To All the Boys I've Loved Before

My eyes are puffy and red. It’s 10:19pm on Saturday night. Seven hours and twenty-three minutes into my book hangover after reading One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and I am an emotional mess. It’s rare that I ever blog about a particular book I’ve read. Usually I’ll rate it on Goodreads, tell a few people to read it if I really enjoyed it, and move on to the next book. But there is no way I can do that today. I even thought that talking about it with my reading buddy would help, but it didn’t. To say that this book wrecked me would be the understatement of the century. Before I go any further, this is not a review. My thoughts here are not so much about the book itself, but more about how it left me thinking about my own personal experiences with love. It left me feeling sad and confused, and then I realized why.

I can’t really say what I need to say without telling you the premise of this book. You can read the entire blurb here, but to sum it up, think Cast Away in Helen Hunt’s character’s point of view. A woman thinks she loses her husband in a helicopter accident but eventually moves on and learns to love again, only to be faced with the shocking reality that he is very much alive. This reality makes her question who her one true love is, what it means to truly love a person, and how love with different people can shape one’s life.

All day (and night), I’ve been trying to figure out why I can’t let this book go. It’s fiction for crying out loud. It’s a story that was fabricated in someone’s imagination. The characters don’t exist. None of it is real.

But that’s not entirely true, because all of the thoughts and emotions that I’m feeling at this moment are very real.

It’s because I know what it’s like to fall in love, lose love, and then fall in it all over again, perhaps not as tragic as it is portrayed in this book. Then again, isn’t losing love tragic regardless of how it is lost?

I think it’s safe to say that I’ve always been a hopeless romantic. It’s the reason why I enjoy reading and writing about love. And like the characters in this book, I think it would also be accurate to say that my experiences with love have shaped the person that I am today. People need love like they need air and water; it’s necessary for survival. I’m not saying that I’m an expert on the subject. During my singlehood, I was never even a “dater.” I was either in a committed relationship, or I wasn’t. There was never an in-between for me.

So I guess the question I’ve been asking myself all day is what true love means to me. The more I’ve been thinking about it, the more I’ve realized how much my perception of love has changed with time. It grows and matures like a flower, starting with the roots until it blooms into something beautiful.

And those roots began to grow in the second grade. There was a boy, and I thought he was the cutest boy in our class. He was also the smartest. He was tall and athletic, and although I didn’t know what it meant to be attracted to someone at such a young age, all I knew back then was that I looked forward to school every day, because I knew I would see him. But for some reason, I could never find the courage to talk to him. I could probably count on one hand the number of times he and I ever spoke. Maybe even at a young age, we understand the idea of rejection, and I was just as afraid of it back then as I am now. Even so, he was always there, in most of my elementary and middle school classes, but years would go by before he’d find out that I had been crushing on him for so long. I still remember that day. It was the last dance of middle school. In typical adolescent fashion, his friends and my friends worked together to get us to slow dance together. And we danced. I don’t remember what song we danced to, or what I was wearing, or if there were any other kids on the dance floor. All I remember was us, and how long it took him to notice me, and how I wondered if he could feel my heart pounding inside my chest. When it was over, we simply smiled and parted ways, going off to different high schools and never seeing each other again after that. I don’t completely believe that what I felt was love, but it must have been some version of it if it still resonates with me to this very day. It may not have been the kind of love that I know now, but there was something so sweet and innocent about it.

Then high school happened, and that was the game changer. That’s when I realized that love wasn’t always sweet or innocent. It could be cruel and ruthless, and I had to learn that the hard way. I learned about it when a boy I liked said I was ugly. I learned about it when another boy led me to believe I was the only girl he was talking to when I wasn’t. I learned about it when I paged 143 to the boy I thought would be my first real boyfriend, and he paged back (in code), “too bad, bitch.” Sometimes, I’m not exactly sure how I got past all of that, especially having to deal with the common social issues that most teens struggle with in high school.

