We're at a rock climbing gym in Queens, and I'm gawking up at his six-foot frame alongside a group of his closest friends as he scales a perilous course known as "the cave." It should be impossible, but not for him. Suddenly, I think, "That person picked me! I picked him!" I want to cup my hands around my mouth and shout "Hey, you! I'm in love with you!" in a Say Anything-style boombox moment. He's my first love and this should be it; this should be wonderful. Instead, my mind reels back to a conversation we'd had two weeks before.
You see, my boyfriend—let's call him Logan—recently accepted a job offer in the midwest that's no hop, skip, and a jump away from me. In three months' time, he'll whisk himself away to a new life far from my home in New York City, and the inevitability of that move has made the subject of our "future" together sticky and painful. To make an apropos analogy—it now feels like I, too, am gripping precariously to multi-colored climbing holds against gravity's better judgement.
In three months' time, he'll whisk himself away to a new life far from my home in New York City, and the inevitability of that move has made the subject of our "future" together sticky and painful.
Spending time with Logan now feels like a heady contradiction. On one hand, I'm in love (need I say it again?!) and it's everything I hoped it would be. The looming expiration date on our shared zip code now makes me hyper-focus when I'm around him. I appreciate every moment we spend together that much more. At the same time though, this gripping, ecstatic, and—yes—painful whirl of emotions will soon have a thousand miles to contend with. "Well, I'm happy for you, but this f**king sucks," I told Logan after he accepted the job offer.
I'm dying to say "three words, eight letters." From rom-coms and real life though, I know that "I love you" has a silent "and" after it—a suggestion of the future. To me, our "and" sounds like: How will we make a long-distance relationship last? And while I think we're on the same page, it's impossible to know for sure without uttering the short sentence and hearing what he kicks back in reply. The ever-lapsing timeline has strapped and odometer to the meaning of "I love you." What if he doesn't love me enough to ignore the 1,000 extra miles in our relationship?
Because some things never change (even with distance), I texted my mother, who lives in Charleston, South Carolina, to say something dramatic. "Ugh, I love him, mom," I wrote. "And he's going to leave." Of course, her first question is: "Have you told him that?" And her second: "Why not?!" Both of us (try to) live by the words of author and researcher Brené Brown, PhD, who studies vulnerability. In Daring Greatly, she writes: "When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make. Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.”
While I think we're on the same page, it's impossible to know for sure without uttering the short sentence and hearing what he kicks back in reply.
By keeping my love for Logan under wraps for fear of rejection, I'm doing him a disservice, sure. More importantly though, I'm barring myself from the opportunity of living out what is—quite possibly—the most vulnerable, quintessential element of the human experience. The only thing scarier than saying "I love you" and knowing full well I might not hear it back is never saying it to him at all.
Letting him say "I love you" and taking it up as a refrain would be the equivalent of stalling for that "perfect and bulletproof" moment. Waiting to be escorted into the arena when I could have just stepped right inside—no RSVP needed. Texting my mom makes me realize that Logan is the first person I've fallen in love with, but he's certainly not my first love. I've cherished storytelling and reading for as long as I can remember. I fought all my doubts to get to New York City and get my foot in the door in the journalism industry. I'm running a marathon in a few months, and I can honestly say that I'm actively trying to shape what my life looks like on a daily basis. So why, oh why, would I stop being honest about what and whom I love now?
As Dr. Brown always says (and my mom, bless her soul, often reiterates), the magic happens in the arena. Not in the stadium. There are a million-and-one clichés that hit this very same note and I've had most of them plastered to my wall at one point or another. Yes, saying "I love you" is a transference—the verbal equivalent of strapping your heart to your sleeve. The act of stating my emotions despite my fear, despite the geographical hurdles, embodies who I want to be. I long to be the person who says the damn thing, even when the "and" afterward hasn't been sorted out yet.
When fall arrives, we will be forced to decide whether the mileage drives us apart or brings us closer together. But this first "I love you" belongs to yours truly. It's all mine and I want to offer it in the most daring, true-to-me way that I possibly can.
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