Thursday, July 9, 2009

On Love: Fear and Certainty

Being in love is at once the most wonderful and the most terrifying experience of my life.

The wonder comes from having a partner in crime; a teammate in the day-to-day parts of life; a warm, solid presence in my soul; an ally who always has my back; a lover who knows me intimately and loves me deeply, through my proudest moments and my darkest experiences, who sees all of the imperfections and rough spots and loves them for being a part of me. And, too, the wonder comes from loving someone else in the same way; in knowing that I know him on levels that no one else does, that he counts on me to have his back and cheer him on, that my love sustains him as his sustains me. It is an incredible feeling to know that he looks forward to waking up with me and falling asleep with me in his arms, that he trusts me like I trust him, and that at the end of the day I am what he looks forward to coming home to. And the wonder comes from feel cherished and safe in a way that I never have before.

The terror comes from the vulnerability of leaving myself so totally open to another person; from trusting as I have not trusted since I was a little girl; from venturing into completely unknown territory.

I've never been in love before. I've experienced puppy love. Longing. Lust. Infatuation. Until Dan, I was infamous for yearning after men who were either unable to be or uninterested in being romantically involved with me. I have spent a great deal of time being heartbroken and sad, and for a long time I confused this with being in love. I pictured myself as a martyr. A long-suffering saint who loved unconditionally and received nothing but empty promises, pain, and regret in return. The truth is, I was stupid. I chose to be a doormat. I chose to be used. And I made these choices out of fear. Because, as painful as unrequited "love" is, in many ways it's easier. Safer. It requires no real commitment, no real effort, no faith in someone else. No trust.
I was almost in love once. But it's hard to call a relationship conducted almost entirely over the phone, e-mail, and IM a real relationship. We met only once face to face, and there was no real possibility of living in the same country, let alone the same city, short of us getting married and one of us completely uprooting to be with the other. At 19, that was not a step I was prepared to take. Because of this, the relationship was safe. It had all the elements of the unrequited love with which I was already so familiar, with the added benefit that I got an ego boost from knowing that he actually returned my feelings. And I did care for Fraser. I think, in another life, another time, I could have loved him. I admit, since he found me on Facebook, I have wondered what it would have been like if things had been different. He's married now, with a beautiful little girl, and there is a small corner of my heart that knows it could have been me. But I wasn't ready then. I had the opportunity to let our relationship really get real, to let myself get truly involved and take that next step. But when it reached that point, when I knew that I was becoming vulnerable and I was going to have to take some kind of leap of faith, instead I ran away.

And for a long time, that was the closest I got. Any time someone showed interest in me, I found a thousand reasons not to be with him, even if I had previously liked him. I hung myself up on the unattainable and the uninterested. Men in relationships or fresh out of them; college professors; men with serious problems with drugs and alcohol; men who were unstable, who were jerks, who were broken.
Dan fell into the category of "interested and therefor uninteresting" for a long time. My closest friends, the ones who knew and loved me best, on more than one occasion told me how stupid I was for not giving him a chance. But I was stuck, trapped into an unhealthy rut by my own fear and self-destructive tendencies.

Last summer (or, to be more exact, the early to mid-fall following the events of last summer) I basically hit rock bottom romantically. I was utterly miserable, for which in hindsight I blame no one but myself, though at the time I had other ideas. I felt used. Stupid. Undesirable. Most of my friends had washed their hands of the situation; not abandoning me, but understandably sick of giving advice that fell on completely deaf ears. During that time, it was Dan who was always there for me. I remember one incident, in particular, which happened on my birthday last year.
This was by far my lowest point. By the end of the night, when I shared a taxi home with Dan and Shad, I was drunk, I was angry, and I was desperately hurting. I remember getting out of the taxi and slamming the door, and I think I made it across the street before bursting into tears; I made it maybe halfway up the stairs before I was sobbing so hard I couldn't walk any more. I should note that this misery was a result of equal parts alcohol and self-inflicted torture, with perhaps a dash of confusion and an ounce of rejection. But the important part of this story is that it was Dan who realized how distraught I was; Dan who checked up on me; Dan who tried his best to console me. I remember thinking at the time, "if only I could find someone who cares about me like Dan cares about me."
It took almost four months, and a little benevolent shoving from a friend, for that thought to really sink in. In fact, even after Dan and I first became involved, we were under the impression that our relationship would take the form of "friends with benefits." But it didn't take long for us to realize that we weren't going to be able to maintain that for long without things getting much more emotionally complicated, on both sides. And it finally occurred to me, "You know who cares about me the way Dan cares about me? Dan."

Taking that step into a real relationship was one of the hardest, scariest things I've ever done. It helped that he was (and is) endlessly patient with me; it also helped that I had been so epically burned by my own self-destructive stupidity. The idea of being with someone stable, sane, and supportive, who makes me feel safe, who thinks I'm wonderful and beautiful... After spending so much time with a wounded ego and a broken heart, I had finally grown up enough to embrace these qualities which once upon a time I would have denounced as "boring." And Dan's and my relationship is far from boring.
For the first time, love songs reflect how I really feel, rather than how I wish things were. My whole world feels different. Even my bad days aren't so bad; when I'm completely stressed, or miserably sick, or upset or hurt or angry, there's still this little corner of me that is blissfully happy. And most of the time? I'm content. I feel safe and loved and all is right in my world. All is so right, in fact, that it still doesn't feel real sometimes.
I spent a large portion of my life believing that love was all bound up with conflict and drama and pain, and that anything else would be dismally dull. But there's something to be said for stability, for communication, for trust. For unshakable certainty. There's something to be said for thinking about the future in terms of "we." For watching him with his nephews and feeling myself filling up with love as I picture him with our own kids. For this new feeling, that no matter what happens, he and I can get through anything.

I can honestly say, I've never been so completely happy.


  1. I love these pictures! So cute! You make me happy too, baby.

  2. You deserve this, Carlie-mia. You have for a long time. It is beautiful reading your thoughts and realizing that this is exactly the process I went through with your Auntie Brie. It's as if I could have written this entry. But then, we're twins.

  3. Duh ;)

    You two are so wonderful and I'm so very glad that you finally have each other. It's been a long road. One on which you both have learned so much and have become prepared to be the best you could be for each other. I'm so glad that you can share they beauty which you both bestow on the world, with each other. :D

  4. *flail*
    Wow. Just... wow. XD