I was so, so terrified of falling in love again. I was afraid of being consumed, of feeling once more the raging fire of passion that would only grow bigger and bigger until it destroyed yet another part of me, burning everything around me to the ground and forcing me to rebuild my whole life — you know, just like the last few times around. I was used to love ending in a cataclysm. I was used to love hurting, the way it had hurt for my entire life, and I’ve often wondered if there is such a thing as love that doesn’t hurt; many have said there is, but I had never seen it, so I couldn’t really be sure.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with either of my partners, but for both, it was probably much sooner than I was willing to admit. I was afraid to treat either as a sure thing or get too comfortable, because historically, that’s always been when the real trouble started . . . but now, contrary to what I feared, I’m not being consumed at all. Yes, my heart trembles a little bit every time I look at them. Yes, I’m practically unable to stop myself from covering their skin with as many kisses as I can possibly fit onto them. Yes, I start craving their presence again as soon as they leave. Yes, I want to write them poetry and songs; though the depth of my feelings are impossible to convey in words, and so all the words I come up with always end up feeling inadequate. Yes, I would happily do anything and everything within my power to alleviate any suffering they might endure. Yes, I want to do anything and everything within my power to help them achieve happiness. But I’m finding that none of this is really the same thing as being consumed by love, and I think the difference is that I never feel like I’m at their mercy (well, except during very specific times when I want to be). No part of my sense of self or self-worth depends on their approval, nor do they try to make me feel like it should. I’m not spending a lot of time and energy trying to “improve” them in some way or convince them that they don’t need to “improve” me; I never feel like I’m trying to fend them, their judgment, their unexamined prejudices, or their obsession off. Finding equilibrium with them isn’t even a little bit difficult, even when there have been brief moments of tension. I demand nothing of them, and they demand nothing of me — everything we give each other is given freely. And if one or both of them should leave me, well, I already had a life of my own before either of them came along, one that I built up myself; it would be emptier for a while, but I wouldn’t have to start over again from scratch. I depend on them for nothing, and they depend on me for nothing, so it’s easier to focus on simply being with them, without being plagued by the potential consequences of not being with them.
I’m learning that just because the stakes are so much lower than they were in previous relationships doesn’t mean the love is any less; the lack of movie-esque drama has no bearing on whether the love we have is real — and in fact, it may even be more real, because we’re not confusing pathos with depth. It doesn’t hurt. There’s still plenty of fire, but it’s a warm hearth and a light in the dark, not a blaze to burn the whole house down.
A couple of months ago, I remarked that it’s been a pattern in my life that the things I’ve been most afraid of doing have always been the things I most needed to do, and maybe I should just assume that pattern will hold. It appears I was right — and I’m glad for it.