After several unsuccessful relationships and strange decisions, you begin to see a trend in your choices and the kind of people you end up falling for. According to Kate Rose from Elephant Journal, it is said that you fall in love with three different people in your lifetime, and each kind of person you fall in love with is for a different reason in a different period of your life.
Our first love is said to happen while we are young.
For example, high school type young. You are young and don't know much about love, apart from what you've deciphered in the movies. You know that there are feelings, fights, and bedroom activities, but apart from that, you aren't really sure what love is all about.
This is the naive kind of love, the impractical, movie-esque type of love. It's what you think is right by the standards you know from movies and the standards you know from society. We begin this love with the belief that this will be our only love, and we begin planning a future in our minds around that notion.
And it doesn’t matter if in your heart it doesn’t feel quite right, or if you are planning a future you can't truly imagine yourself, because, in our make-believe minds, we see that this is what love is supposed to be like.
To us, with this kind of love, how others perceive us and what they see of the relationship is more important to us than how we actually feel about it. With this love, you will find yourself posting constantly about how much fun you are having with one another. You will post about eating mediocre dinner and watching a show as the most amazing time of your life. This is because you need others to view your relationship as magical and perfect.
Our second love is said to be our hard love.
It's the love that teaches us lessons about who we are, what we want from relationships and the kind of love we truly want.
Unfortunately, this love is not so much a happy one. This love hurts and brings you pain, oftentimes from the little untruths and other times through manipulation, usually the emotional kind. The second love is usually unbalanced and unhealthy and can be selfish and narcissistic. Due to these facts, there is almost always drama, and you become trained to think that it is your fault.
You feel guilty for always being around them, even though you know that this is what you need. Being continuously around them can still not give you what you want to feel, and you believe that you are not loved enough because they are not giving you the kind of love you are looking for. Yet, instead of giving up on the relationship, you hang on, thinking that one day suddenly everything will change and they will realize how desperately they love you.
This emotional swing of extreme highs and lows is exactly what keeps us addicted to this kind of unhealthy relationship. We push through the lows, no matter how bad they are, to get a slight tingling feeling from those wonderful highs.
With the second love, pushing to make it work becomes more imperative than whether it actually should.
Our third love is said to be the love we don't see coming.
This is the love that we never considered in the past. It's different and new, we've never dated this kind of person before. The third love is the kind that comes too easy, and it doesn’t seem possible. You think that it won't last, you are bound to stumble on something that will create a bump in the road. At times, it occurs right after a major heartbreak, and you're thinking that the same thing will happen again because, in your past, it has.
At first, you can't explain the connection. What is it about this person that draws you to them so much? Here, we meet someone and, surprisingly enough, it just fits. There is no difficult compromises, no pushing and shoving. You both seem to work out together, and somehow the way you live your life flows well with the way they live theirs.
And that's what makes your two lives come together into one. Your life together is exactly how you wanted love to be. The third love is easy, you both work hard to keep it going, to keep your relationship and your love as magnificent as it already is. And with both of you putting in the work, you don't feel like you are the only one pulling the carriage like you felt in your second love.
Sometimes it is 50/50, and other times it is 20/80. They love you enough to carry you on your bad days, and you love them enough to support them on their rough ones. You don't feel the need to constantly advertise your happiness. And, you know what? Sometimes, you're not happy. Sometimes, they are not happy. But that doesn't mean that it is the end of the relationship. You come together with your unhappiness and try to solve it. You sit together and you talk, yell, sing, draw, what have you, and you solve whatever problem comes around.
Because that's what love is, it's making things work because you love one another and want to be together.
This is the kind of love that reveals to us why everyone else left the picture.
On August 17, 2010, I got an e-mail from Facebook notifying me that I had received a message. It was from my ex-boyfriend’s mother. Its subject heading was “Goodbye from Nancy and Bill.” Nancy and Bill are my ex-boyfriend’s parents, though I’ve changed their names (and those of everyone else here). I opened the message with great curiosity and a little terror. Why was Nancy saying goodbye? Was she finally moving to Switzerland to live near her brother and his Japanese wife? Did she have a terminal illness? The message said:
Hi, Lena—Bill and I remember you with such pleasure and fondness! But it’s time to sever the Facebook connection so I’m going to block you. We wish you all the BEST!
