Love Happens with Your Chest Wide Open

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You fall in love quickly and in the dark. It’s 2AM, the black of the room lit up by your phone screen, your furious typing making clicks in the quiet. His responses are immediate. When they aren’t, you long for them.

It’s all very millennial: after talking in class a few times, you move to Twitter and then texting, hesitancy quelled by the distance the medium allows. The separation eases confession, makes vulnerability less dangerous.

And so you are vulnerable.

You tell him secrets. He is five days removed from a stranger, and you give him the darkest parts of yourself. He opens up, lets you see his darkness, too. You scoop your guilts and pains and shames from your chests and say, “Here.” You lay your triumphs and falls out for inspection and say, “I trust you.”

It is shaky and scary and you know that he could destroy you with what you put in his hands yourself. You know that he could clench his fists and crush you. It’s happened before.

But that night you ignore common sense; that night you disregard past experience; that night you open yourself up to hurt. That night, you fall in love.

Telling him this means giving even more of yourself. Rejection is a terrifying thing — maybe he doesn’t feel the same way. Maybe going back to being friends would be too awkward for him. Maybe he’ll cut off contact completely, and you’ll make fleeting eye contact passing by, and you’ll always wonder what it would have been like to be with him. Or maybe you won’t be met with rejection; you’ll both profess your mutual affection instead. But maybe it won’t work out. Maybe he’ll break up with you in three months. Maybe you’ll break up in a week. Maybe his mom will hate you. Maybe you’ll get married and ten years later he’ll sleep on the couch every night. There are a million possibilities involving your inevitable heartbreak, and it seems ludicrous to think that you can avoid it. Telling him how you feel means that you can date and kiss and cry together, but it also meant that he can hurt you.

You tell him anyway.

You start dating twelve days after your first real conversation. You fall fast, and hard, and surely in love. With him you feel all the giddy wonder of learning his history and how he likes to be held, and you tell him the stories of your past, and you smile when he kisses your forehead. Every night he reminds you, “I am falling for you.”

There is an inevitability to falling: you fall and you hit the ground. That’s gravity. And so you are whirling, spinning, hurtling downward. There might be a safety net at the bottom or jagged rocks or no bottom at all. There is no way to know.

You’re falling fast. You meet his mother. The dad and brothers and sister too, but mostly his mother; you’re worried most about her, straighten up in your seat when you’re talking to her. Gathered round the dinner table you talk about your job and your parents, your successes, you laugh and you smile, prepare yourself for barbed words because you feel so soft-skinned here. They are nice people, jocular and kind, and they cook food for you and ask you excited questions, but you still feel like a bug under a microscope, susceptible to their poking and prodding and examination, aching for their approval. Luckily they extend it; they love you; they rave about you later. But you don’t know this now around the dinner table. You do it because you love him.

In that same house you tell him about the worst night of your life and all the months that came after. He tells you about his own worst moments, about the things he fights. He finds the spot on your side that makes you screech and laugh, begging for mercy, and he rests his hand there gently. Sometimes, tucked into his side with your head on his shoulder, you think about how he could do whatever he wanted to you. It’s an intrusive thought, and you push it away, but you know this: he is so much stronger than you, and all your struggles would be weak and flailing. At first it makes you dizzy; you tear away from him, remembering the one before who said he loved you. Now the thought makes you move closer to him, grab him tighter. You know he won’t hurt you.

You kiss him hard and you know it might hurt, all of it. Kissing him is like baring your soul to him, baring your bones, the ticklish parts of your neck and the fragile skin over your ribs, places sharp things could destroy. To touch is to trust: where his hands brush lights a flame that could burn you to ash. But it feels so new and beautiful and right that you ignore the fire hazard, and so with every nervous kiss you give yourself, push away thoughts of other, harder hands, until you feel safe again.

The sound of his heartbeat pounds in your ear and you realize loving him means being illogical. At your core is a primal urge to protect yourself, but with him you’ve torn down your defenses. He tells you that “love is a socially acceptable form of insanity.” You agree. How else would you let yourself become so unguarded?

He’s lying on your bed, his summer tan skin against the blue flowers of the duvet, and everything is so perfect, and you are so still. He sits up, looking at you. You’re such a fragile strong thing; he could break you. He knows every secret thought, every pipe dream, but he’s never laughed, only cradled your face in his hands and prodded you on. And this moment, this stolen frozen happiness, this is when you know that it was worth it. That being vulnerable led you to this comfort and security and joy.

Love is opening yourself up to him. Love is knowing you can trust him with what he finds.

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