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How I Finally Learned That Love Shouldn't Mean Fear

When we are young, we all have different ideas about what it’ll be like when we grow up and experience love for the first time. For some young people, they imagine it’ll be like Disney movies: being swept off their feet like the princesses, being saved by a prince. We may talk to our friends and family about it. Our parents might explain the feeling of “puppy love,” or that feeling like butterflies in your stomach for the very first time.

I remember my own imagination as a young child. I have always been a bibliophile and because the world scared me, I would read books about the world to try and understand what the future could look like. From what I read, it seemed like being an adult and falling in love could be really beautiful. When I began to fall in love with the idea of love, I imagined who would tell me they loved me for the first time. I never expected it to be the person who did.

He was 19, and I was 10. He whispered in my ear that he loved me; goosebumps rose all over my body and I was instantly frozen. It wasn’t what I had imagined and in that moment I thought, “so this is what love is.” Love must be bottomless fear and anxiety. If that was love, I didn’t like it. For four and a half years, I was told that no one would ever love me like he did. Love became a weapon against me and I had no way to protect myself.

When you think love is abuse, that’s what you continue to be drawn to as you grow older. Someone would show a small amount of kindness and I would cherish those warm feelings, because I had learned I would start to be hurt eventually. It was just around the corner. I was right; the switch was always flipped at some point. One day I was the best thing in the world and the next, I was worthless and undeserving. No one else would ever want me, I was lucky to be loved by anyone and I should be grateful.

Hypervigilance in your youth then becomes normal as you become an adult. Love is just purely terrifying. I would hear the words “I love you,” and instantly be ready for the fear to kick in at any moment. I just handed myself over to it since I knew no better.

When someone did eventually truly love me, I hurt them. It was easier to push kind people away because it felt like they had a secret agenda, but I know now I didn’t recognize that the love I was being shown was the real thing, not what I was used to. Having someone abuse and control you can become addictive, and kindness is too foreign and incredibly uncomfortable. It becomes a pattern that is so hard to unlearn when it’s the default.

It’s only been within the last year that I realized that everything I thought I knew was completely wrong when it came to my past, and especially everyone I had been in a relationship with. I loved my abuser and admitting that is difficult, but it’s the truth. He was there for me when no one else was; I had felt so alone and he listened and cared for me as a child. But I know now that my naivete was used against me, and he used my innocence to keep me silent.

Thankfully, it hit me that I was allowed to be loved and truly let people in. Learning what love truly means when you are in your late 20s is not an easy task. It’s been painful to rip myself open, pick out all of the lies and rebuild my perception of how I should be treated and how I should treat the ones I love.

It can feel like learning to walk for the first time: I’m unsteady on my feet and I stumble frequently. I have been so used to hiding to protect myself that the thought of letting the person I love see who I am — without my walls up constantly and not being on the defense — is so hard.

The lessons I’ve learned may seem so small and insignificant, but they have been life-changing for me. I’ve learned to look someone in the eyes properly, which doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s huge for me because I always kept my eyes down. I’ve learned real connection for the first time. I’ve learned real honesty and communication. I’ve learned that vulnerability can be truly beautiful.

But to do all of this, it only happened because I met the right person who could see through my façade. I don’t know how, when no one else could, but he has. Last year, I began to learn to love myself and put my son and my own needs first. I thought that was a difficult journey, but this one has been harder. But for the first time in my life, I am finally letting myself love without fear.

Image via contributor