1) Age 5, when I was more concerned with dinosaurs than romance.
I was roller-skating around the back patio as my mom listened to the radio. That Bryan Adams song that was in the Kevin Costner Robin Hood movie came on...
"Don't tell me it's not worth tryin' for.
You can't tell me it's not worth dyin' for.
You know it's true:
Everything I do, I do it for you."
Then that Whitney Houston song in The Bodyguard came on...
"And I.... Will alwayyyyyys love you."
(Wait, wasn't Kevin Costner also in that movie?)
"And I would do anything for love, but I won't do that."
I noticed a pattern and I was confused.
Most songs I knew I learned from Sesame Street or nursery school, which means most songs I knew were about dinosaurs, cooperation, and letters of the alphabet. But all the songs on the radio seemed to be about boring grown up love.
Me: "Mom. Why are so many songs on the radio about love?"
Mom: "I think you'll understand some day."
Me: "Oh." It was a cop out, dissatisfying answer. I pondered it for a half second more, and moved onto more important questions: "Can I have some ice cream?"
2) Age 7, when I realized that I should like-like someone:
I was in my second grade classroom. It was free time and I was building something awesome out of blocks. Brian Matthews approached.
Brian Matthews: "If you tell me who you like, I'll tell you who I like."
I was perplexed by the question. I liked a lot of people. Was I supposed to list everyone I liked? And why did Brian Matthews care? What a stupid question. Already, in second grade, I had no patience for pointless or perfunctory conversation.
Me: "I like my mom the best."
Brian: "No I mean, which boy do you like?"
It was a moment of socialization: I at once realized and internalized a norm of our society -- that as a girl, I should like a boy, and hope to date, marry, and raise a family with that boy. It seemed like a hassle on top of all my other responsibilities like learning cursive and making a sock puppet of Sandra Day O'Connor for Women's History month. A hassle yes, but a necessary one that everyone was doing.
I said my neighbor's name because he was the first boy I knew outside of my family.
Brian revealed that he liked me. Then he stole a pencil with my name on it and stuck it down his pants. Ten seconds after realizing that I should like boys, I realized that most of them are creeps.
From ages 7-15 I maintained a series of crushes that were inconsequential designations, like your favorite color or dream vacation. I liked Drew. I liked Doug. I liked Keenan. But nothing ever happened, until...
3) Age 15, when stuff started to happen with boys.
The context of my first kiss was standard for someone raised in middle class suburbs in the 2000s. We had a class together. Then we started AIM chatting. Then he invited me to watch a movie in his furnished hangout basement. Twenty minutes into Ocean's Eleven he put is hand on my thigh. Forty-five minutes in, he kissed me and we made out for the rest of the movie.
It was mundane to an outsider's perspective, but momentous to me. There was nothing special about that particular boy, but kissing someone, anyone, instantly and irrevocably changed my worldview. My head was invaded and consumed by thoughts of boys. I anticipated potential conversations. I analyzed past conversations. I printed AIM conversations to get input from my friends. I took specific routes between classes in order to cross paths with my crushes and exchange nonchalant "heys."
I joined the ranks of humans obsessed with our own sexual and romantic histories. From age 15 on, nothing was more interesting to me than my own love life.
4) Age 21, when I loved someone, but was not ready to settle down.
I had a wonderful boyfriend. We loved each other, respected each other, and had fun together. But it didn't seem like enough. I broke up with him because I wanted more adventure and uncertainty. I wanted more first kisses.
Soon after the breakup, I was home for Thanksgiving and explaining this to Abby, a friend from high school. It was Wednesday before Thanksgiving, which means we were about to enter a bar, where we would see everyone we hated from high school -- a situation that cannot be entered sober.
So, we were in a parking garage across the street, sitting in Abby's mom's Subaru, drinking Bud Light Limes, having a serious discussion about Love.
Me: "I mean I love him, or I think I love him, but how am I like supposed to know what that means if I haven't dated that many people. I thought I loved my first boyfriend, but now that seems so stupid..."
Me: "And the breakup was so sad because there was like no impetus for it. It was just like, 'I love you, but I don't know if I love you enough'..."
Me: "So I don't know, maybe in ten years I'll want to marry him, but it just seems like I need to date more people now. But maybe everyone else out there is terrible and he's the best guy I'll ever meet."
Abby: "I think you did the right thing. Love is about timing. There's more than one person for you, and it's about who you're with at the right time."
Me: "That's so true."
Abby has always been so wise and practical. For example, it was her idea to drink those Bud Light Limes in the parking garage!
5) Age 28, when I'm just tired.
I've had plenty more first kisses, but just as many last kisses. I've endured heart breaks and I'm sorry to say that they haven't made me stronger. They've made me weary. Fragile and distrustful. I want to start every first date by saying, "Look if you plan to break my heart, we should stop this date right now."
I've had relationships that sounded good on paper, but lacked passion. I've had relationships that had passion, but nothing else. Some of my boyfriends have had secret girlfriends. I've been the on-the-side girlfriend of others. I've tried juggling multiple relationships and I've tried going all-in to something that just wasn't worth it. I've had one-night stands and four night stands and months long so-so relationships. I've acted distant and aloof. I've acted passionate and uninhibited.
And now I'm tired. Tired of being fooled and tired of fooling myself. I want a simple and respectful relationship. No silliness, no manipulation, no capriciousness. If I now had that boyfriend who I had at age 21, I would commit to him without hesitation. So I guess this is "the time" Abby was talking about.
Abby did get married a few months ago. She and her husband looked right -- like the right people finding each other at the right time. I was uplifted and exuberant for them, confident in their lasting love. And drunk, obviously.
This has been my sentiment and state at most weddings. I sit at the singles table or I'm a bridesmaid paired with the groom's 16-year-old brother. Some crowd-pleasing corny love song comes on, like Elvis...
"Wise men say only fools rush in....
but I can't help falling in love with you"
...and I think back to asking my mom why so many songs are about love. Well, I get it now.
Onto more important questions: where's my wedding cake?