When was the first time you fell in love?

As corny as it sounds, the first time I fell truly, madly, deeply in love was with my husband. Everyone before that was just an audition. Guess I got lucky. Nearly twenty years later, I’m still crazy about him.

I didn’t date at all during high school. There are lots of reasons for that but mostly it was because I was very shy. I lacked any type of self-confidence, knew nothing about boys, and pretty much figured I wasn’t dateable. I asked guys to dances exactly twice. They were both completely humiliating experiences, but not because the boys were jerks about it. On the contrary, they were as nice as they could possibly have been expected to be. I was just mortified to have put myself out there and been rejected. What teenage girl wouldn’t feel that way? Especially when it had taken every ounce of courage I had. Looking back, I’m pretty impressed that I even tried.

My first kiss was shortly after graduation. He was a bad kisser. Even I could tell that. My first good kiss was my freshman year in college. So I always told people he was my first “real” kiss, if not my first “actual” kiss. The guy’s name was Rafael, he was from Puerto Rico and had beautiful blue eyes. How could you not consider that your first kiss?

The great thing about going to college 1500 miles away from home, where NO ONE knows you, is that you get to re-invent yourself. So I did. I’ve mentioned this before. I dropped my nickname and started using Lucinda. I had long since lost the glasses and braces, had lovely, long dark hair and was just finally fully developing my figure. I was a late bloomer who grew another inch that year. The point is, no one saw the awkward teen I had once been. They saw the lovely young woman I had grown into.

My dad had recently told me to “fake it until I make it” when it came to getting out of a bad mood. I applied that philosophy to dating as well. If I didn’t feel confident, I pretended to be anyway. I made some mistakes early on and pushed too hard. But within a few months I had mastered the art of flirting and knew how to get a boy’s attention. Nothing serious ever came of it though.

I had a series of what I called “encounters.” Boys who would find me attractive, talk me up, kiss me, and generally act very interested until I made it clear that sex was not on the table. At all. They they would disappear. It didn’t matter though. I knew I could attract them and if sex was what was required to keep them, they weren’t worth my time. I used it as an opportunity to learn the game.

Within a couple years, I was back in my home state at another school. Now I was starting to find actual boyfriends. If by boyfriend you mean someone you date for 3 weeks or less. Just like with flirting, I was a quick study. I didn’t really know what I wanted in my future husband so I saw dating as an opportunity to try different things on. Each guy I dated I would become infatuated with, as is normal, and then soon try to pick apart who they were. What made them tick? What did they want in life? I was quite goal-oriented. Each time, I would quickly discern if the guy was husband material.

Interestingly enough, I didn’t just pick apart the bad stuff. I also thought about the good stuff, what first attracted me to this person. Each good trait would be added to my personal inventory of what I wanted in a future mate. Each bad trait was determined to be either something I could live with or a complete deal-breaker. Deal-breakers turned out to be fickle things.

One guy sent me a rose with the sappiest inscription on the card. He was soon gone because I wanted someone who saw me as an equal, not so far above him he couldn’t believe we were together. Another guy wanted to live in Alaska. One boy simply had no ambition at all. I was the one who ended most of the relationships which made my friends just shake their heads. They all either had no one they were dating, which made them think I was crazy for letting the latest guy go, or they were big on commitment, which made them wonder why I couldn’t seem to do the same.

This isn’t to say I didn’t have my heart broken. It happened twice, in rapid succession. Both left me for reasons completely beyond my control. The first believed I had lied to him about knowing another man. I knew I couldn’t win the argument so I didn’t bother trying. (In retrospect, he was completely nuts so it was a blessing in disguise.) The second went back to a long-term girlfriend because she bought him a car and promised him financial security. I couldn’t compete with that. I had come as close to loving each of these men as possible but we simply didn’t date long enough for it to truly happen.

I wish I could say I walked away from both taking the higher road, but the truth is I punished them each in turn. You know what they say about a woman scorned? Each had humiliated me and I returned the favor. They absolutely deserved what they got but had I been ten years older, I would definitely have chosen different actions.

Then I met my husband. The man who showed up when I wasn’t even looking. By the time he asked me out, we had been dancing around each other for a few weeks, running into each other here and there on campus. Our first date was fabulous. The second even better.

Then he left town.

We maintained a long-distance relationship which gave me the space to heal from previous relationships while growing into this new relationship without completely losing myself. He was the first man who didn’t spend all his time telling me how beautiful I was. Instead he told me I was smart and sexy and wonderful. He was the first man who volunteered to get into the middle of my personal problems and act hurt when I told him I could take care of it myself. He was the first man to call me on my shit because he knew that wasn’t the person I wanted to be. I don’t know how he did it but he managed to protect me and give me freedom all at the same time.

Of course I fell in love.

Yes, he drove me crazy. He was (and is) a bit of a slob who spread his stuff all over my apartment. He liked sports and insisted I get cable so he could watch baseball. He didn’t bend his schedule around mine but instead encouraged me to do things without him sometimes. He would get into debates and argue the other side just because he could no matter how angry it made me.

We had our first date in late April. By mid-July I had dated him longer than any other man. Even my friends noticed. They were worried because he was so different from past boyfriends. He was a (gasp) jock! He didn’t try to be their friend or get their approval! He only cared about me and what I thought. After 3 weeks of dating, I was in love. After 6 weeks, I knew I would marry him someday.

This April will be twenty years since our first date. I can’t say that I love him just as much as I did back then, or even more than I did back then. I love him differently than I did back then. I love him with contentment instead of excitement, with confidence instead of nervous energy, with faith instead of hope. I love him with a depth that can only come from spending half your life together. It’s a love I wish everyone could experience at least once in their life.

I know how lucky I am. Not every one can say they married their first true love. I’m glad I can.

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