in the face of a world seeking to weather us. In a world of crime and warfare and hatred and money and disease. We must survive as individuals first so that we can have a fighting chance of nurturing the dense space between us. A space full of something electric.
I think back to a night in the middle of a week in the middle of a lifetime of stresses when we walked down the serene, dark street to a school playground and decided to throw around a basketball. Our faces relaxed, our limbs moved more limberly, and our smiles emerged. Our gait regained its dignity. And suddenly the skies above opened and rain poured over us and the court we played on. I remember needing to pause for an infinitesimal moment so as not to disturb the game and register this moment as a symbol.
I am okay.
I am more than that. I am everything. I am everything because I decide to grab the ball and keep playing. Shoeless, drenched, tired. Someone said you should seek shelter when it rains, but my body craved the exposure more as it rained increasingly harder. It is in that moment of choice, of denying protocol, of heeding my animalistic instincts, of choosing to feel my flesh—in that moment, I choose to prolong the moment of happiness.
I used to think good things don’t require work. Follow the rules, and happiness comes to you. Perhaps that’s the line between childhood and adulthood: you get to take responsibility for your happiness. You are singularly accountable for digging your feet in the grit of the earth so you can stand up right with stability. Happiness does not exist external to us. It does not follow a paradigm. It is not a rule to be learned.
Happiness is in the choices I make. Happiness is in the freedom to choose. Happiness might just be that very awareness of the freedom we all too easily forget we possess.
I am everything. I am enough for myself. And I am above the circumstances of my daily life, not ruled by them.
I’m learning that you really can’t wait on happiness. It has to be an effort, and just because it is doesn’t mean that it’s not meant to be.
Loving her means weathering her moods. Loving her means pulling her tighter to me as her body convulses with tears. Loving her means effort. It means making her smile again. It means making her laugh and taking her mind off her pain. It means indulging her and offering advice. Loving her means feeling her lows. We must work to be happy together. We must work on ourselves as individuals, and we must work on making love prevail in our darkest moments.
So I’m growing up, it turns out. To love someone is not to fix them. It is not to be perfectly synchronized. To love someone is to possess the ultimate reason for carving out personal happiness. To love someone is to fight and not feel like that’s what you’re doing at all.