Let’s get the age thing out of the way. I’m 38 years old, and saying that I’ve never been in love feels different at 38 than it did at 28. That is simply a fact.
Let’s also get something else out of the way: not everyone is looking for love. I am. I always have been. Admittedly, at first, it was a Disney-fied version of “happily ever after” that is not only unattainable for most adults dealing with non-animated, real-life issues, but is also probably undesirable to a certain extent.
I didn’t date or have a first kiss or sex until my 20’s, although I very much wanted to do all three a decade earlier than I eventually did. My lack of action was not for lack of trying. When I think back to junior high and high school, I can identify a cluster of reasons why I was never looked at twice, but in hindsight I think they all come down to exactly what I’m afraid of today: I’m getting in my own way because I don’t think I’m lovable, capable of true romantic love, or deserving of it.
I kinda sorta maybe think I can love and be loved, but an entire life without it is really compelling evidence to the contrary. I can look at my choices and my behaviors and see how I’ve essentially chosen not to be, and that scares me.
I couldn’t get the attention of the handful of kids I had crushes on as a teenager, so I think I figured I just didn’t get romantic attention. Period. I got attention in other ways, mostly as a musician and for excelling at academics, and it all fit nicely into the neat little boxes social norms put us in. The geeky girl who skipped a grade and is going to the spelling bee regionals doesn’t get asked to the big dance—everybody knows that!
But had I put myself in that box? Or was it a joint effort? Was I put there and simply decided to get cozy as opposed to simply stepping out?
When I look at pictures of myself from high school and college, I can nitpick and see flaws but nothing like missing my entire skull or any clear justification for how grotesque I actually thought I was. All these years later and so much therapy and thought and plain old growing the fuck up, I’ve kicked so much of that physical insecurity’s ass, but I’m afraid that I started from such a deficit that I’ll never catch up. I didn’t even enroll in Self Love 101 until recently and I’m on a remedial track.
We know high school is a breeding ground for insecurities and although I felt completely left out by managing to graduate firmly at “never been kissed” status, it wasn’t until the same could be said at college graduation and beyond that it felt truly desperate. Difficult childhood and teen years laid the groundwork, but the romantic lack in my 20’s is what really cemented my untouchable feelings.
I understand that much of this probably wounds like the traditional “I thought I’d be married by 30…” type of talk, and I definitely spent some time lost in those woods, but it has morphed into something more, something darker. I had no choice but to discard my Romantic Goals Timeline a few years ago—the very idea is a bit clichéd and confining, but for someone like me, it’s either a cruel joke or outright torture.
When I try to forgive myself, I look at my lack of examples of love. My parents divorced early and are two people who should never have gotten married. My father was significantly older than my mother and he chose a pretty lady to have his children because he was at the age when he ought to do so. All around me today I see people choosing people to have their children, or to buy a house with, or to simply spend time with because their Netflix queues are compatible. But are they in love?
I used to dream of the big wedding. I used to doodle wedding dress designs for fun. Then one day, I just stopped. I thought more about sketching out a life with someone than just a gown. Maturity brought with it the understanding that adult love might mean fewer Disney musical numbers with anthropomorphized furniture and more quiet moments or unexpected expressions of love. I let go of the fantasies of waltzing in front of the Eiffel Tower and looked forward to simply holding someone’s hand on the street where we live.
But…is that love? I’ve mentioned a lot of fear here, because I’m terrified. I’m terrified that hateful, abusive parents who couldn’t show me love and high school kids who either ignored me or mocked me and my own psyche have shown me that when it comes to love, my only involvement with it is to learn to live without it.
And I have! I’ve evolved to the point where I can politely dodge people’s questions in social settings about never having a guest. I had to work through so much longing that I’m not sure I could help but harden my heart. I can have career aspirations and contemplate choosing single motherhood and tell myself that I’m not less of a person for my lack of romantic love, but I’m not sure I fully believe it.
Of all the fears, the scariest part for me is that I’m presently in what I would call the happiest relationship of my life. There haven’t been many of them, and the longest was six months a few years back, a time marker that I’ve just passed with the guy I’m seeing.
I feel like I could love him, and I think and hope he could love me. But will I? Do I? We don’t really argue, but when we have had minor squabbles it’s been me doing something foolish. My words, not his—he would never scold me or place himself in a position to tell me what to do. He’s wonderful, in fact. What I mean by “something foolish” is that I don’t bring up really minor things that could be settled in a text message because in my mind, he’s always one step away from dumping me.
I cannot emphasize enough that he’s done nothing to back up my fear, and when I finally told him so, he was downright loving and lovely in reassuring me that he cares about me and he wants me in his life—is that love?
I have to stop myself from waiting for some moment of fireworks or magic to happen. I don’t believe in magic, which is fine. I’m beginning to think that I also don’t believe in love, which I’m not okay with. Feeling that I’ll never have love and not believing in it are two different things, and to feel the latter creeping into my soul puts me in the awkward position of actually hoping that I’m just so mentally broken that I’m having a purely fear-based denial response.
I presently feel so much more for this man than I ever have for anyone before. I can picture a long future together that has nothing to do with a big party or champagne. We’ve had difficult conversations and gone out dressed to the nines as much as we’ve seen each other in sweats with morning goo in the corner of our eyes. We’ve never uttered the “L” word, but I understand that love can be expressed without saying the word, just like it can be spoken by an abuser.
I can imagine our children and our children’s children, and yet; I can also imagine my life without him. I say that because all of the times when his awesomeness has led me to feel that he deserves someone equally as awesome (i.e. better than me), I’ve sat and done just that.
I’m afraid that even investing emotional energy into picturing my life without him is leaching darkness into my soul. Like, what the hell is wrong with me?
One of the things wrong with me is that I’ve had to shore up my defenses for when things don’t go my way, which life has taught me that they won’t. When I say I can picture my life without him, I mean it would be absolutely dreadful, just like the many other dreadful times I’ve battled through to make it to today.
God, that sounds miserable.
I don’t want to hold him responsible for the mistakes of his predecessors, but at the same time I don’t know how to feel or behave worthy of love, and winging it doesn’t seem to be working.
Viewing things through this cynical lens is not only hurtful to myself, but it’s disrespectful to couples I know. Doubting the possibility of romantic love in full means questioning everyone’s. People have all sorts of reasons for getting together, and, sometimes more importantly, staying together, yet I’m rudely hypothesizing.
I feel like so many people have found someone they’re extremely comfortable with, who inspires and respects them and who they feel emotionally and physically intimate with. Is that love? Have I just described it? Because I totally feel those things, and yet I discount them if they’re not 100% requited. And I might be pushing away a man who is trying to show me they are because I’m not 100% sure they even could be in my case.
With all of my practice in romanticizing and fantasizing, I never thought I might be the one jeopardizing things if what looks like love came to me. I can’t have overcompensated so far to the other side, can I? It doesn’t have to be a fairy tale, but I don’t want my story to be that the girl who never had love is now rejecting love or can’t even recognize love because she never had love.
I know I have to get my head out of my ass and get out of my own way. I’m just so scared that this really is it for me. That I should accept the progress of more comfort and intimacy with someone and give up on “love.” Or maybe, just maybe, accept that more comfort and intimacy can be at the core of love and give up on hating myself.