I once told an ex I loved him super early (we're talking weeks) in the relationship.
Truthfully, I had no idea I felt that way until I heard the words coming out of my mouth. It just...kind of...happened. Like a cough or a sneeze. I think I may have been just —if not more— surprised than he was.
Believe me, I was no ingénue. From the ages of 18-28 I was a serial monogamist, either in (or between) the three somewhat serious relationships of my 20s. Falling in love was always easy. Anyone can fall in love. The holding on bit? That's the tricky part.
There are different kinds of love, of course. There's the love you "fall into" versus the love you grow into. There's being "in love" and then there's the act of loving a person. I'm not sure what exactly makes them different. Is it lust? Likability? Some combination of the two? Poets, musicians, artists, philosophers...people have been asking this question for centuries, "What is love?" (baby don't hurt me), so who am I to claim to know? Though I have seen that you can continue loving someone when you're no longer in love with them. Heck, you can love someone even if you've never been "in love" with them. You can love people you don't really like (like your family), you can lust after a person you cannot stand (why is that?), and the strangest thing I've seen is that you can be committed to someone you despise.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that love and commitment are not the same thing. You can love someone without commitment (like my "sneeze"). You can commit to someone without love.
The I love you sneeze didn't happen in a vacuum. It was the perfect storm, truly. After the roller coaster of a year I'd just had, I wasn't looking to settle down and I just wanted to be free. No love, and certainly no thoughts of commitment. I was quite happy to give up on the possibility of long term relationships for the next decade. The week before I had met this person, I'd had my first ever one-night stand, and I was proud of it. Me, a serial monogamist, had chosen to sleep with someone I barely knew (a coworker of a friend, we met at a party) and I felt empowered. Who needs love? I thought. Certainly not I. And then along came this new person and BAM. I fell so hard in love that my brain exploded.
It didn't last. Relationships like that rarely do. You can douse a bunch of gasoline on a poorly constructed fire and it'll burn big and bright, but it'll quickly die out. Long term relationships are kind of like a bonfire. You need a good foundation to start. You need kindling to get it going (that spark), then you have to lead up to the logs. Once it's going strong, you can't just relax. You need to maintain it and it needs your attention. But, also, you have to let it breathe. You can certainly recover the flames, with some effort, after a touch of momentary neglect (perhaps you were tired or something else grabbed your attention), but if you neglect it too much, if you cross a certain line, it will die.
Bonfires and long term relationships require work. Love is easy. Commitment is hard.
Commitment is a choice you make every day, when things are good but especially when things are bad. I've been in love heaps of times, but I've only ever been committed to one person, the person I am with now. It's been five years filled with exciting things like VanLife and moving to Japan, as well as boring things like whose turn it is to cook. And of course, we've had our share of tumultuous times I was certain we'd never make it through, but here we are. We've seen each other at our respective "worsts." We've chosen to stay anyway.
I don't believe that who we love is truly in our control. It's just not up to us. But commitment is a choice we can make, day in and day out. The person we choose to share our lives with. The person we choose to work with to become better versions of ourselves. And when we fail at that, the person we choose to accept who also accepts us, whatever state we're in that day.
I don't think commitment is an easy choice. I mean, sure, sometimes it feels so easy. Sometimes it feels obvious, like "Who else would ever get me the way you do?" And sometimes it's hard AF. Sometimes it's confusing. "Is this really it? Would I be better off with someone else, somewhere else? Would I be better off alone?" Often I think society puts too much pressure on us to view the committed option as the best, if not only option for gown adults. It's a bit silly, isn't it? Of course there's so much you can gain from a mutual, loving and committed relationship, but placing so much value on that kind of relationship I think causes people who should be leaving bad relationships to stay.
I don't pretend to know what the future holds. Nothing is forever, and my partner and I don't subscribe to the idea of "the one." We are together, committed. Sometimes it sucks, but most of the time it's pretty awesome. Even when he's annoying me to no end (sometimes I think it's his career to annoy me) I love him. I work on things. He works on things. We choose to stay.
"Can I tell you something?" I'm feeling a bit under the weather. He's just climbed into bed with me after bringing over the tea he made.
"Yeah?" he asks. "Careful, it's hot."
I place the cup on the nightstand and turn to face him. "You're my best friend."
He reaches over like he's going to hold me and tickles me instead.
"Ahhhh stop, get away from me! You're so annoying!"
He laughs maniacally. "I'm your best friend until I annoy you!" He says triumphantly.
"Seriously, sometimes you're the worst," I say, rolling to the other side of the bed, trying to get as far away as I can.
He pulls the blanket up to his chin. "I'm as annoying as fingernails scratching on a chalkboard!" He seems proud.
I mull it over. "No, you're not that bad."
"I'm as annoying as getting suck in traffic in a manual car?"
"No. Not quite. Try again."
He thinks for a minute. "I'm as annoying as durian-flavoured ice cream!"
A couple of years ago in Vietnam, we were staying on Phu Quoc. We'd rented a motorbike to explore the rest of the island one day, and spent the afternoon hiking up to a temple. The weather was extremely hot and humid. At sunset, about to head back to our bungalow, we'd found a little mom and pop shop with an ice cream freezer. It was a no-brainer.
We couldn't read the Vietnamese labels so he played it safe with what was clearly vanilla but I was feeling adventurous. I chose one with yellow packaging, perhaps lemon or banana I thought. "Are you sure about this?" he asked.
"Yup!" I excitedly peeled the wrapper and tossed it in the bin before I took my first bite.
"How is it?" He asked skeptically.
I made a face. "Umm...I don't know."
"Can I try?"
I took another bite before handing it to him. "It kind of tastes like onions."
"What? No way." He tasted it and made a face. "What the fuck is this?"
"I don't know!" I tried it again. "I think it's onion! It tastes exactly like fried onions."
"There's no way they'd make onion flavoured ice cream. It's something else for sure. Here, let me try it again?"
I handed it over.
"Gross. It's durian," he said.
"You know that fruit with the long stick as a stem? Kind of looks like pineapple? It smells so awful that it's forbidden to bring to hotels or on busses or trains through Southeast Asia."
"Oh my god, THAT'S what that thing tastes like? Fried onions?!"
He took another bite. "Yeah this is durian for sure."
I laugh at the memory. Why didn't we stop eating it even though we said it was awful?
"Yes! You're as annoying as durian flavoured ice cream."
He pulls me back toward him and tickles me some more.
"Sto-o-o-o-op! I hate you!"
I really don't.