By Jennifer Gargotto
“We love because it is the only true adventure.” ~Nikki Giovanni
Last night I sat with an old friend who has recently broken up with his girlfriend. He’s sad. She’s sad.
I don’t think it was time for them to give up yet; he’s exhausted and disagrees. He says he thinks that he just loves to love. When you love to love, he says, it’s impossible to separate the act of loving from the person that you’re actually supposed to love.
He thinks that he’s too much in love with the idea of love to actually know what he wants. And so, he argues, giving her another chance would be futile.
I know what he means, because I love to love, too.
When I met my boyfriend, Chase, I thought I had been in love before. In fact, I was positive of it. I had built a life out of a dating and relationship blog—of course I had been in love before.
There was only one relationship that stood out from the masses of little flings, and for a time, he was my world. We met in college (although he wasn’t in school, a sign of different horizons that would eventually be the pitfall of our short-lived romance). And we developed our own little cocoon which quickly meant everything to me.
I had grown up with a happy home life, two parents that met, fell in love, and then stayed together. I had an (albeit naive) perspective that when you meet the right person, you fall in love, and that’s that.
I never doubted him for a minute; this was what was supposed to happen. I trusted it, the process of companionship, and I let myself settle into having someone.
After only a few short months together, he said he needed to move since he could no longer afford to live Boulder, where I was going to college at the time, so we made the decision to move in together.
Whether he meant that or not I’m unsure. I had more financial resources and was able to subsidize the move—a theme that stretched throughout the majority of our time together.
That decision to move in together felt like every other decision we made—an initial excitement that then was held together by necessity.
I have no other way to describe our time together but fearful. Fear of being alone. Fear I had made a mistake. Fear that if he left it was because I was unlovable, that there was something wrong with me.
In retrospect, I had an anxiety that was speaking volumes, louder than my voice ever could. I remember sitting in a park alone, crying, before signing the lease. I knew, deep down, that there was nothing solid about our life together, but I didn’t know what else to do.
Truly, I thought this was as good as it was going to get.
Quickly, claustrophobic by our limiting world together, he began to rebel against me and our relationship. Within a matter of months, things started to fall apart.
He became angry, and mean, and a lot of true colours started to show. I didn’t know how to process this sudden shift and blamed myself. My life went from my own, to ours, to trying to salvage what was left in any respect.
I was quiet most of the time. My mom describes me during that time as very “proper,” always quiet and trying not to say the wrong thing. As a woman who has built a life on being an outspoken fearless thinker, I was quickly becoming a far cry from the person I once was.
It was a strange time, and although I don’t remember much of the details, I do remember it being extraordinarily painful.
I had let myself and my old hobbies go, and I’d slowly begun rejecting a lot of what was still left of the old me. I became the enemy for both of us, it seems, since I seemed to be the cause of much of his anger.
He told me incessantly that I was impossible to deal with, that I was impossible to love. He made his points clear. But I was lost in the world we’d built, and didn’t know of a way out.
Eventually, after too long of sitting in that toxic mess we’d built, I ended it.
I was sad for a long time. I went back to being lonely, in an empty house, and I felt like a failure.
To be fair, I was young. In the beginning I suppose more than anything I was just excited not to be alone anymore. In many respects, I was taken advantage of. In most respects, I wasn’t strong enough to stand up to my own fears and make good decisions.
Then, three years later, I met Chase.
By then I was strong and independent, with a great job, lots of dreams, friends, and a strong backbone in relationships. I had spent years processing how I had lost myself before, and I was determined to never go through that again.
But then the strangest thing happened: I started to feel these feelings that I had never felt before. Chase, unlike anyone before in my life, loved me. And unlike anything in my life, I loved him.
I didn’t just love the idea of him, or the companionship of being together, but I adored the person that he was. He enjoyed the person that I was. And as I fell in love with him, they were feelings that were brand new.
They were feelings of belonging, safety, passion and companionship—and they didn’t have an ounce of underlying fear.
I realized that for the first time in my entire life, I was really falling in love.
Sometimes, in the beginning, and even still today, I’ll become untrusting and difficult, attacking out of nowhere. That naive trust that I had so long ago got used up—and beaten up by the wrong person. But unlike that wrong person, when he used to attack for no reason, Chase protects everything: my happiness, our life together, and my relationship with myself.
So if there’s one thing that I learned the hard way in all of this, it’s this:
There are two experiences that we can define as love: we can fall in love with a person, or we can fall in love with companionship.
When you fall in love with a person, you get to experience their companionship as a by-product. When you fall in love with companionship, it becomes an arrangement of need, where you become hinged on losing one another. It’s built on fear, necessity, and power. And that isn’t falling in love.
I can promise you this:
When you fall in love with a person, and they fall in love with you, you won’t lose yourself in love because you will be an important part of that love and what makes it tick.
After a year together, Chase and I are moving in together this summer. It isn’t because we need to. It’s because we’ve slowly become a family already, and a place together is an exciting next step.
For the first time in my decorating-impaired life I’m planning curtains in my mind and begging him to go to Ikea with me. This next step is an exciting leap, and there’s no fear attached.
For the first time, I’m in love—and I haven’t lost myself even a tiny bit.