I've always been the one who says I love you first in relationships. I don't mean to say that in a bad way. I've always owned my emotions, unafraid of them, and unafraid of who knows them, so saying them first seemed like the natural way of the dance in my relationships.
I'll skip over the few less meaningful courtships and start with the guy who was my first real adult relationship. It was fitting that about three months in, I'd be 18 and he'd still be in high school even though I was on my way to State - shhh, I was robbing the cradle, but I was in love. I said it to him one night while we were on one of our notorious late night six-hour phone calls, months after our sexual relationship had begun, and I said it right before it was time to hang up. Admittedly, a punk move on my part, but I didn't want to hear him not say anything back, so "I love you" and "Goodnight" seemed satisfactory. A few nights later, he'd call me in a haste and reveal to me the same - albeit, a lot more dramatically.
Apparently, he had been out with a homeboy, riding around, and in the middle of a thunderstorm, was encouraged to release his pent-up energy by said homeboy by yelling to the night sky. With it, anxiety, reservations, fear was released. And he felt brave enough to tell me he was also in love with me. "I'm in love with you Sheriden. I love you."
We lasted two years too long after that. We had absolutely nothing in common, just plenty of love and circumstance. The ending was so rough, but I don't want to get into that. It was a toxic portal and I got sucked in. I'm just glad I was strong enough to walk away and stay away.
The second time the admission of my revelation was a lot less dramatic. It just flowed, like we flowed. He and I just had that kind of relationship. It just was. And although we fell rather quickly, the pacing of the relationship was still so much more well-paced than anything I've ever been in. I blame the distance for that. I told myself I do not want a long-distance relationship, but made an exception for him. He's still the only one by the way, so I kept that promise to myself.
Again, we were on the phone - but we had no other choice in the matter since I was here and he was in Tennessee. I could feel that he wanted to tell me first, but was holding back. I knew who he was and could read him like no other because he was me and I was him. We were just very alike. Two rivers flowing into each other, not colliding, but becoming. "I'm so in love with you," I said, after he made me laugh so hard it was a cackle. When it died down, he was quiet, "Wow... I love you too." I could hear the smile in his voice. It was my favorite tone of his.
We ended amicably. Distance just wasn't the move for either of us. He's so different now, but I like returning to the memory of who I knew him to be every now and then. I don't wish him malice despite how much he changed.
The third time was a mistake. I remember I had connected with this human in a way I had never felt before. It was a spark. Electricity, heat. Everything that could be fire and our relationship culminated in the passion that was that. We often burned each other though, a negative when there's too much heat involved. But I digress. I waited longer than I intended to have sex with him for the first time and there, he proved to me in other ways that he was like no one I had ever felt.
I said "I love you" like a mantra to heaven about half a dozen times when he gave me my first vaginal orgasm. I didn't realize how much I meant it until months down the line. I thought it was just ecstasy and the magnitude of the experience talking, but it was true. I loved him. It was only fitting that the moment of realization dawned on me one night while we made love. I looked him in his eyes and framed his cheek with a gentle hand, "I love you," with such newfound certainty and courage.
"I love you too," he returned it to me before giving me a kiss that rivaled our combined passion.
I loved him so much I said I love you again. Of course, that too fizzled. I think due to a combination of feeling like we were always forcing it, and knowing that humans evolve, but we rarely truly change. Not completely anyway. Those base characteristics are just that, a part of who you are. And if I have a choice of whether to take it or leave it, I guess I made my choice.
The thing about "I love you" is that it's a beautiful, powerful, pure thing. It shouldn't be taken lightly, but it shouldn't be held captive either in an act of withholding. I don't mind being the woman who says it first, because I'm always honest with what's on my heart, my mind, and tongue. Say it when you're ready, and always when you mean it.
But also know that someone's I love you isn't a guarantee to an I love you too. Say it without expectation. But also know that whether it's said or not, you are loved. Even if not by the one you want.