I was dumbfounded. I can only compare it to the feeling of opening your cupboard to grab a cookie, but instead of getting a cookie you get dick-slapped. I wanted to write back “Why?” I wanted to write back “What the fuck?” I wanted to write back “Like I’d even notice if you just unfriended me, or even if you died, you crazy fucking hag.” But I couldn’t. I couldn’t write anything. Because she had blocked me.
Close to tears, I called my mother. My mom is a Long Island Jew, and my dad is a Connecticut Wasp, and they were in Deer Isle, Maine, visiting his best friend from boarding school. Everyone but my mom was out sailing on a boat known as Cognac; she was inside the cottage, having an asthma attack. That is, she was happily avoiding day-old tuna salad and being asked to “grab the rudder for a second” and reading Vanity Fair by the land line instead. I told her the story, and she was scandalized. “How inappropriate!” she cried. “How wrong! That woman is a grownup, and you are a child. Why would she do this?” She told me to write a levelheaded query about it to my ex-boyfriend, Noah. I did as I was told. A model of equanimity, I forwarded the message to him with the heading “What the fuck is this shit?”
He wrote back quickly: “Oh my god. Well, I was just hanging out with them and we kept on getting into these conversations (with my grandparents, too) about the Internet and virtual spaces and avatars. . . . Something must have reorganized in her thinking about her online presence. She means it when she says she remembers you with pleasure and fondness. By the way, I have moved to the Bay Area. I hope you are well.”
He had moved? Without even telling me? After a year and a half of my telling people that I wished he would move and not even tell me? I was insulted. And I wouldn’t drop it. I e-mailed him again: “What did I do? What set it off? Was it the trailer for my movie? Was it my Twitter?” He conceded that Nancy did feel she learned too much about me from my status updates. Like the one where I said something like “It’s Christmas day and I have a raging UTI—do you think I got it from watching 9½ weeks?” Or was it the one that sort of goes “I want to date a male flight attendant. Everyone I’ve slept with is gay anyway.” Here’s the thing, or at least a thing, about me—I hate offending people. Even though I love the feel of something vaguely offensive on my tongue, I guess I want to have my cake and tweet it, too.
I promptly unlinked my Twitter and Facebook accounts. I was both angry and mortified. The thought of Nancy consciously deciding that she didn’t want to hear what I had to say was torturing me. It’s not as if we were soul twins. She was a former est person. She was always doing cleanses, yet she still had an inner tube of flesh around her middle—something that I wouldn’t begrudge if her son hadn’t once told me that he thought Nancy and I had “the same genre of body.” She put hot clarified butter in her eyeballs with a dropper, which is supposedly an Ayurvedic tradition. When Noah was young, she would walk him to school, walk straight home, and lie in a patch of sun on the carpet until it was time to pick him up. She recounted this more as an act of devotion and less as a symptom of an almost Victorian melancholy. She noticed that I always picked all the carrots out of my stir fry.
The main result of Nancy’s Facebook rejection was to send me down memory lane in a pretty disconcerting way. My relationship with Noah had, I realized, ended two years before, to the day—on August 17, 2008—after a year and a half of dating that felt like fifty. The emotional acrobatics involved turned my heart into a hardened little gymnast with tiny tits and a leotard wedgie. Although I usually refer to him as “that interpretive dancer I dated,” Noah was, in fact, my best friend and arguably the only man I’ve ever truly loved.
I met him junior year at Oberlin. He had recently returned from six months in India and wore hemp cargo pants that in theory were offensive; in practice, they highlighted his lean, impressive body as he strode across the quad, deep in thought. Our first meeting took place in the cafeteria. My friend Molly and I were pounding veggie burgers and planning an ironic weekend trip to the Cleveland Salvation Army when Noah and his friend Brian walked in. It was snowing, and they were both wearing giant high-tech mittens that made them look like Transformers. They sat down at our table. They were holding hands.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“It’s an experiment,” Noah told me. “Girls hold hands with their friends all the time. Why can’t Brian and I do it, too?”
