I was twelve when I first remember not believing in love.
It’s not that I didn’t believe in love in the same way kids stop believing in Santa Claus, or how some people don’t believe in God. I knew love existed, I just didn’t believe it was worth the effort. I didn’t have enough faith in love to be confident enough to pursue it.
When I was ten, I had come home from my fifth-grade Christmas concert to hear the word “divorce” spoken to me in a way that was no longer distant—it was personal. And the weight of it felt too adult for my ten-year-old self to bear.
It took two years of watching things unfold for me to truly understand what “divorce” meant. It meant seeing my parents hurt behind closed doors and wearing smiles that were full of anything but happiness. It took two years to see the wedge that had been driven between each member of the family. Blame was being pointed in all directions and there was no way out of the endless cycle of he-said-she-said. It took two years to fully grasp the damage that had been done to my family and the intensity of the crack that had been weakening the foundation for far longer than I had ever realized. It was like a leak in a once-sturdy boat—unnoticed at first, but once discovered, the damage had been done and the boat was sinking.
Most little girls dream of their wedding day. They talk about their perfect dress, their color scheme and the season in which they’re going to have their wedding. They fantasize with their friends about just how perfect it would be. I did all of that, but the words that came out of my mouth were empty. Marriage seemed like a scam. What was the point in getting yourself involved in something that only had a 50 percent chance of a happy ending? Would you drive a car if you knew there was only a 50 percent chance you’d survive? Or go to work if there was a 50 percent chance you would earn enough money to make a living? The risks weren’t worth it to me. Besides, love and heartbreak seemed to be a two-for-one deal, and I wasn’t buying it.
The older I got the more I saw love and heartbreak coming in the same package. I watched as my brothers, my friends and other people I truly cared about went from being on top of the world to falling off the edge. I watched as people who meant the world to me swore up and down they were in love, but spent more time crying than rejoicing. There were so many times where a friend of mine would be convinced that the person they were with was “the one,” but it was only a matter of time before they would end up confessing that they were wrong. It never added up. When you think of love, you think of butterflies in your stomach and smiles and intimacy, but pain shouldn’t be on that list. Yet, to me, when I thought of love, I thought of heartbreak—pain. There was even a moment where I thought I was in love, but what I felt didn’t feel like love. I didn’t feel good, and I was further convinced that maybe love just wasn’t for me. I was sixteen.
But over time, things started to change. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but I started to become less of a skeptic—I started to believe again. I began to look at the failed relationships I had been surrounded by and focused on the good—the times where both people were giddy and in love in such a way that even the biggest skeptic would understand.
I never fell in love or had some strong epiphany. My mind just simply changed. I went from seeing love as something that didn’t exist to it being something too far out of reach. I went from one extreme to the other.
There’s a movie called Beauty and the Briefcase where a girl (played by Hillary Duff) has a list of ten standards a guy needs to meet in order to be “the one.” I became that girl—creating a mental image of exactly who I wanted and refusing to settle for anyone who didn’t match up to that image. He hated traveling? Well, I guess that won’t work. Doesn’t like dogs? Sorry, you’re out! I became so obsessed with finding the “perfect guy” that I never gave myself a chance to really fall for someone. I left as soon as something didn’t add up.
Even though I had seen the end of Beauty and the Briefcase a thousand times and knew (spoiler alert) that the main character ends up falling for someone who has nothing on her list—ergo, showing how artificial something like that can be against the “power of love”—I didn’t care. I would not lower my standards.
But maybe I was setting my standards so high because I figured being a hopelessly optimistic romantic was better than being a hopelessly pessimistic skeptic. In my eyes, it was better to avoid the inevitable heartbreak by setting it just out of my reach rather than refusing to catch it while it’s in my grasp.
So, I started to let myself fall. I began to loosen my grip on the anchor that had been holding me back for so long, and I gave love a chance. I think it helped that I started to see love in my parents’ eyes again. I’ve seen them dancing in the kitchen and coming back laughing after date nights, something that I don’t remember seeing, even before they split. I remember my mom telling me how she and my dad still loved each other, they just couldn’t live together. And since their divorce, I’ve seen how much each of them have grown individually, and maybe that’s exactly what they needed to do before they could grow together.
It’s strange to think about now. The two people who’ve corrupted my perception of love have also been the ones who’ve helped revive it.
While I’ve let myself fall, I think admitting being in love is still something I struggle with, and I probably will for a while. I think I’ve seen what true love is when I look at my best friend and the way she stands by her boyfriend through all of his struggles. I know true love is in the eyes of my high school band director’s husband as he watches her direct every single concert. I know that true love is out there and soul mates appear to us in all forms, but the idea will always scare me because I know that the higher you fly the further you fall. And the whole concept of falling in love is a little unsettling for me. And to be completely honest, watching what my parents had to go through in order to find that place of love again is scary. I’ve become a firm believer that love is a choice, and you need to keep choosing to love somebody through thick and thin, but sometimes that choice is hard, and you need to love yourself first. If love is lacking from within, it’ll be hard to send out, and I think my parents proved that.
But I think I’m learning. I think that as I’ve stopped looking for problems in every relationship, I’ve allowed myself to bask in the beauty of love. I’ve even met someone who is starting to make me believe in love. He says all the right things and makes me feel like listening to Ben Rector and Alicia Keys on repeat. Of course, time will tell as things run their course, but I don’t spend every second biting my nails and rocking back and forth wondering “what if?,” which I see as a step in the right direction. While the thought of it fills me with a strange combination of fear and excitement (think about the feeling you get on a roller coaster, only times a million), I’m learning to enjoy it. It took a couple of tries, a couple of failed relationships, and a few pity parties featuring sappy movies and a lifetime supply of chocolate, but now that I’m getting the hang of it, I’m starting to see what all the hype is about.
People always say that seeing is believing, but I’ve seen love and I’ve seen heartbreak, so what do I believe in? Maybe seeing isn’t believing. Maybe you put your faith in whatever you put your focus on and that’s where your belief lies. That being said, I want to focus on love.
I was twelve when I first remember not believing in love.
It’s not that I didn’t believe in love the same way kids stop believing in Santa Claus, or how some people don’t believe in God. I knew love existed, I just didn’t believe it was worth the effort. But now that I’m older, I’ve learned what it really means to believe in something. Children don’t believe in Santa Claus because they’ve seen him, they believe in him because they’ve put hope in something bigger than themselves. People don’t believe in God because they’ve seen him, but because they’ve put their focus on Him, and faith has flown out of them.
Maybe I do believe in love, and maybe I always have. I just needed to shift my focus.
Author: Erin Elizabeth Brock
Your Bio: writer, lover and admirer of all things beautiful.
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