Growing up, I thought falling in love was a life event that was more or less locked in, like death, taxes, and—at this point—climate change. From that vantage point, love felt just as grim as anything else on that list, due in large part to the ‘falling’. Few things unsettle me as much as a fall…
Which makes me wonder how the phrase ‘falling in love’, despite its operative verb connoting pain and fright, became our go-to framework for establishing a romance. It’s exalted as the ultimate portal to relational bliss, and is name-checked in most wedding vows. Rom-coms depict the process in a two-hour odyssey, one involving lots of screaming fights and passionate sex, all of which inevitably ends in a diamond ring. All’s well that ends well, the screenwriters seem to be saying, and the quicker the better. Crucially, we never see what comes next.
It’s hard not to wonder if all of this helps foster the expectation that new love is supposed to be fraught with chaos and overwhelming emotion. Many beautiful relationships have sprung forth from such conditions, including ones I’ve been a part of. I just wish I’d known sooner that there was more than one way to open my heart.
Breaking the Fall
Believing I was straight was part of the problem. When compulsory heterosexuality undergirds a romantic relationship, the rest of it can feel just as contrived. For me, being with with a 'bad' match didn't feel much different than being with a 'good' one, because they all felt wrong. I used to be so ashamed of not feeling how I thought I should with the ‘nice guy’ after a year. Unpacking that helped me confront my queerness, which deepened all of my relationships, even the ones I had with men.
Accepting my bisexuality was part of an awakening that freed me from limiting beliefs about sex and love. I had been brainwashed by culture and entertainment to believe my worth as a woman began and ended with men finding me fuckable. So I arranged my existence around meeting this nebulous, meaningless goal. With the expansion of my dating pool came the discovery of my genuine desires, which made it so much easier to meet the right people.
After all of that soul-searching, I finally 'fell' in capital-L Love — but it felt more like I'd been pushed. The onslaught of happy brain chemicals was actually pretty grueling, with my shaky hands and ragged breathing turning basic tasks like toothbrushing into an ordeal. It really was impossible to eat or sleep, tried as I might to resist that cliché. Why do movies make this part seem cute and quirky? I’d wonder, staring at the ceiling at 2AM.
My lover was on my mind more than I thought was possible. These were the big magic feelings I’d been waiting for, the ones I assumed would appear when the right person did. That way, all the waiting would mean something. But it didn't work out that way, because this guy was just the one who taught me the hard way that love and compatibility aren't always bedfellows, and that patience and discernment are worth their weight in gold. Sometimes the rush just kicks in too quickly. Or maybe every wave crests and crashes just when it's meant to.
The water is where I feel most like myself. It’s especially true of the ocean, though I’m a sucker for a pool party too. There’s just something about leaving life and its attendant anxieties, expenses, and emails on the other side of the shoreline. Something in the water makes the world stop.
Even so, I remain a bit uneasy with this element. Shallow or subterranean, natural or man-made, I can only enter a body of water by wading in slowly. I feel compelled to observe it enveloping each new swath of skin, as the sharpness of the cold snatches my focus. When I watch others dive or jump in feet-first, I wonder how they can stand the shock. I shiver in solidarity.
These days, I’m back in the blue. Love coaxed me out of my pandemic cocoon, and though I was quite cozy in there, I’m grateful I could be convinced. It led me to someone who lets me wade in their waters with no expectations, while we slowly make our way closer. The risks are still real, they just feel more remote. I’m still not in control, and yet I’m at ease. I’m even able to float.