A Lesson in Love
Love is the most important thing in your life. It is now, when you’re small and dependent on your parents’ love and protection. It will be when you’re grown and find a home in the heart of another, and it will culminate in the love you’ll feel for your future children. But for this the season of cupids and cards, let’s put parental love aside and focus on romantic love which you will experience all varieties – obsession, heartbreak, ambivalence, lust, desire – throughout your life. Ultimately you should look to find yourself an equal, a partner who not only turns your head but fills your soul. Love, at it’s essence is acceptance. If it’s right you should feel supported for who you are and encouraged to become who you want to be. Love is not all passionate getaways and happily ever afters but at it’s heart, it has the ability to bring moments of true magic.
I’ve written about your father before, my love for him, the great blessing of finding such a partner, the struggles of marriage that befall any couple. I’ve spoken about dating and navigating your way through the discovery of love. But in the month of St. Valentine I want you to know that though love will be the most important thing in your life, you can’t make it your sole focus. I pray great love will find you but I want to encourage you to live your life and experience its many joys while you wait for it. Finding the right person is a blessing but before that person arrives there are bound to be some disappointments and it’s best if you are aware enough to handle them.
I can’t prepare you to deal with heartbreak. It’s something you just have to live through. All I can say is there’s life after heartbreak if you don’t let it to ruin you. Heartbreak, though painful, is a good sign. It means you committed. You put yourself out there and in doing so truly allowed yourself the best chance of success. It’s my belief that true love can only be attained from an open and unguarded heart. It’s hideously gut wrenching when it doesn’t work out but it’s better to be unsuccessful because you gave too much than to fail because you couldn’t give enough. People who guard their heart so tightly that they’re unable to truly commit or relax with another are the people I truly feel sorry for. You’ll get over heartbreak but you’ll never find true love if you aren’t willing to experience it.
I’m can’t say for certain if boys and girls experience love the same way. I believe as we age men and women treat and see love in remarkably similar ways but I wonder, as you traverse the path of young love, if I can truly relate to you on your level. In my experience boys always seemed less invested in affairs of the heart. Not to say they weren’t committed or didn’t get hurt just that they seemed to have a stronger ability to disconnect, move on, or play the field. Male dating behavior seemed to involve a lot less crying and certainly less rehashing of minutia details. Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps boys feel everything just as strongly but gender bias forces them into silence. I guess I’ll never really know until perhaps I watch you go through it.
However it plays out I can tell you that when love takes hold it can control your behavior, your feelings, your choices, it can even change the person you become. People don’t start out bitter they get that way. Disappointment in love can cause great misery and if you experience it over and over it’s difficult not to allow past sorrows to dictate your future possibilities. The important thing is to keep the faith. Throughout my life of rather dismal dating experiences I never lost hope that there was someone out there for me. That hope didn’t prevent my suffering but it allowed me not to get trapped in it. For all the pain, I was never jaded.
Your younger years are full of unrequited love. It’s the way of the world. We all want what we can’t have. High School is tough. Certain people are considered the pinnacle of desire and others their pale comparison. You could navigate these waters without a hitch or struggle to keep up. The key is not to let it define you. Whether you’re the BMOC or the awkward guy trying to find his place, everything is fluid. Everything changes. Have confidence that becoming the best version of you will attract the right people for you. Don’t change to fit in. Don’t conform. Don’t become someone your not. Never do things you aren’t comfortable with to make someone love you. The greatest relationships I saw as a young person were not between the “coolest” people but the people who were coolest with themselves.
My lack of teen dating success can be boiled down to fear. I set my sights too high on older boys, or boys who only loved the beauties, and more often than not I allowed the opinions of others to dictate my choices. There were boys I could have gone out with, nice boys, boys I liked, but they couldn’t live up to the people I’d put on a pedestal or else my friend’s didn’t approve. Either way, I didn’t have a boyfriend till I was nineteen and the only person I have to blame for that is myself.
