First, to make things clear: I do not have a problem with having, or showing, emotional love. When I feel it, I have no qualms about and make no issue of displaying that, whether it be through random acts of kindness, generosity, PDA, etc. I am not afraid of the emotion in and of itself. The word, though, and in particular, the verbal EXPRESSION of the word? Now that’s fucking scary.
I don’t think I always thought it was scary. Like, pre-marriage, expressing it was… well… if not habitual or normal, just something that was done when I felt that way, confident that HE (whoever that recipient was at the time) felt that way also, and never fearful that the admission would ever be used against me or not reciprocated, or that the word meant to me what it meant to him.
But then, after the divorce, I fell into a string of… well… less than successful relationships with men who either misused the word or who couldn’t say it at all. First there was Buttface, who had been saying it for the better part of ten years. And who, once his divorce was filed for, moved up from Florida to, ostensibly, be closer to me (this is what he told me, at least, at first). And then who suddenly, without explanation, without reason (at least as far as I could see) stopped saying it. Now, I’ll take proper credit for not simply asking him why, and for sticking around for the better part of two years after, trying to “figure it out” when I could have moved on. But once I realized, after all that time, that he wasn’t going to say it again, that he wasn’t going to tell me what had changed his mind, and, most importantly, that he was now dating (at thirty-one), a seventeen year old from Oklahoma, I cut my losses. Oh, I got revenge in the end… of course… it was both warranted and necessary to the overall healing process (and of course when his cat took a shit all over the bed about a year later because the toilet-training efforts weren’t going to plan, I was pretty happy about that too). But, revenge or not, I began to realize that it was entirely possible to use that word, seem to mean it, then drop it like a really bad habit (by the way, that’s the worst comparison ever – if it’s a “habit,” that means it is not easy to break, but whatever).
Still, once I was over that, I chalked it up to bad luck, bad judgment, whatever, and decided to learn from the experience: if I was with a man who seemed to suddenly change, I would simply not tolerate it anymore, not waste as much time (god, NEVER as much time), and I would leave. Or if I was with a man who simply would drag things out, string me along, and never progress, again, I’d leave. But, of course, I didn’t really think something worth having would be that hard to procure. After all, I had had no problems pre-divorce. Of course, I had been younger then, my boyfriends had also been younger (and probably less jaded), and I failed to take that into consideration.
Anyway. After Buttface came 3.0. THIS guy, I’m convinced, simply wasn’t capable of feeling the emotion. I loved him, or at least I am pretty sure I did (though considering the minimal amount of time it took me to get OVER him, maybe I was just in love with the idea that he was pretty well off and had a nice condo in the nicest area of Tampa), but when I said it, not only did he not reciprocate, but he used the phrase, “I’m not sold.” Or simply just told me he wasn’t there yet. Now, if that wasn’t bad enough, once he knew how I felt, he used it against me. If I did something he didn’t like, if I did something he couldn’t tolerate, he’d say that he was… oh… 95 percent there, but then I did that, and it knocked it down to 92. Yes. He was a weirdo. But I’m dedicated. (And that’s not always the best thing… especially when the guys I’m dedicated to are not as dedicated to me.) So I stayed. Or at least I tried. But when it came down to holiday time, and I didn’t want to take someone home who could not feel for me what I was able to feel for him, and I CERTAINLY didn’t want to stick around for several years, wasting MORE time on another Buttface. So I gave him the ultimatum. And he thought about it for a few days. And then it finally ended when he called and said, “I just don’t think I’m going to be able to fall in love with you, hon.” When he came over to get his stuff, he was crying. I was not crying. Not because I did not want to, but because I had decided that he did not deserve to see it. And I wanted to keep my dignity. Dignity preserved. Mission accomplished. But I still began to wonder whether some of this was my fault, if I had lost my mojo or something, or was somehow just not doing this correctly anymore.
Then there was Botboy. Botboy used the word first. After the first vodka shipment I’d sent him. And because, at least in my experience, alcohol is a truth serum, I believed him. But Botboy was as jaded as I am. I don’t think he didn’t mean it… I don’t think he intended to come home, get his stuff, and leave. I do wonder, sometimes, if he used the fact that I loved him to his advantage to procure supplies, snacks, etc. Especially when he bragged to me much later about how he’d used other women for this or that. Still, I think he did love me in the only way that he knew how or was capable of – the only way he’d ever been able to love anyone before. If that were the case, he wouldn’t have been able to give me what I was looking for, and looking back on it, I know that now. But at the end of the day, whether he meant it or not then is not the point. The point is that I DID fall for him, I DID love him, and he SEVERELY hurt me when he left. So much so that I told myself that, moving forward, never again would I say it first, never again would I repeat it unless the man said it to me while sober, and I had SEEN the reflection of his words in his actions.
It was a year after that before I considered dating anyone else– and that was Ormsby.
And so that’s where we were… I moved back to Kentucky, into Ormsby’s apartment. And neither he, nor I, had ever used the word with each other before. I sometimes think he was as afraid of it as I was. I can’t tell you how many times the word was on the tip of my tongue and I didn’t say it, not only out of fear of what might happen, but also out of stubbornness. I had said I was not going to say it first, I meant it, and for once this was a rule I was absolutely not going to break.
Except I did. In December, a week before Christmas, when I finally found my figurative balls, and just said it.
And apparently he’d known how I felt since July. Even before I knew how I felt.
And with that information? He’d done absolutely NOTHING. I mean… nothing in that he didn’t use it against me. He didn’t give me percentage comparisons to live up to. He didn’t start using it only suddenly stop with no explanation, and best of all, he didn’t stand me up, break his promises, or make me wonder where I stood (much). And even when I realized it (and I can’t even tell you when that was, exactly), I still didn’t say it. Not in July. Not in August when we started dating. Not in September and October when he was in Florida for work. Not even in November when we made it Facebook official and moved in together (yes, we do everything backward).
But when I said it, he said it back.
And that’s when the curse was broken. Because I knew he meant it. Not because of the way he said it, not because he was drunk (he wasn’t), but because of the things he’d done up to that point that illustrated it long before those words were ever uttered. I didn’t have to doubt, I didn’t have to question it, I just knew it. And whatever had happened in the past that made me wonder if all of this was just “me”, or if I was as unlovable as the Darren Hayes song I listened to over and over again during the 3.0 days, it didn’t matter anymore. Because I knew it wasn’t true.