I said something unenlightened like “Because it looks super gay. Are you gay?”
He eyed me with vague sadness (and did I detect some wanton longing?). “I used to wonder about that,” he said. “But then I realized that being gay is much too easy a solution for the problem that I have.”
Suddenly, he was everywhere: in the library, leaving a screening of “J’Accuse,” parking his bicycle and running into the general store to buy two apples. He told me that he ate only meat and fruit, and that he slept without a pillow or a blanket. He was writing his cinema-studies thesis about “Hook,” using it as “a metaphor for self-actualization and childhood regression.” He gave me the thesis to read. I read seven pages, enough to determine that he was probably very smart, then I put it down in favor of the autobiography of Rupert Everett.
Noah took a liking to me. I could just tell. We hung out a lot, but he never tried to kiss me. He told me that sex was “complicated” for him, and that he was more interested in figuring out his life’s work. The night before spring break began, he came over to my dorm. I was near tears because I had left a mess of dishes in the sink for almost a month and they had sprouted a terrifying mold. He rolled up the sleeves of what was, in hindsight, a blouse of some kind, and he washed every one. “I don’t mind,” he said. “Just as long as you’ll keep talking to me.”
People started seeing us around campus together. “I’m warning you,” a friend told me. “He’s weird with girls. I’ve never known him to kiss anyone more than once.” I didn’t really care. Everything I said made him laugh. He took notes in a tiny brown notebook. I took note of every one of his wonderful inconsistencies.
Our campus held a drag ball every April. The event was notorious: Students cross-dressed. They fucked while cross-dressed. Guys from our small and stunted football team stumbled home at dawn in nothing but sports bras and Juicy sweatpants. I avoided the event—I’ve hated dressing like a boy ever since theatre camp—and Noah wasn’t interested, either. We stayed in my room and listened to Leonard Cohen, like real originals, and our hands crept toward one another at that glacial pace you see only in French films and twee music videos. Then we were kissing. It was raining outside, and on the way over he’d gotten his pants and long johns soaked. He took them off and hung them on my collapsible hamper to dry. So he was naked. But we only kissed. I told him I’d rather not have a sleepover. He put on his pants but left his long johns. After he went back to his dorm, I sat on the tiles in the public shower and tried to decide whether I loved him or hated him.
Overnight, his long johns dried into a crunchy, twisted shape, like that bog man they found in Ireland, all hard and brown, millennia after his death. I announced to my friends that he made too many appreciative kissing noises and had a cereal-box-shaped head, like James Van Der Beek from “Dawson’s Creek.” But the next day, when he walked into the computer lab, the feeling in my gut was just stupid happy.
I can draw a very clear diagram of the sixteen months that followed. At first, he liked me more than I liked him, but then, suddenly, I loved him. Which is a word he thought implied ownership and all kinds of hetero-normative things that smart people avoid, but it was what I felt. I would watch his strong back as he rose from bed to get a Mason jar of water and think, That’s mine. He graduated but stuck around our college town, though he swore it wasn’t because of me. I started wearing clogs and baking a lot of gluten-free foods for him—gluten made him feel slow and sad, he said—and stopped speaking to most of my friends. All my explanations for this behavior are purely conjecture at this point, because, four years later, it’s so hard for me to tap into the well of desperate emotion the relationship unleashed in me. I’d spent my entire life getting my kicks from various esoteric hobbies (fashion illustration! Shrinky Dinks!) and quality time with my nuclear family, but here he was. My only pleasure. I told him I hoped we would die at the same time in the mouth of a lion.
Relationships often change people, but this was a weird one, because I was the same before and after it, but very different during. Aside from the obvious clogs, which I now sported daily, I was wildly supportive of pursuits I would normally parody. For instance, he told me that he was applying to a graduate program in Internet studies; he was interested in hypertext and the psychology of linking. During the coldest months of winter, he spent most of his time updating a blog he kept set to private.
