When I was a high school senior, I fell in love with a boy in college. It was just the kind of romance my over-emotional adolescent self craved.
This was back before email, so our relationship took place over handwritten love letters and the occasional phone call. I would imagine well-soundtracked reunions in my head, complete with tears and long, lustful kisses -- something slightly "Reality Bites" with a splash of "Far & Away." (It was 1995, after all.)
When it was finally time for my college man to come home for summer, I had all but convinced myself that we would continue our romance and soon find ourselves with college degrees and a marriage license. Sadly, two weeks after his return, he still hadn't called, and I did what most 17-year-olds with heartbreak did back then: I put on Tori Amos, threw a big old tantrum, and told myself that I would never fall in love like that again.
Of course, I was wrong. I fell in love like that again within the month. I fell in love like that again and again over the years. Because, as I wrote in my memoir, "51 Weeks / 50 Dates: The Magical Adventures of a Single Life,"
I always fell in love with people who never called. And the only thing worse was if they actually did.
I liked jerks. No, I loved
them, but now, looking back, I realize it wasn't just that. For the most part, every man who failed to call me was capable of calling someone else, and at a certain point, I had to face the fact that it wasn't just them, it was me. I begged for men to be unaccountable. I allowed them to be untrustworthy. And I expected them to leave.
Unfortunately, by the age of 32, those ideas had also left me incredibly, terribly alone. I hadn't been in a relationship in five years, and I had never lived with a man. Ever. My father left when I was 3, and I spent my formative years living with a mother and a grandmother. No man ever slept in our woman castle. It was like a small, two-bedroom convent that doubled as a condo. And as I entered adulthood, it stayed that way. There were boyfriends, sure, but we were either too young or too casual to make it a co-habitation.
"That's pretty telling," my therapist Lidia tells me. I should point out that Lidia is more than a typical shrink. She is also a trained shaman and spiritual healer. Whereas many of the therapists I had seen in the past just took my money and listened to me blab, Lidia participated in the conversation. "What do you think has stopped you until now?"
Because halfway through that 32nd year, all of my work in therapy had begun to pay off. I had changed. I had taken a hard look at all the reasons I invited the wrong men in or asked them to behave wrongly, and I began to meet a number of men who were accountable, who were trustworthy, who stayed. And I befriended them, until one of them became more than just a friend.
Theo and I had been buddies for years when we finally engaged in the fateful hook-up that made it all happen. Six months later, a one-bedroom became available in my apartment building, and as one friend said, "Well, I guess you're old enough to figure out whether it's going to sink or swim from the start." And she was right. Because if I want a husband and I want a family, I might as well start by moving in with a man.
Things were going relatively well until two weeks in when Theo told me his back was killing him.
"It must be surfing," I shrugged.
"Surfing doesn't hurt my back. It's your bed."
I tried to ignore this. I loved my bed. It had been with me through bright days and dark days. I have loved on that mattress; more often I cried. By the third day of Theo waking up crimped, and me refusing to trade in my trusty full-size bed (all the better to snuggle in, my dear) for a queen, I forced myself to look back at Lidia's words: "What has stopped you until now?"
And I think it had everything to do with that mattress. I loved lying in my double bed reminiscing about who had slept there and all the memories with which I taunted myself. I loved being heartbroken, listening to Tori Amos, and sobbing into my pillow about one man or another. Because what had stopped me until then was that I had spent years loving like that, but never learning how to love someone the right way. I didn't know how not to judge someone for leaving the sponge in the sink, to trust him enough to get rid of my beloved full-size bed for a queen, to love him even when I found myself picking up stinky socks in the corner of the room.
By Saturday, my doubled-over man was practically begging me for a new bed. "Besides," he offered, "it will be our bed. No other mojo would have been in it."
And I realized that what he was offering me was a fresh start, and what I could offer him was a healthy back. I could let go of the drama-infused relationships of the past for one that included paying the gas bill and doing laundry together. And it was finally time for me to graduate from my tear-stained mattress and relationships that only ended in heartbreak.
Today, I cleaned our bedroom. I put away his clothes, threw his socks in the wash, and sat down on our beautiful, new queen-size bed. I looked around at the marriage of our artwork and books, and I remembered back to when I was that scared 17-year-old girl crying to Tori.
This was all she really wanted. She just wanted someone who would start anew with her every day, someone who would wash away the pain from those who came before. And though it might have taken me longer than most, I have finally stopped falling in love like that.
Now I fall in love like this.
Kristen McGuiness is the author of "51 Dates / 50 Weeks: The Magical Adventures of a Single Life." You can follow her at A Single Life -- and here on Lemondrop, where she'll be writing more often about life, love and the magical process of moving in together.