“I love you.” Haven’t heard those words in, well, a very long time. Oh sure, I hear it daily in this adopted new-aged side of life where love reigns and we’re all acting like the universe is dispensing happy pills. Seems to be the cool thing to do these days. I get it and ride that train often.
But, “I love you”—the kind of I-love-you-bomb that leaves you speechless. The kind where your eyes meet and the words are spoken, forever changing the energy of the relationship, the kind where you end and the other person begins, commingled in this emotion soup of weirdness. You know the kind, it’s awkward and you both collapse in mutual agreement to the oxygen-filled ether that intoxicates before collapsing in unison to this new found love.
Then it gets awkward even more. What do you do next? What do these words mean and what’s expected of you now? The relationship has changed, evolving into something else entirely like the intoxication of the martini the night before, you awaken to the regret, grasping for liters of water and ready made ibuprofen to numb the ache of your decision.
What now? Last time I said it, I found myself on a roller coaster of emotions that didn’t make sense, abandoned all logic, and challenged everything I previously learned of healthy enlightenment. Funny, after all the consumption of self-help books on love, after all the theories about codependency, self-care and enmeshment and, and, and … it all goes out the window around this girl.
So here I am, in this world once again in love and rapidly progressing through three distinct stages.
Stage 1: Excitement
The raw and unadulterated thrill-ride kinda joy. The kind that makes you feel like you’re understood and known for the first time in your life and now can live free. Like seeing the deepest blue colors of the warm Caribbean, I charged the waves and was fully consumed in this new experience. Everything was fun and new. We danced, we laughed, and we traveled. We were inseparable and life was good, very good. I read her poetry, I held her hand on long walks, I made her dinner and we were both completely caught in the moment. I moved her hair from her face to reveal her smile, an accepting smile that was always present. Ya, we were sticky in love.
“Is this real?” That was the question I mistakenly asked myself that catapulted me into the next stage.
Stage 2: Fear
I panicked and withdrew. She called me, I didn’t call back. She texted me, I gave a short reply. I did the bare minimum to keep her engaged, yet keep me safe—in my fear. Uncertain what I was actually scared of, maybe it was commitment or that my own illusions of freedom were going to disappear or that I was closing doors to other women, women that could be more suited for me. I ran the gamut of emotional questioning of why I felt the way I did yet was caught in a self-induced web of confliction from missing her. I missed her scent. If beauty had a fragrance, it was her. Like taking all the senses and blending them into one sensation, this girl terrified me as all my vulnerabilities were exposed.
Then, in the middle of the night, fraught with despair, I just surrendered. The fear of losing this love was worse than these insecurities so I took a deep breath, and gently moved to stage three.
Stage 3: Acceptance
I finally settled in. Damn, you can finally admit you’re a guy in love; you talk about your feelings and proudly change your Facebook status, swearing off all others. I became okay with my feelings, I accepted the ups and downs, learned how to communicate my thoughts and shared openly and together we regularly stepped into stage one, creating excitement for us both.
Looking back, I’ve learned my process wasn’t that unusual. I reached out to friends, I called my therapist, I hired a love coach and read books on tantric, even meditated and prayed, only to learn that guys, all guys go through these three crazy stages and none of us really know why. We only know that a “good” relationship is one where we find a woman that allows us to travel through the stages without going psycho on us, getting insecure and ending things before we have the opportunity to progress and reach acceptance.
My own insecurity of growth was worked out in my man cave of isolation, where I had time to sit, think and in the end, realize that love for me was about accepting feelings that were foreign to me and yet dreamed of. Being in love was reaching my paradise, no longer playing on the sidelines, arm-chair quarterbacking the right moves to my friends. I had emerged from fantasy, a place where rules and instruction took the backseat and I had to step up to the plate and actually get in the game, this game of love.
She looked at me, and my soul quaked, my heart skipped a beat and for the first time, I was truly seen, I was purely known and fully accepted. In a life of performance-based metrics, where winning and competition are the fuel to attain the good life, I was now in a game where all I had to do, was BE. It can be confusing, and I still often want to run in full regression back in stage two, but I’ve learned that being “in love” is mostly showing up, being known with all my perceived weaknesses, warts and character defects to receive that accepting smile from my partner.
I’m a guy in love. There, I said it. I don’t do this thing perfectly by any means, but I’m here and present for myself and for her. The stages have grown me and love is something I’m now able to step into, even give to others more freely. This love game, nobody really knows the rules we only know we want it.
As for me, well, I just love this girl.
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