The first time I fell in love, it was with my best friend. He was kind and smart and I was 16 and filled with the passionate exuberance of my first time. We sat next to each other during most classes and snuck touches past our teachers. I’d ask, “What if someone catches us?” and he’d dare me with his eyes, “Who cares?” The first time I fell in love was the first time I felt how soft lips could be, how excited your body could get. How deep conversations could run. We talked about our darkest corners and spent countless nights texting till the sun rose, walk into class with sleepy eyes and repeat. But we didn’t care. We were in love.
When I first fell in love, I was naive. I balanced between being self-centered and too giving at all the wrong times. He’d tell you I was flirtatious but I’d argue I was just friendly. I’d say he cared too much about how others thought of him and he’d claim that that’s the world we live in. He’d say I was crossing a line and I’d retaliate, “We’re just friends.” We were reckless and irresponsible and too full of young love to understand that the world is so much bigger than the conversations we had in between textbooks. We were still finding ourselves.
The second time I fell in love, I didn’t fall right away. He was older and more experienced and I just wanted to have fun. It wasn’t a sudden spark in the darkness, but a gradual connection that molded itself into something I never saw coming. I had left my home to live in a new place and he stood beside me as I explored new experiences. He showed me how big and how small a hectare of land could be, how many worlds could be built in-between the space of two bodies. How I didn’t have to feel ashamed when blood would run down my legs unexpectedly or when he’d find deodorant marks on my black tops. I learned how to take as much as I give in the shadows of my bed, how to free my body from expectation and see my own skin as a home instead of a temple.
The second time I fell in love, I was still young and carefree and unprepared for heartbreak. I’d flirt with other guys to see if he’d notice and he’d pretend he didn’t. I asked if he loved me and he said, “No.” I lied and said I didn’t either. I remember crying for weeks, waiting for the moment I could listen to music or feel enjoyment without wanting to throw up. We agreed from the beginning that our relationship was temporary, that distance wasn’t worth the effort, but in-between the lines of every message we sent thousands of miles away from one another, were unspoken desires and hopes. But he showed me that memory is fickle and that details fade, grow dusty and crinkle like aged paper. Eventually pain subsides and we learn to grow and be grateful.
The third time I fell in love, I had no plans or expectations. I had no idea relationships and love could be so complex. That I could fall for a girl. I learned how to talk and listen and relate, how to understand the push, pull, and collision of emotional and physical connection. She taught me how to see and be seen, and how love–– real love–– should be given. I’d spend early hours working on papers and assignments and she’d drop me food making sure I ate, giving me the lemons in her water, and running with me even after a long day at work.
But the third time I fell in love, I learned how toxic I could be. How loud I could yell and how hurtful my words could be. How selfish and callous we can be when we know how much someone loves us. How much it hurts to let something go but how much better it feels to know we’re no longer poisoning something pure. The third time I fell in love, I realized I didn’t deserve more. She did.
The last time I fell in love, I didn’t want to. I wanted to live and grow alone for a long while with no distractions. I had a plan and he was in a different country. We barely knew each other and I told myself I’d never confine myself to a long distance relationship. He was in the military, wanting to come back home. I was in the middle of my busiest semester and I wanted to leave, to place roots somewhere else. It was everything I didn’t want. But you don’t really get to decide who you fall in love with.
We spent hours every day texting, calling, learning how distance can’t stop your heartbeat from picking up speed when you see their name pop up on your screen. Learning that the last time can be just as new as the first time. Learning how to squeeze a whole year in 10 days. Learning how to plan 5, 10, 20 years down the line with the same person–– what we’d name our dog, our kids, what color our sheets would be, who’d do the laundry and who’d do the dishes, and how we’d stop our Roomba from falling down the stairs.
But the last time I fell in love, I learned how forgiving I can be. That love alone isn’t enough. I learned that feelings scar and scare us. Remain vivid markers of things we’d rather forget, things we carry with us like a skin tag. That unkept promises metastasize into deeply rooted insecurities that we try to lock inside ourselves but that can never truly stay hidden. That even when we’re in love we can still be unsure, but still, we keep trying and hoping it was always meant to be. And maybe one day It will be.