I’m independent and stubborn as hell, especially when it comes to relationships. I’ve always refused to accept help from anyone, particularly men. My therapist thinks that stems from something traumatic that happened during childhood, but I can’t seem to pinpoint exactly when or why I started resisting support from others.
Considering that, it won’t come as a surprise that I haven’t had that much experience in the relationship department. Sure, I’ve had flings, things and even a few boyfriends, but they never lasted long. I always ended up pushing them away. No matter how attentive or caring they were, I was able to find flaws in each guy I’ve dated. One of my exes wouldn’t commit quickly enough, so I broke it off. I rushed into my next relationship and ended up with someone far too dependent and clingy, so I ghosted him. I’ve always run away from relationships the second that a hint of doubt creeps into my mind.
Accepting love is hard for me. There’s no deep backstory or dramatic reasoning behind that; it’s just my natural instinct. I’m hesitant to believe anyone at face value. Words don’t mean anything to me unless there are actions to back them up, and hearing “I love you” is no exception.
Nowadays, people seem to use those three words frequently and casually. They mean something different to everyone and there’s no universal guideline on when the right time is to tell someone that you love them. There never has been. Some people love hard and fast, others approach love with caution. I do the latter.
That is until I met Will, my current boyfriend, at a coworker’s birthday party last October. We had one of those instant connections that you hear old married couples talk about. We sat on the back porch talking for what felt like hours, but my friends and I left before I could even find out his last name. Before I fell asleep, I drunkenly texted my coworker asking for Will’s number. I texted him the next morning and we made plans to hang out that night.
For me, hanging out with a new guy wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. I had a rotating roster of men that I would text whenever I was feeling lonely, and I’m definitely no stranger to a one-night stand. I assumed that Will would be no different, just another name to add to my list of sexual conquests. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Instead of hooking up while Netflix played in the background, we drove around Lawrence and I showed him the house I grew up in, where I went to high school and told him everything I could about growing up here. He played me his favorite songs and albums, going into great detail to explain his top picks. I learned that his love for music started with his dad’s record collection and listened as he shared stories about growing up in Seattle. We genuinely connected and learned about each other. It felt weird and dreamlike to me, as if I was the star of a Taylor Swift music video. I hadn’t ever taken the time to experience that level of connection with someone before and I wasn’t entirely sure what to think about it.
As we spent more time together, our connection grew at a rapid speed. Falling in love was one of the least and most complicated things I’ve ever experienced. I fell in love in spite of myself. I was scared to attach myself and expose my most vulnerable sides to someone that I barely knew. At the same time, I was excited about all of the possibilities and potential that our relationship had. There were times where my fear overpowered my excitement and I made my hesitations clear to him. He understood that I wanted to take things slowly, that I didn’t want a whirlwind romance. He always allowed me to control the pace of our relationship and responded to my reluctance with patience.
The first time I knew that I loved Will was the night I met his parents. They moved to Kansas City, Missouri, after he was accepted to KU. We had only been together for two months, so I was apprehensive about meeting his family. Part of me didn’t want to get attached and I was nervous that his parents wouldn’t like me. As the night went on, my worries quickly subsided. His mom made me homemade cocktails as we all got to know each other. I could see myself fitting into their family perfectly. I wanted to tell Will I loved him, but it felt like it was too soon, so I waited.
The second time I knew that I loved Will was when he went to my favorite fabric store downtown and picked out three different yards of fabric for me as a Valentine’s Day gift. He had no idea what he was buying, but he was willing to go out of his comfort zone for me. I knew I loved him, but it still seemed like I was rushing into things, so I waited.
The third time I knew that I loved Will was when we were drinking wine on the couch talking about our career goals. He explained to me how much longer it would take to get his pharmacy degree and shared his dream jobs with me. The way that his eyes lit up when he spoke about the future sparked something inside of me. Suddenly, I could picture our future together. I could see what the next two, five and even 10 years might have in store. My brain finally clicked, and I decided it was time to tell him that I loved him.
Although I had known that Will loved me for a while, it still felt like such a risk to say it out loud. It was like diving headfirst into the deep end, instantly refreshing but also absolutely terrifying. I’ll never forget how he looked at me when he told me that he felt the same way, the memory is ingrained in my brain forever. It wasn’t about telling him; it was about admitting it to myself. I had conditioned myself to believe that love wasn’t something that could happen overnight, but it turns out that’s kind of how it works.
Love is scary. It holds a certain power over you and changes the way that you think about others, yourself and the world. Allowing myself to accept love was hard and every instinct in my body fought against it. But I don’t think that love is supposed to be easy. Love feels uncomfortable. Love takes work. Love requires patience.
In retrospect, I’m happy I waited to say “I love you” to Will. Sometimes I wonder where our relationship would be if I had told him the first time I knew, but I don’t think I would have learned as much about myself if I had. Since allowing myself to accept love, I’ve been able to show vulnerability and compassion. Not just when it comes to my relationship, but also with my friends, family members and coworkers. Love was well worth the wait.
Edited by Elise Lindemann