I’ve been listening to an NPR podcast called “Modern Love”. It features actors reading stories that people have written about various kinds of love. Because it’s Valentine’s Day, I decided to write my own.
From the time I turned 17 until the time I hit my twenties, one of the most common phrases spoken to me was “you remind me of my ex.” It didn’t matter where I was or what situation I was in or who the man speaking was; without fail 9 times out of 10, he would casually mention to me that I smiled or laughed or looked or just had an aura similar to that of one of his ex-lovers.
I took the comment in stride, as if I was the kind of irresistible woman who men couldn’t help but hope to call an ex. In my mind, these blasé comments had no bearing on who I was becoming as a person, but instead they grew into my urge to be loved by everyone who encountered me. Or not just loved, wanted. I wanted to be wanted by everyone.
In turn, I pushed everyone away, always hoping for someone better.
By my freshman year of college I had developed a system: every man interested in me had exactly two weeks to stick it out and impress me, before I would tell him that “it just wasn’t gonna work out.” No one made the cut.
The winter of my sophomore year I went home for Christmas break. I was anxious about school and being home wiped out any desire I had to return to Boston. It was New Years Day when my realization that I was alone began to set in. It was also New Years Day when Alex pushed his way into my life.
He was funny and charming and shockingly bold. We talked for three days straight before he mentioned sex and it took us several awkward but endearing dates before he brought it up again. I quickly agreed.
What I was expecting was a fun, quick, one night stand, no strings attached, no communication afterwards. Another two week relationship. Instead, when I walked into the bedroom he kissed me and wrapped his arms tightly around me. I sobbed.
We did not have that sex that night, or the next, or even the next. We ended up waiting two months, which is not something that either of us was expecting to do. I think about that night rarely now, but when I do, over a year later, I always am reminded of lucky I am.
Alex’s love towards me and refusal to give up brought out a side of me I didn’t know existed. He didn’t care that I had major commitment issues stemming from the fear that I would not live up to my parents’ over-25-years-long marriage, or that I was slow to open up because of a past emotionally distressing relationship, or that my dating history was more like a checked off to-do list than a scrapbook of memories. Alex taught me that being committed doesn’t have to mean stagnant and showed me what it means to agree to stay. In turn, he tells me I saved him.
As bad as that winter was for me, it was 10 times worse for Alex, who found himself in the deepest depression of his life. Mere days before we reconnected, he had attempted suicide and, thankfully, failed. The idea of falling in love was far from his mind too, and yet it happened.
I tell Alex regularly that the woman he’s dating is far from who I was before we met, and I think he knows. I no longer hope for something better or roll my eyes at the idea of romance or pray to disappear. He no longer lies awake wondering how anyone could love him. We both won.
I’ve long given up my desire to be wanted by the masses, because I truly believe I’ve found something far better. It’s been a long time since anyone has said I remind them of their ex, and that’s okay; I would rather be Alex’s real girlfriend anyway.