I was in high school the first time I fell in love. I quickly found that this romantic love was very similar to the platonic love I had with friends or family. As I wanted for them, I wanted her to be happy and wanted to comfort her and understand her. I wanted to be comforted by her, too, and share my insecurities with her.
The new part of love came after a year-and-a-half. I found myself falling out of love. How could I have gone from loving someone to snubbing someone, from warm kisses to cold hugs, from joyful to fearful?
I remember clearly one afternoon—we were lying in my bed and I began to feel an urge to run away. Not in the way one runs away from a tiger, but from a crime scene. It was fear. It was the same feeling I get when I walk into a test unprepared, or the moment after the wine glass slips from my hand. Thinking back to high school, it was the same feeling I got when the police would come through the park my friends and I used to hang out in at night, and we ran away from them and their flashlight beams. I was scared then, in my room, and I didn’t tell her. I let the first iceberg melt. While I was doing that, she probably turned to me and said something like: “Hey, you’re pretty cute.”
And then came the slow dissolution, the underwater run away. At first, I did what most people would do. I ignored the feeling I had. I would snap out of it, I told myself. I’m a good person, I told myself. I thought if I tried hard enough, the good feelings would come back. I sent more “I love you” texts and spent more lunches talking about her life, which I found more and more uninteresting.
Looking her in the eye became harder. I felt like I was lying to her all the time—every sentence, even the ones that could not be lies (like, “Practice was good today!” or “I’m having pasta for dinner”) felt like they were. Everything I did with her felt wrong.
I remember the first time we found ourselves uncomfortably silent together. We were out to lunch at Eunice’s Café, eating turkey sandwiches. She’d look at me and I’d give a half smile to tell her it was alright. Afterwards when we were walk back to school, she started crying. “You always talk,” she said.
When we finally broke up, we hadn’t spoken in almost two weeks. When we met for “the talk” I kissed her hello, and then when I saw her to her car, I gave her a hug. I did not like that hug. We talked about how it wasn’t working. We talked about growing apart. Yet had we changed that much? We seemed like the same people, so how could the same people be at one point so in love and in the next so out of it? Was it all just a hormonal trick? Were we actually just from the start incompatible?
I look back now at my texts from around that time. I was so mean. She would send me kind and worried messages, full of love and insecurity. They all went along the lines of—“Please talk to me, did I do something wrong? I just want you to go back to the way you were before.” I would respond, “It’s fine.” Or “nothing’s wrong.” Six months after we broke up, she texted me to say happy birthday and I didn’t even respond.
Why does love change so violently? Why do divorced people scream at each other and fight in court over nothing? Why is the world filled with estranged spouses? Why is it every time I think about her, I’m on-edge and want to run away? My reality and these examples are extremely different cases of a similar phenomenon in love. It’s as if all the intense emotions are in the same part of the brain.
My first relationship taught me how dangerously irrational and unstable love is and how flawed people are—or at least how flawed I am. I can wake up one day and stop liking a person. Then all I can do is try to explain myself in retrospect. Maybe it’s the clash of chemicals. Maybe it’s a brain defect. Maybe it’s what I ate that morning. Or maybe I’m scared because I failed at love, and every time I see her I see my failure.