Love Lessons

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My parents were never really the loving couple rom-coms are made of. I don’t remember them kissing and they rarely showed each other any affection. So, amid the arguing and the fighting that surrounded my childhood, I concluded that relationships are more trouble than they’re worth. I was 18 when my father presented my mother with divorce papers, and it was then that I made the decision never to marry.

All through high school and college, I hid behind my schoolwork. I’d purposely turn my head away when I walked by bridal shops and brush aside annoying questions from aunts who wanted to know, “Where’s the boyfriend?” I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my GPA or my heart for some guy who’d swoop in with his game and tear down everything I’d worked so hard for. If an unfortunate soul dared to ask me out, I hit him with my sharpest sarcasm.

But the truth was anything but sarcastic. The very idea of letting someone get that close terrified me, and I wanted to spare myself needless pain. What if I got married and it all ended up falling apart after 20 years and three kids?

After the divorce, I endured countless phone calls from my mother, who’d reach out crying and wouldn’t let me go until I felt just as broken and hopeless as she did. She felt that I, her oldest child, could handle it, and I tried my best to be there for her from an hour and a half away. School projects took a backseat as I’d hop on a train in the middle of the night to visit when she felt most inconsolable.

Four years after the divorce, I was emotionally exhausted. I had never learned how to open up and be affectionate, and though I desperately wanted to change, my insecurities constantly got in the way.

And then he walked in.

I had a crush on him throughout grad school but was defensive and standoffish when he started pursuing me after graduation. “All things end,” I thought. “So what’s the point?” I figured that whatever we felt for each other would die down over a summer and 200 miles, but to my surprise, it didn’t. After months of persistence and patience on his part, I agreed to drive out to visit him and his family.

Through them I experienced a family that treated each other with respect and support. I saw what it was like to open up without fear of being yelled at or shushed. In turn, I felt unbelievably comfortable around him and actually allowed myself to become vulnerable.

There were many bumps and freakouts along the way as I slowly learned to open my heart. Because of him, I sought therapy to deal with the past. Soon enough, we began talking about marriage and putting together a running list of names for our bound-to-be-cute kids.

But the closer he and I became, the more I had to fight off my fears of relationship doom. After years of expertly training myself to raise the alarm every time a risk was involved, I didn’t know how to shut the damn thing off. And though he tried time after time to convince me that we would make it, at a certain point he hit a wall: mine.

When we broke up after a year and a half, I was devastated. Part of me wanted to become emotionless and isolated again, but luckily, I didn’t take the bait.

I had gotten a taste of what love feels like. And as much as it hurt to break up, I learned that I really do want the things I used to be so afraid of: a home, marriage, kids. It doesn’t make me weak or naive to think it can work out someday, no matter what the current divorce rate is. After all, a truly independent woman knows what she wants and refuses to let anyone or anything—including her own fears—keep her from it.

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