When I graduated, we’d been together for more than a year. I have a few photographs of me with my diploma and my father at graduation, but even more of Noah looking forlorn on the lawn as he waited for me to enter the adult world. He’d spent Christmas with my family, and Passover, too. We took mushrooms together twice and Ecstasy once. The first time we “shroomed,” we stayed in his room and I saw exactly what he’d look like as an old man.
After graduation, we took a two-week trip to Mexico. I made reservations at an eco-resort with no electricity or Internet access. He didn’t bring any books, because, he said, he wanted to meditate, but when we got there he was just bored. Also, I had no idea it was a nudist resort: suburban couples frolicking nude and then eating nachos—still nude. Noah wore a hat and a long-sleeved shirt with S.P.F. built into it. At night, I lay in bed full of fear that he might not be the man I’d marry, even though he’d already told me, in no uncertain terms, he didn’t plan on marrying me, at least not until he’d had “a long period of solitary seeking.”
We moved to Brooklyn to house-sit for my high-school voice teacher. The apartment was plastered with posters of all the great divas and was home to three cats. Noah was, of course, horribly allergic to cats. But he had never known that, because people who put butter in their eyes usually don’t let their kids have cats. I went to work as an intern for a socially conscious documentary filmmaker, and did a lousy job of sorting footage of a lesbian detective, while Noah sat at home updating his invisible blog. He mostly ate canned beans and basmati rice that he prepared in a rice cooker. We almost never had sex. He got into Internet college and decided not to go.
I took a trip with my parents, and he stayed behind with the cats he couldn’t touch. I read “Eat, Pray, Love,” and it seemed applicable somehow to my life. I called him all the time. I called him, crying, from a rocky beach in Greece and a balcony in Rome and an airport in Chicago. I spent about a thousand dollars calling him. When I got home, we went to see an Argentinian acrobatics show, and he told me that he was moving back to his parents’ house, in Arizona, on August 17th. Two years to the day before Nancy unfriended me.
Noah remained interested in hallucinogenic drugs. The night before he left New York, he went to an ayahuasca ceremony in Williamsburg, where he met more cultural anthropologists than I knew Brooklyn could hold. He phoned me at four in the morning. The ceremony was over, and I called a car service and picked him up. He said that the drugs hadn’t really worked. We lay in bed clutching each other, and the next morning he kissed me goodbye and wheeled his suitcase out into the hall. I ran to the elevator just as it was closing, and cried even more at the injustice of this. I called him, crying, every day for a month. Often, Nancy picked up. Noah said I needed to accept that the relationship was over. I moved in with my parents and developed a crush on a rude guy in a fedora at my menial job and rekindled my old friendships. I started to relax.
One morning in October, I awoke at eleven to see Noah standing above me. My parents, who are artists, were out of town, I was asleep in their bed, and my mom’s studio assistant had buzzed him inside. He was wearing a parka and carrying a bag of rice and beans and a bunch of daisies dyed purple, the kind you find in finer Korean delis. He had moved back to New York, he said. He missed me. I found everything about him revolting.
“Maybe it’s because you’re hurt,” my therapist said. “Sometimes hurt manifests itself as anger when you love someone a lot and try very hard and they don’t accept that love.” I refused this analysis. For months, he wrote me heartbroken e-mails. He was living five miles away, in Brooklyn, but I wouldn’t see him.
Later, I found out that he was involved with a man, and I threw up. He came to a screening of a movie I’d made, and he had an asymmetrical haircut and the kind of cool shoes I had given up to be with him.
In a strange twist of fate, I now live across the hall from the voice teacher. Every night I come home and open the door directly opposite the one we shared, and step into the apartment where I live happily alone. I don’t think about it very often, but occasionally there’s a smell—a whiff of cat, of stale air-conditioner, of a frozen gluten-free pizza warming—that is so purely ours that I could resume being a woman who cries dolefully every fifteen minutes at some perceived slight. One night recently, as I headed out to the corner store, my voice teacher popped his head out at me. “Oh, hey,” he said. “I have your boyfriend’s rice cooker.” ♦