Love. I used to think that only happened once. When you met the right person, things would click and you would just know for the rest of your life. Cue the swelling instrumental and the sunset backdrop where only happiness existed. At least, that’s what being the romantic comedy-obsessed daughter of a single mom taught me to expect. However, in reality, life isn’t really like that.
I was always the girl next door (but in this case, the next region). At four years old, I harbored a huge crush on the son of one of my mom’s friends. They lived in Colorado, so it was too far to have a fleeting elementary school romance, as we lived in Vermont. But that didn’t stop me from thinking that he was the world, and everything he did was perfect. Every time we’d visit, I would get giddy imagining him holding my hand. Oh, I would get butterflies when he walked in the room that made my stomach feel like a hand-turned waffle iron flipping over and back again.
As I grew older, my desires for him matured with me.
At age six, I fantasized about him cuddling up next to me in the car when our parents drove us places. I would purposely make my knees touch his at dinner when sat next to each other at dinner to see if he would push back against them. He never did.
When I was seven, his eyes sent shivers down my spine—the good kind. I wanted him to teach me how to play ping pong so that I could hear his laugh every time the ball bounced over the porch fence.
However, as the movie cliche goes, he was never very interested in me. As the popular funny athlete from a large high school, he had his pick of the ladies from a very young age. In contrast, I was the brainy shy girl from a tiny rural high school with both glasses and braces. My fashion statements were pink and purple striped dresses or shirt and pants sets made out of velvet because I couldn’t stand wearing itchy fabrics. I wasn’t the popular pretty girl he usually fell for and I knew it, which left me feeling very Bridget Jones-esque.
In sixth grade, I went through a phase where I was a little pudgy and my breasts hadn’t developed yet. Of course, that summer we were invited to his Bar Mitzvah, and my mom was just dying to go. For the ceremony, he wore a dashingly handsome suit with a rose in his pocket, and I felt that familiar longing of wanting to have sex with someone for the first time. But I knew he thought I was a goody two-shoes and too serious.
Every summer when we’d leave, I would get the same disappointed feeling after he didn’t kiss me. The welling of bitter agony in your soul when your true love doesn’t realize he’s the one for you really dampens your school vacation. As the years passed, my youthful infatuation for him subsided a little as I started dating other boys. My feelings for them never matched my feelings for him, but I was surely not going to miss out on new experiences for some boy in a different state.
Years passed, and suddenly I was 17. I had just gotten back from a solo trip to Colorado in July, where I worked for a month at a family owned movie theater. There was nothing anyone could do to make me lose the feeling of being a brand new woman ready to take on her senior year of high school.
Until my mom told me we were going to visit him and his family at their lake house in New York before the summer was through. What would he look like? What would it be like to see him again? Will he think I’m attractive, funny, and sweet? These thoughts nibbled away at the self-confidence I had slowly built for myself, but I was determined to go anyway. I loved his family, so even if nothing happened between us, I still wanted to be there.
I had lost my virginity during my month away, so I was prepared for anything. The whole drive down, I couldn’t stop replaying alternate futuristic scenarios in my head about what may happen between us. When we finally turned onto the thin gravelly driveway to the lakeside cottage, I remember feelings of eager anticipation flooding my body.
We parked, and as we got out, his mom, grandma, and grandpa all rushed over to give us welcome hugs. I looked over towards the door to the house, and there he was, coming out of the front door looking like an ad for men’s cologne. All of the feelings that lay dormant for a couple of years came rushing back.
I wish I could say what happened next was a fairy tale. If it were, I hope it would go something like this:
He looked at me, with the lake sprawling behind us and the sun setting the trees, like it was the first time he was really seeing me. I whispered to him how good it was to see him again, and in that instant, something changed. He pulled me close and told me how there was no place he’d rather be.
But in real life, it went something like this:
Once we all went inside, he and his mom began a game of chess while my mom caught up with his grandma as she prepped for dinner. My sister and I watched as enthusiastic moral supporters, chiming occasionally in unison, ”Good move!” After a delicious farm-to-table dinner, everyone except him and I decided to go for a walk around the lake. I snuck upstairs under the guise of finding printer paper. As I searched in vain in the computer room, he called from the room next store to see what I was up to. He came to assist in my search, but eventually led me back to his room where he offered me a puff of an early version of the Juul before proceeding to kiss me. I had waited for this moment for so long! I felt the connection and was riding high on the oxytocin until his mom called us down for dessert.
We played footsie under the table while we all ate ice cream and chatted about politics. Once our bowls were empty, we snuck off to finally have that sex I had been waiting years for. Everything was going great until I got my period. He and I both didn’t know what to do. I felt so ashamed and dirty. He just looked confused. Regardless, the sex was officially over. He told me he would put the sheets in the laundry that next morning, and if anyone asked, he got a nosebleed. I was mortified. I hurried off to bed and when I woke up the next morning, he and his mom had already left.
Looking back at it now, I have learned some very valuable lessons.
1. Never let anyone make you feel like your body isn’t beautiful in all that it does.
2. Young love is powerful, but it is based on a feeling. Feelings don’t foster a relationship alone.
3. Sometimes the fantasy of love seems better than reality, but that usually means it is a fantasy for a reason.
4. Life does give you what you want, but usually in ways you don’t expect to teach you important lessons.
5. Make sure to be gentle with yourself while you are having your first sexual experiences. They may not go exactly as you wanted them to, and that is okay. There is nothing wrong with that.
It’s okay that love isn’t like a movie. Overcoming that belief has made me realize just how beautiful real love can be.