The first time I gave up on love I was eleven years old. Young and clinging to naivety like the baby blanket I still slept with, I saw the sharp edges of my father’s anger tear through the shroud of assumed happily ever after. Every punch he threw and every insult he hurled was an assault on my forever.
I believed marriage was a lie and love was an illusion before I knew the name of the first boy I’d kiss.
The second time I gave up on love I was eighteen years old. It was the end of summer and the end of adolescence and the end of carefully calculated certainty. He was perfect in that his parents were happily married and he had a wonderful childhood and he took for granted everything I desperately wanted. College loomed the way ominous clouds announce a coming storm: welcomed after a four-year drought yet just as disconcerting and mysterious. He went to one school and I went to another and we peeled ourselves from each other like the skin that flaked from our sun-kissed shoulders.
Time and distance did the rest, and before I knew it we were strangers with majors and goals and plans that no longer required one another.
The third time I gave up on love I was twenty-three. He was a coworker turned best friend turned complicated lover and I was desperate for his love and affection. Whether it was his faux confidence or his subtle addictions I’ll never fully know, but I was willing to forgo logic and reason for a moment of his time and the touch of his rough hands. I allowed him to have me while simultaneously having someone else. I believed him when he said choosing between us both was difficult. When I won his heart, at least for a small period of time, we moved in together and it only took a year to find out he had slept with someone else.
I was battered and broken and diminished. Probably like she was when he picked me.
The fourth time I gave up on love I was twenty-six. She was the sister I never had, coming from a different mother and claiming a different father but as much a part of me as if we’d shared a womb. I carried her down treacherous stairs after a painful doctor’s appointment. I carried her out of bars after one too many tequila shots. I carried her through boyfriends and breakups and bombed job opportunities because, of course, that’s what she did for me. A friendship forged over college parties and Top Chef marathons ended with hateful words and underlying jealousy. The more we grew, the farther we grew from one another.
Adulthood ended what we swore it would only solidify.
The last time I gave up on love was two years ago. I was done with relationships and commitment and trying to assert myself in so-called healthy representations of either. I was meandering through the dating world, enjoying one-night-stands and tantalizing trysts and the freedom of loneliness.
And then I met him.
I saw his piercing eyes and felt his calming presence and knew the love I continually tried to discard had returned. It was calling me beautiful and brushing strands of hair behind my ears in a way that has always comforted me, and yet it was new and unlike anything I had ever experienced. It wasn’t battered by a broken family or tarnished by a youthful arrogance. It wasn’t sullied by betrayal and it wasn’t darkened by envy.
It surpassed what was once so painful and unthinkable and unforgiving. It was the love that only injury and agony can produce. Without the lessons of a failed marriage or a toxic relationship or a faltered friendship, I may have never found myself sitting in front of his brown eyes and salty smile. I may have never found a love that turned lacerations into lessons and hardship into happenstance.
So, please, don’t give up.
Because trying to find love while simultaneously trying to avoid pain is like trying to breathe by holding your breath. Pain and pleasure, hurt and happiness; they’re intertwined.
Don’t give up on love. You never know when you’ll finally find yours.