I wrote a boy’s name on the walls of Juliet’s house in Verona one summer when I was backpacking through Italy. I made it small and subtle and kissed the spot it was written. In those days I dreamed of love but I’d yet to experience it. I fantasized about boys who didn’t care about me and spent my time making out with boys I didn’t care about. I aspired to great love but settled for trivial attachments.
By University I was able to value myself more and compare myself less. I dated a lot, had a series of mediocre, short lived romances and one serious relationship that introduced me, for better or worse, to capital L, Love. I lost myself in that relationship and it wasn’t till it was over that I was able to pull myself out from under it. Loving someone can be the most powerful thing you do but it can break you and you have to be strong enough not to let it. You have to know who you are and have a clear enough sense of self worth that even if you lose yourself in a relationship for a while, you can walk away knowing you’ll never do it again. Problems start, not when you make mistakes, but when you repeat them.
Even the things that appear to be perfect can surprise you. I have a darling friend who had the most grown up, open, respectful relationship in High School. They were so well suited to each other, so in love, so devoted that no one questioned them ever breaking up. They made plans for the future and stayed together as we all went off to University. When he ended their five year relationship over the phone because he’d met someone else she was completely blindsided. Sadly, this happens. We change so much as we grow that ideal relationships from one phase of our life may not work in another. This happens with location as much as it does with time. You meet someone at camp or on vacation and it’s perfect, you try and make it work when you get home and it fails. The saddest thing about my friend is I think she believes she had her shot at great love and lost it. She’s never been as sure of herself, her gifts and talents as she was when we were kids. She’s never asked as much from a man again and, in a disturbingly self fulfilling way, no man since has been worthy of her. It breaks my heart she’s still alone. She’s so deserving of love. Life is hard but it’s so much harder by yourself.
When I was in my mid-twenties a boy who’d always been pleasantly dismissive in my teens, looked at me across a pool and said, “I should have been nicer to you in High School”. It might have been a kind and aware thing to say – a young man suddenly realizing how superior he and his friends had been to all but a few of us – but what was really happening is he was hitting on me. He was saying, “Hey, you turned out way hotter than I thought you would and I should have laid some groundwork when I was younger because I don’t have as much of a chance now.” He wasn’t wrong.
Ironically, a lot of the boys I’d pined for seemed to return as I got older. It was as if they’d always been interested in me the person, but now that I looked differently they could commit to being interested in me the girl. Keeping this in mind, never judge potential partners on too narrow a list of requirements and try not to idolize. You can’t fight chemistry, you’re either attracted to someone or you’re not, but make sure you like the person inside the package. You’re convinced someone’s perfect for you? Make sure your perception matches the reality. Love a person not the ideal and understand people can grow in relationships, improve or degrade depending on the love, but ultimately you can’t change someone. We can be better versions of ourselves -clean up, learn new skills, get better looking – but at the end of the day we are who we are and deserve to be loved for that person first.
You shouldn’t have to second guess love. I was never totally at ease with anyone before your Dad. I knew I only had a tenuous hold on most of them, they were only partially committed to me and no matter how much I cared it was never going to be right. When I met your Dad, I knew immediately. I always say, I could have told you I’d marry him on our first date, but if I was being truly honest, I think I knew the first time we made eye contact. There was something about that moment – a recognition, a stillness and I never questioned it. I may have a million terrible dating stories but I never doubted I deserved love or could make someone truly happy. I knew I was worthy of someone who would meet me at my level. Getting to know your Dad was like coming home and everything that came before had lead me there. I didn’t need to lower my standards or expect less. I didn’t have to pretend or settle. When we got engaged I knew in my heart it was the right decision and it took everything that came before to prepare me to recognize that.
Love to the fullest. Don’t guard yourself or hold back thinking it’s safe. You will experience hurt but it’s part of the journey. Things have a way of working themselves out.
Believe in love. Have faith in love. Respect love and in the end it will respect you.
Your Mommy xo