Somehow, I got through it, because at seventeen, I fell in love. Like really, deeply in love. For the first time, I felt what it was like to be wanted…to love and be loved in return. It felt good to have someone tell you that you were beautiful, and felt even greater to hear those three little words for the first time. The words came so naturally, as if we had been saying them to each other forever. I loved being able to hold hands in public, our relationship on display to the world, our PDA a sign for every other guy or girl to back off, because we belonged to each other.

But that’s where I was wrong, because loving someone doesn’t mean belonging to them. You can be in love so deep but you mustn’t ever bury yourself in it. And I found myself being buried; I lost sight of who I was. We grew so dependent on each other; it was like an addiction, constantly enabling one another until it grew into something very unhealthy. We became angry and resentful, and what began as words of love turned malicious and mean, words that people who love each other should never say to one another. Our lives had become this tangled series of knots, and I found myself eventually wanting to untie myself from them. I was young. I wanted to be me again. So I untied them, and it wasn’t easy. In fact, it was one of the hardest things I had to do in my life. But what we had was no longer love but an idea of it that we were trying to hold on to. And we deserved more than that.

So, I moved on. I moved away. I grew up. And eventually I met someone. I thought I knew enough about love that this relationship would be different, that I would be able to protect my heart this time. I put up my walls as high as I could, and I thought they were stronger than ever. But I learned the hard way again. Even the highest walls aren’t high enough; the strongest walls aren’t strong enough. He was sweet, kind, and caring. He showered me with compliments and gifts, and gave me everything I could want out of a relationship. But here is what I figured out: a person can give you everything he has, but if he can’t give himself completely to you, it was never meant to be. I took a risk and fell in love again, and when I didn’t get it in return, I was devastated.

I wasn’t sure what I was doing wrong because all along, I thought I had been doing everything right. I felt defeated. Maybe I didn’t really know anything about love like I thought I had. Maybe what I thought was true love really wasn’t. I had gone from being wanted too much to not being wanted at all. I needed something in the middle and wasn’t sure I knew how or where to find it.

And now I realize this. It’s what essayist Anais Nin once said:

You don’t find love. It finds you.

And it found me. In a little restaurant in Tribeca. With a man who I would soon realize was the one for me. He was selfless and patient, kind and forgiving. And he allowed me to find my “middle.” Before him, I only knew how to love other people; I was so consumed by love for someone else. But with him, I loved us wholeheartedly while learning to love myself apart from us.

For the first time, I was able to admit to myself that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I had been doing everything right. Just not with the right people. I’m not saying that out of disrespect or in a negative way. I’m not saying those people aren’t right for anyone else. All I’m saying is that they weren’t right for me. And that’s okay. I didn’t see it that way back then, but I’ve made peace with it now.

Love has no conditions or stipulations. It can be sweet and innocent. It can be unkind and heartless, wonderful and exhilarating. It can be all of those things. But you can’t love wholeheartedly and expect to be loved unless you love yourself first.

And that, I believe, is true love.

Those who are close to me may already know who these people are. Those who sort of know me may have an inkling. And those who don’t know me, well, now you know a little bit more. And no…you won’t find them connected to my social media if that’s what you are hoping for. At least I don’t think you will…

I didn’t write this to make a statement. I didn’t write this to out anybody, or make anyone feel like they wronged me. I wrote this for myself, because I needed these people to know that I have no resentment or anger. If anything, I am thankful. I wouldn’t be the person that I am today, and I probably wouldn’t be where I am—in true love, with a husband and a beautiful daughter who I am thankful for every day. I fell in love and lost it more than once, but I consider myself pretty lucky. Sadly, some people may never get to experience that kind of love at all.

So, to all of my past loves—

I’m not sure if you’ll ever read this. A part of me hopes you will and the other part hopes you never do. But if our lives never cross paths again, and you are reading this, then there is just one thing that I want to say to you:

Thank you.