“I love you, but I’m not necessarily in love with you,” I said. The words immediately stung him much harsher than I intended—his body shifted away from mine and he looked at me with a scrunched face.
I paused Mr. Robot and sat up from my binge-watching slouch. Apparently, you can’t say stuff like that to your boyfriend and not expect to have a conversation.
Ever since he told me he loved me a few days prior, I had been working through what that meant. I responded to his confession with a reaffirming kiss, and let him know that the feeling was mutual. But, I was still trying to grapple with what I meant when I said that three-word phrase. I realized that our relationship is different from anything I’ve experienced before because I started off by loving him—not being in love with him.
With him, I never felt that sickening obsession that tends to happen when you fall in love. For the first time, I wasn’t washed up in a wave of all-consuming emotion. I can easily swim about my day; it’s just better when he’s in it. Though there isn’t an absolute, unconditional commitment yet, that kind of devotion is almost inevitable with time.
Although my affection for him comes naturally, I don’t feel like I “fell” into it. I have always had a comforting level of balance over it. Even the phrasing of “falling in love” indicates injury, almost like it was an accident. The term is akin to tripping and tumblng down stairs. Now, if you’re anything like him, your shoes are untied 80 percent of the time, and you probably just tripped on your shoelace, so there is technically some control over the stumble. But, I digress. Loving him is like sliding down the railing of the stairs, it’s intentional and smooth. It takes some effort to do it, but it’s ultimately worth it because it’s much more fun than walking down the stairs alone.
As frustrating as it is to hear it, love is simply a matter of time. When I told my friends about my budding relationship, the reaction was almost always, “Cynical Gretch found love?! I never thought I would see this day come.” Honestly, me either.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had “the boyfriend list.” There are about 10 traits, both physical and characteristic, that I thought I would check off before I fell in love with someone. I wanted a man who was tall, but not towering over me. A man who was smart, but not a closed-off genius. A man who was emotionally intelligent, but not overly sensitive.
In short, I wanted a man who didn’t exist.
For two years, I was on a Goldilocks-like quest to find a suitor. When I finally gave up and accepted singledom, he came along, but hardly registered on my radar because of the list. He lived with two of my friends, and I knew him through the Allston social scene. A year later, he messaged me and asked if I wanted to go out to the local bar in Well on our first night at the Castle.
When I met him, I felt like I finally met someone who wasn’t fresh out of a relationship, or getting ready to graduate, or looking to add someone to his hookup rotation. The time in our lives matched up, and the enthusiasm about a fresh start with someone is seductive. Love is work, but it’s not a chore. I actively make note of how he likes to get Sno-Caps when he’s at the movie theater, even though you couldn’t pay me to eat one of those. Or, how he walks around with a small black notebook in his jacket, and he only writes in it with black ink.
I looked past the fact that he doesn’t make the bed, or print his boarding pass the night before a flight, or arrive on time for anything. He leaves his laundry in the dryer long after the timer buzzes, and loses his keys for days on end before actively looking for them. I may never understand how he lives his life so chaotically, but I love him even more for those traits. Those are the little habits that add up to his whole being.
The one thing that time hasn’t cured is the initial confession of the three words. There’s a reason why Refinery29 and Men’s Fitness list step-by-step suggestions on how to “drop the ‘L-Bomb’” as Cosmopolitan magazine phrased it. For starters, getting rid of horrible phrasing like “L-Bomb” would help.
I dated a different man for eight months before I met my current boyfriend. I knew I loved this other guy about halfway through our relationship. I waited, and waited, and waited some more for him to say it first. I wanted to be swept up in his arms when it was snowing out and Father John Misty sang to us in Quincy Market.
Because I was so obsessed with perfect timing and having someone say it to me first, I ended up confessing my love to him at the worst possible time. I drunk texted him two months after the relationship ended when I was 3,000 miles away, and used the past tense of the word. I’ll never know what would’ve happened if I had told him how I felt six months prior, nor do I really care to find out.
All I know is that now I refuse to wait for the perfect time with the perfect man, because the best time to tell someone you love them is when you feel it. When you wake up with crusty eyes and morning breath. Or when you’re watching Netflix on boo-thang’s floor. Wherever, whenever it may be, you can play some cheesy rom-com music in your head and pretend you’re kissing on the snowy sidewalk. That’s what I did, anyway.