I know we all seem to say so, but in that moment I meant it – ‘how the hell did I get here?’
I was laying in bed next to my rebound lover, his breath struggling against his worn and ill-laundered pillow case. HIs beard, as much as it tickled me in the daylight, bothered me now. It seemed dirty, unkempt, and somehow precocious. I was naked and bored. Just days ago, a month into our “relationship,” he had told me, “I love you,” in the midst of these same drunken, twisted sheets. And again, the following day alongside dusty trinkets and old treasures in a South Minneapolis vintage shop.
I could feel the deep sigh escape my tired body.
Two years previously, I moved to this midwestern state with my then-boyfriend. He was a lawyer whom I met him in the wondrous world of New York City — a dating app brought us together:
“What are you looking for?” His opening line asked, unimaginative but curious.
“Oh, just a good time with someone fun,” I returned his blasé opener, “I’m only here for a few days and I would love someone to hang with after I finish work.”
That was enough for us to meet. Hours later, I was outside of the little coffee shop that I am sure is closed by now because that’s the way of the city.
When he approached from across the street, my heart stopped. He was broad chested and well dressed, gray designer slacks with a slim fitting, white Armani button down and a beautiful pink tie. He had sunglasses on but as I neared, he slipped them off to reveal the bluest of blue eyes.
My pits were wet with perspiration and my crotch slowly began to ache.
We spent the afternoon sipping our coffees and moving from one brown-house stoop to the next, amidst the autumn decor. Our laughter would disturb the owners, casting us away and onto the next set of steps.
A cabbie slowly drove by, stalling on the street below us. He rolled down his window to ask us if he could take our picture, “You look perfect sitting there!” We declined with a smile. I was happy, drunk on the blue eyes that devoured everything I said and the fire I seemed to have with every story I spoke.
And that’s the thing. I’ve always been great at first dates. I’ve learned that they say “I love you” almost right away. But then — It’s everything that comes after that. It’s as though the men realize that I am not their ultimate dream, I’m not filled with complete reverence for them, or that I have my fair share of issues. Or perhaps— let’s be honest— it’s the other way around: I realize these things about them.
This particular one said “I love you” on Day 3. We were walking along the Hudson in New York City, newly purchased street art in hand, when he dropped the three words out of his mouth, as though the wind plucked them from his lips and he couldn’t allow them to stay. I did not respond for another three weeks.
A few months later, he convinced me to move out of Western Massachusetts and back to the city. I quit my high paying sales job, moved in with him. To pass the time, I wrote, walked dogs, and picked up odd jobs when I could, living off the 401K that I cashed in. At the summer’s end, we were on our way to this Midwest state with our belongings and our cats.
I love an adventure—well, I used to love an adventure. My relationship with him seemed to dim the passionate desire I once had for the sport.
After almost 3 years of being together, getting engaged, and almost buying a home, I knew that I could not have a life of happiness. I was shaky, under-confident, lonely, and depressed. The huge yellow diamond on my left hand was a constant reminder of that. I grew slowly resentful of his “I love you”s.
So in the middle of October, I flew back to New York City on a solo trip to step away from it all. Realizations happened, to say the least., Upon flying back to Minnesota, I broke everything off with my fiancé. I moved out. I stopped saying, stopped hearing “I love you.”
Moving into my own place after living with someone for a couple years was aggravating and exhilarating all at once.
I was able to decorate as I pleased, come and go whenever I wanted, get drunk and dance around the apartment naked without having to explain myself to anyone. In those moments, I began to tell myself, “I love you.”
In time, it brought me to the guy in the beginning of this tale, the man sleeping like a log in the bed beside me.
He was a broken man and I had been in the mood for saving. I wanted desperately to help him rise out of his divorce and depression and into a world of light and laughter and exploration, and yes, adventure. He happened to inspire me. I wrote often, passionately, purposefully. We shared similar schedules and work ethic, as he was a skilled videographer and director. And I was getting my Masters, working full-time with a functional medicine doc, and doing my best to both write and run a lot of miles in my free time.
But that day, awakening to his hungover breath and his elevated heart rate, he told me he was holding me back and had to leave. I had let down my guard, shared too much, and he walked away with his “I love you” stuffed into his back pocket like a crumpled, unneeded receipt. I should have seen that coming.
I took a month off from dating altogether.
Then I met the redhead. He was tall, fit, and incredibly handsome. Our first date was at a speakeasy, where I couldn’t help but giggle with a girlish affection at his wit and ease. He charmed me and I was immediately comfortable with him. He had beautiful red hair and an impressive forearm tattoo. He was engaging, enlivened, and I could tell he was into me. After a few drinks, we headed into an arcade bar to play pinball and share our first kiss.
Later, wrapped up against each other, he told me he thought he loved me.
There it was. Again. The swooping swallow of ‘I love you.’ This time, I fell deep into those words, allowing myself to spin in them. It was as though I needed the words more than I needed him.
Aloneness is a powerful thing.
This love did not come easy or without turbulence. I found myself crying often, head face down in a pillow as he towered over me, upset about something I had said. Too often, his hands pressed against the front door, not allowing me to leave, begging me to stay and talk. I often felt trapped, as though the life I was living was warped and not my own.
I should have known better:
the way he spoke about me to his friends, as though he won me, a prize, the ultimate reward for his charming good looks. The night I begged to leave, to get an Uber and go home, and he kept pressing me to stay, prompting a complete stranger to bar him and help me step into the car. The obsession with my training as a heath coach and how I couldn’t interact with him “like one of my patients.”
It was a warped way of life, like I said.
And so, I walked away.
I walked away from that “I love you,” and I walked away from my fiancé’s “I love you” — and my rebound lover walked away from me with his “I love you” stuffed away like a crumpled scrap paper that wasn’t meant to be written on in the first place.
Some of the only “I love you”s I can trust these days are the “I love you”s that spill from my own lips and the lips of my closest, dearest friends — spilling onto my lap and into my heart to stay.