My love story might make you throw up.
Now, I'm not trying to sound facetious, but
my our love story is the kind that keeps anxious single people up at night, wondering where in the world their true love is. Just kidding! Maybe.
Here's what happened: I was 14, he 15, and I had boarded a train heading to my home in the suburbs from my performing arts high school in Philadelphia. Ryan had boarded that same train with a group of his all-boys high school friends, also located in the city. I sat alone after exchanging a quick "hey" with a few of the boys I knew from elementary school, but in a matter of minutes I felt someone's presence beside me.
"Hey, I'm Ryan," he squeaked out. I noticed his black Yellowcard hoodie before anything else and immediately felt like I met a kindred spirit.
"Hey, I'm Mandy," I responded, digressing back to my shy preschool self.
Fifteen minutes. That's all we had before he got off at his stop, and for some reason unbeknownst to me, that's all it took. We exchanged MySpace accounts, and in the months that followed, he'd periodically take an hour train ride from the city to my house where we'd walk laps around my boring neighborhood, making out for no good reason on the sidewalk and talking about life.
Right before I began my sophomore year in high school, I called it quits. I had decided to transfer from the Philly school to the local high school because I wanted my life to resemble "Friday Night Lights" instead of "FAME" and, with all the new people I knew I'd meet, I didn't want to be held back.
Six years later, I changed my mind.
We're into our fourth year as an official couple, and as the holiday of love approached, I began to ask myself the inevitable rom-com question: So when did I know I was in love? Thanks to our fleeting infatuation with each other as teens, I couldn't pin-point just one moment. I freaked out about that at first. After all, who doesn't remember the moment they first loved someone? But after going through our relationship in my head, I figured it out. I have not one specific moment, but three:
The first sign I loved Ryan happened, ironically, when I was with someone else. Ryan and I had reconnected over Facebook after going away to college and would see each other at home on break here and there — he went to the Pennsylvania State University and I went to University of Pittsburgh. As I grew close to him again, he was one of the few people I trusted with secrets about my current, and hurtful relationship.
One evening, after braving through an entire day of feeling like death, I decided to check into the local hospital's emergency room. A few tests later, doctors revealed I had both bronchitis and the beginnings of pneumonia. My friends had class and my family lived across the state, so I lay breathless, literally, in the hospital bed alone. I texted my on-again off-again boyfriend about my situation, in hopes he'd make the 30-minute drive from his school to visit me. I heard nothing.
I also had texted Ryan that night, if anything, to help pass the time. Or rather, to have someone actually tell me that they cared. I'd barely sent the text about where I was when I saw I had an incoming call. It was Ryan. "Do you need me to drive there?" he asked.
I'm an anxious person. I cry too easily when I'm feeling hurt, and when I hurt someone else I cry even more out of remorse. My past relationships, with guys and my own biological father, had left me feeling abandoned, as my therapist would say.
After talking exclusively to Ryan for a month or so, we had gotten into a fight. We had been long distance and we argued about something related that neither he nor I could control. When I realized I was being irrational (this time), I became hysterical. Great, I thought, the one person who actually cares about me is going to think I'm crazy.
"I'm so sorry for this," I cried. "If you don't want to deal with me, I understand."
Calm, cool, and collected, he uttered words I had never heard from a man in my life:
"I'm not going anywhere."
Earlier this year, we were lying on our bed, in our shared one-bedroom apartment. We've lived together for almost two years and accrued two pet rabbits who we consider our children. I was crying (again) while he held me. I was terrified of the odds against us, the odds against me, and I couldn't hold my fears inside any longer. At 23 years old, I wondered how fast was too fast to find the person you'll be with forever. I worried about making a mistake on a decision that didn't have to be made yet.
If the roles were reversed, I would have hated him. Hated him for putting my soul through the pain of knowing he had doubts about us. Hated him for thinking about giving up before anything real even began, simply out of fear of failing.
But in that moment, he couldn't have hated me if he tried. He truly just wanted me to be happy, even if that meant without him. He gave me that chance to give up, get some space, but I didn't take it.
This time, I was the one vowing not to go anywhere. Not without a fight. As scared as I was and sometimes still am about the future, he's the only one I want to face it with.
Feeling nauseous yet?
Happy Valentine's Day, Ryan. I love you.