I was always a romantic. I liked boys from my first day of primary school and harboured crush after painful, serious crush while growing up. The objects of my affection always knew who they were. To my chagrin, I blossomed late, and the wisps of attention I finally got from boys in grade 12 made me dream of being a girlfriend. I wanted to be someone's prize. I had a series of long-term relationships back-to-back. Most of these were failures from the start, with boys who were puerile at best. I wanted love so badly that, every chance I got, I had a relationship and put my heart into it fully. I was an intense, jealous presence. I got serious fast and scared boys away.
At 25, I met Ryan, a Nice Guy, a professional with a good income who adored and respected me. Within six months we'd moved in together. Our friends called us counterparts.
The following year I was diagnosed with a chronic disease. I became so sick I was often confined to the house, and took an indefinite disability leave from work. The wear of illness eventually drained the passion from our home. We stopped having sex almost entirely, and when we did it often ended in a sad funk. We fought in a confused, disjointed way, never knowing why.
I became paranoid and jealous. He was close friends with all his former lovers, and this drove me to distraction. I knew Ryan had no intentions with the women from his past, but I couldn't control my fears.
He'd once confessed to me that he had cheated on a girlfriend and was never caught, but it always haunted him. I wondered what would keep him from betraying me, and it haunted me, too.
Though I had gone most of the year without friendships outside our apartment, I became close to a friend of a friend - a man, Matt. We spent hours messaging back and forth. Matt wanted me in a way I knew was plainly sexual. He told me how hot I was, something that in the depth of my illness I had ceased considering myself to be. I hadn't even thought about sex in months.
Our conversations evolved quickly from deeply personal to explicitly erotic. Soon, we were plotting how we could live out what we'd fantasized. I felt as sick in my heart as in my body, but I was tingly and alive, and I enjoyed that feeling in a guilty way.
I came home one evening to find Ryan at my computer. He had read all my messaging logs, every detail. He was sickened by what I had been planning. In that instant, all my bullshit and denial fell from me in a heap at my feet. He moved out of our apartment immediately. I begged him for forgiveness, but the relationship was over with complete, crashing finality.
I kept seeing Matt by default, but he wasn't interested in being my primary occupation. I knew he was seeing women from personal ads and the Internet, but I accepted the crumbs he threw me. I wasn't in a position to be picky. I had so suddenly gone from being a person with principles to a person who cheats. Ryan was a wonderful partner, and I had betrayed him - it would be hypocrisy to expect anything more in return. If I could cheat, anyone could cheat. And if I would cheat, then anyone would cheat.
I decided to take a year off from relationships. I was 27, and I wanted to finish my degree and start my career.
It was surprisingly easy to put thoughts of love out of my mind. I had been worn out by years of failed efforts. My health improved and my sex drive rebounded. A few months later, when I had the opportunity for casual sex with a casual friend, I indulged happily. I didn't want to date him or even really need to see him again. It was just nice to have sex and not have to wrestle with anyone's gross feelings, mine especially.
And when the chance came around again, and again, with different guys, I never turned it down. Love became irrelevant.
All around me, I saw couples remaining together out of fear and obligation and felt disdainful. I hated the thought of a man sticking with me because he had to, and I knew I was not generous enough to do the same. With only myself to rely on, I swore never to be ruled that way again. I did many important things for myself in that time, and learned to be strong alone and love my own companionship. I felt powerful and righteous. I saw marriage as unnatural confinement fit for the weak and afraid. I said I would never expect a man to love only me, because I could not promise to love only him.
Now I'm in my 30s, and my year off somehow melted into years off. The casual sex isn't flowing so freely these days; I've tasted loneliness for the first time since I was that desperate 12th grader waiting for a boy to like her. And there is a boy - a smart, hilarious, gorgeous boy whom I set my eye on, and then laid my hands on. But what's grown in me, to my amazement, isn't a desire to boot him from my side of the bed, but to keep him there.
Suddenly, I find myself wanting to be a girlfriend again and love someone exclusively. I still fear the things I know I'm capable of, but maybe all I've truly learned is to be honest to everyone, including and especially myself. Perhaps the only certainty is that in matters of the heart, there is no certainty.