The first time I fell in love, I was sixteen. He was nerdy, geeky, emo but without the eye-make-up and with reasonably good cause. He became my best friend for a while, although my ardent desire to have him as my other half was unrequited. I always respected him for taking care of my heart even though he couldn’t return my love. There was a time before that, practically sandbox love, when I watched another friend sleep in the tent we were sharing – our families on holiday together – and imagined kissing him between his shoulder blades. It was very adolescent; not really love, now I look back at it, but kind of nice. It gave my girl friends and I something to talk about anyway. And there was the Brazilian drummer who I first felt true sexual desire for. At fourteen I imagined coke-frenzied fucking to Led Zeppelin, under red lights. He had a long term, high school girlfriend, but left me a Valentine’s note which I read – “Happy Valentine’s Day! You are cool.” and then a a little heart – as he and his girlfriend opened their own jokey, but ardent Valentine gifts on the other side of the classroom. I always thought of myself as the jealous type. It was a time in my life when the term “non-monogamy” was not in my vocabulary, but looking back on that I think I would have gladly shared him with his girlfriend; although I think she resented sharing him with me, when the two of us would sit at the back of maths lessons and flirt so hard I didn’t get the B grade I was promised. But that wasn’t quite love either; it was lust – and fuck, was it good – but it wasn’t love.
Or perhaps I loved the boy in the tent and the Brazilian drummer, but wasn’t in love with them. Either way, semantics aside, my geeky friend, at sixteen, was the first boy I truly fell in love with.
It was five years before I let my heart take the plunge again. During that time my first love lingered a little, and I negotiated – with reasonable maturity – my first few sexual relationships. In retrospect I’m quite glad I didn’t mix love with my early forays into sex: two good friends, and a less than desirable but not completely heartbreaking relationship gave me three examples of sexual masculinity and stood me in good stead as a sex writer.
At twenty-one I let myself fall in love again. It was long distance; in fact I never met him, although I seriously wanted to, and did believe we were working towards it. I called him the Canadian on my blog; we met in December, committed (to some extent) in May; I fell in love in June; and we broke up in October. The following January we had both met other people, but still said “I love you,” perhaps foolishly, but also honestly. In April, for three weeks, we were back together, trying to convince ourselves that this time we would work it out; meet; fall more deeply in love; find a way to be together. I suppose he is the love of my life-thus-far, and I still think about it, but we don’t talk any more. I hope he’s found what he wanted: a wife, children, partnership. He deserves that.
Those three weeks in April were actually my first foray into non-monogamy. Disastrous, yes, but I did try. We didn’t communicate properly; he wasn’t comfortable with me sleeping with other people, and I wasn’t comfortable with his discomfort. But we did try, and we parted with loving respectful words.
That was a year ago, but it feels like ten.
Recently I let myself fall in love for a third time. Although I suppose, in all honesty, since I first felt lust there have only been five years (combined) when I wasn’t in love. But during that time I have held onto my emotions so tightly, kept myself on such a short leash, that it seems like a lot longer. I do police my feelings; I hate the drama and heightened emotion of being in love; even when it’s wonderful, love puts me on edge. But although I do believe that, as Ranier Maria Rilke wrote, “Love is difficult,” I think I use more energy not being in love. I exhaust myself with lack of feeling, with not allowing myself to engage emotionally. It takes all my willpower and strength to remain detached; but I do think it’s worth it: when I am not emotionally engaged with someone else, I work better; I can write, I can maintain my day-to-day tasks; I can live without feeling tense or on edge.
But here’s the thing: being in love heightens my emotions; it helps me feel. I cry at beautiful music, and, pathetic though it may sound, I feel touched by the unconditional adoration of my cat; I appreciate great art, and wonderful novels. Yes – it makes life difficult. Sometimes I don’t want to get out of bed because it feels so overwhelming, but this time, being in love, it is also a relief. I like not having to monitor my emotions. I like waking up and thinking of him. It’s good for my head and my heart to be allowed to express and experience fully. I’m calmer than I used to be, and I think writing and working are a little easier now than they were when I was sixteen. I know my current relationship is difficult, and is more likely to end in heartache than happiness, but from time to time, I think it’s good for me to allow myself to feel.
And in the meantime, I am free to seek the things I need; because unlike last April, I am now learning to communicate properly; to be open and honest. Right now, I am happy. And, really, what more could I ask for?