He looked me right in the eyes and said, “I love you.” My stomach immediately knotted, but in the same way it did when he first kissed me on the frog pond bridge at the Boston Common. It was a small releasing of butterflies that fluttered around in my stomach, making me let out a wide smile. “I love you too,” I whispered, suddenly losing my voice. I knew I meant it.
I had never told someone that I love them romantically. I love my family, my friends, myself and all the little things in life that I collect, like pennies. But I had never told someone that I loved them. I never knew what the feeling felt like. I had been in relationships and situations where I always thought I could see myself falling in love with the other person, but it never came to fruition.
I thought I was in love when I was 15 — and the way that I wrote about the boys I spent time with, you might have thought so too. This is not to say that you cannot feel love when you are 15 or even younger; rather, this is to say that at that point I had no idea what love was. I had settled on whatever the high school equivalence of lust is.
When I started this column, I wanted to examine the ways in which millennial and college-aged relationships worked. Through dating apps, hooking up became more prevalent. I wondered if people were still falling in love, especially in a college culture where convenience becomes so important due to busy schedules and a desire to not get hurt. Were people still falling in love? Three years later, I’ve found the answer: yes.
I can’t put into words exactly what it feels like. Although I have tasked a lot of my friends with trying to explain the feeling, I’m not always entirely sure what it means myself. But there are a few things about romantic love that I’ve learned because of my experiences with it. Love is a hard thing to describe, and many people have tried to express it in songs and sonnets. I know that love can be found in subtle glances and shy words, and it can also be found in loud exclamations and a thousand heart emojis. Love is expressed in as many ways as it is felt — personal to each person who feels it.
As much as love is a feeling, it is also a choice. Every day, we choose to be in love with people. We choose to love them because of their strengths, which is easy, and we choose to love them in spite of their flaws. We fight with the people we love. We put ourselves before them sometimes. We expect too much of them at times and give so little at other times. They may even do the same things to us.
But we choose to love them through the hard times, and we choose to celebrate with them through the good times. For as much as we may do these things, we also spend time with them dreaming, planning out weekly trips and dates, putting them before ourselves and compromising with them. Each time, we continue to choose to love them. We continue to pick them at the end of the day.
Love is not impervious to hurt, however. Sometimes we hurt the ones that we love without always being aware of it. Sometimes we hurt others while being aware of it. Sometimes we hurt ourselves because of the love that we feel. Things like these qualify as “in-spite-of” feelings, where we must decide to continue to be with those who have hurt us and and apologized for it. The choice is an important one to make, and it’s not always the easiest. But with all the right pieces in place, the love we feel might be strong enough to carry us through the hard times.
Love is a beautiful, sometimes undefinable thing. Sometimes people make mistakes in love; sometimes it makes them do irrational things. Until recently, I had never told anyone I had loved them romantically, but that never meant that I lived my life without love. Love with others may come and go, but I have a feeling that like energy, it is never destroyed, just transferred from person to person. And to quote “Love Actually,” one of my favorite movies, “Love actually is all around.”