Four men have told me that they loved me. Three of them broke my heart. The fourth, well, I suppose I broke his a little.
The first one was young love, high school love, which is sort of in a class all by itself. J and I had been dating for a couple of months, and I had traveled to see him compete in the regional wrestling competition. I was staying with my aunt’s soon-to-be stepdaughter, and one of the nights, I was talking to J on the phone before he went to bed. He said it, and it took me quite by surprise…but that feeling, I’ll never forget that feeling of warmth that spread through me.
“I love you too,” I somehow squeaked out.
I was fifteen years old. I know that I didn’t really know what love meant then. Unfortunately, not long after this sweet, tender moment, it would come to mean yelling, fighting, tears, hurling insults, fear, insecurity and hurt. That relationship was about pain.
It was K who taught me that love didn’t have to hurt. We got together my sophomore year of college, and once we admitted our attraction to one another, we became inseparable. After a whirlwind month, we went to my sorority’s fall date function together. We were dancing and singing to “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” him singing the guy part, me singing the girl part. After the Do you love me/Let me sleep on it exchange, he pulled me close to him and said “I wouldn’t have to sleep on it.”
Later, when we were alone back in my dorm room, we said the actual words to each other. He was my first real love, the first man to make me feel truly safe, happy and cared for. It was sweet, genuine, and maybe a little bit naive.
He didn’t give me a pen, but he sure did a number on my heart.
I guess I would say that X was my first mature love. I came to him whole, complete, and finally (after 4 long years) over the heartbreak of losing K. I didn’t *need* him; I wanted him. Once I let my defenses down, we began to share something special. Gradually, I let him into my heart.
Shortly after we returned from the trip to the UK, I was fired from my job at the evil non-profit agency. He came to see me immediately when I told him and held me, let me cry…a few days later, we went to the wedding of one of my former coworkers. We went to his apartment between the ceremony and the reception, and that was when he told me he loved me.
“I wanted to say it before, but I didn’t want you to think I was just saying it because you got fired,” he said.
“I wanted to say it too, but I didn’t want you to think that I was just saying it because you came to see me,” I told him.
I loved all of them back, with all my heart. All of them let me down. J, by crushing my spirit, over and over and over again. K, by being unwilling and unable to commit to me. And X, by betraying my trust. All of them found it so easy to say the words, but not so easy to mean them.
And then there was the fourth…
In between J and K, I met Army Boy. AB had dated one of my best high school friends during the same time that I was with J. During Christmas break of my freshman year of college, I went to a New Year’s Eve party. AB and my friend had parted ways long before, and she was with someone else. AB and I started talking and flirting, and later in the night, he kissed me. I was afraid my friend would be bothered, but she gave him my phone number the next day when he wanted to call me and “apologize.” Not because he didn’t want to kiss me, but because he felt he shouldn’t have “taken advantage” when I was drunk. I told him I knew what I was doing and I didn’t regret anything…and said yes when he wanted to see me again.
We kept in touch, phone calls and letters, and when he came home for two weeks in the summer, we saw each other as much as we could. I was sad to see him go, but also reluctant to see myself in a relationship with someone so far away.
Soon after I returned to school my sophomore year, I got a late person-to-person phone call. He’d been drinking. (I guess nobody told him not to drink and dial…) He told me he loved me…I didn’t respond at first, and then I said “No, you don’t. You hardly even know me.”
He was upset. He asked me what it was that I didn’t like about him.
I told him nothing, besides the fact that he was stationed in Georgia. I told him that it might be different if we were closer, if we could see each other more…but I just couldn’t maintain a relationship like that over so many miles. And that was that. It broke my heart a little…
So what’s my point in all of this?
Only this…if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the fifteen years since I first met J, it’s that it’s worth it. All of it. The pain, the heartbreak, the tears…I learned something from all of them. I learned things about myself. I found strength I didn’t know I had.
And I’ve learned that taking a chance is always better than *not* taking it.