I recently realized that I may be truly terrified of the love that I crave the most.
And the realization came after I watched a rom-com with my mom, as most of my love-related realizations do.
At the place where all romantic comedies must make you believe that there is no point of return for our beloved two, the male love interest said something along the lines of, “Even if your dream man came to whisk you away, you would still turn him down, because you’re too afraid to take that risk, and admit that you feel anything real.”
Which was only just unsettling until my mom side-eyed me immediately after his delivery and inevitable march out of the scene. Then it became real, and all of a sudden I needed to use the restroom.
I looked at myself in the mirror and noticed that I looked a little shocked. A little hurt. A little relieved.
For years, I’ve been trying to understand what the hell was wrong with me. Why I’d never gotten that middle school kiss or that high school first love. It wasn’t because I didn’t try. It wasn’t because other people didn’t try. And it wasn’t even because I had trouble getting people to like me.
I only found trouble in making myself believe that any of it was true.
As a chubby Mexican girl at a predominantly white institution, you are bound to get bullied. That’s just how it goes.
But it becomes a specific type of cruel when you mix in the dating world element, and the lack of experience from everybody involved.
I got asked out, a lot. But only as a joke.
Groups of boys, shoving the kindest one amongst them forward, towards me, shouting “he likes you! he wants to ask you out!” as he squirms and twists his face in disgust, “What? No, I don’t! That’s gross! Stop saying that.”
The first time it happened I got so embarrassed I wanted to cry, and I said “Ew. Him? No thanks.” And walked away. It got a laugh out of the boys he was with, but not because they thought I was funny. They thought the fact that “even she doesn’t want to go out with you,” was funny.
The second time it happened I said it again. A little less hurt, a lot more embarrassed that it happened twice.
And then it happened again. And again. And again, And again!
By the time I got to high school it had, seemingly, stopped. But my lines were all blurred and my hope was nonexistent. Now, whenever someone made a confession, or even indicated any care for me beyond platonic obligation, I laughed and I brushed it away. I would say things like “Very funny,” or, “That’s not funny at all.” “That’s mean.” “Don’t start that.”
By the time I turned eighteen, I was still reacting to dating like I did in middle school. Defensive, Untrusting, Gaurded and Delusional. I had let the tiny bit of humiliation I’d experienced for a few weeks in sixth and seventh grade carry over to the rest of my life.
And it wasn’t until I sat down and watched that movie that I realized, I wasn’t protecting myself from getting hurt. I wasn’t “dating smart” by not dating at all. I wasn’t adhering to “better standards” or “higher expectations”.
I was being a bitch, and I was hurting people while I did it. Because while I told myself I was better off alone than looking stupid having tried, I really just would have rather hurt someone like the boys in middle school had hurt me, than hurt like that all over again myself.
I wasn’t protecting myself from the cycle, I was projecting it, and the realization and acceptance of that fact made me want to turn myself into a marble, like Janet in The Good Place.
So I started dating.
And still, I found it hard to believe what any of these boys were saying to me. Sometimes, it was them. Most times, though, it was me. And often, it still is.
But I think we’re all a work in progress. There will always be things we’re working on, things we shelve for later, things we’ll never get to.
I’ve regained my sense of hopeless romantic-ness, and I’ve found ways to make the lines a little less blurry and a little more blunt.
And if my dream guy came to whisk me away, I probably still wouldn’t fall fully in. But I’d let him stay long enough for me to really try, and that’s better than acting like I’m still in middle school.