Three weddings, and they’ve all begun the same way: I meander into a coffee shop, order an iced coffee with soy, settle into a table next to a window. There I sit, pull my journal open to an empty page, uncap my pen. Inhale, exhale, my fingers tentative. What is it, the blank page whispers, you want to say to them about love?
For the moment, silence reigns. Seizing the opportunity, my mind begins pulling out paragraphs from my own broken love stories. Who are you, it laughs, to tell anybody anything about love? My eyebrow furrows, my palms shake. Redacted love letters glower at me from the wastebasket. Be honest with yourself, Michael, it says softly, beckoning my forehead to rest against my fist. You’re no expert on love.
And then, in a whisper like a thunderclap, my heart: Is anyone? I sit up straight, the question echoing. What is love, if not showing up and hoping and building boldly? If not putting skin in the game, running the risk of crumbling magnificently, writing sentiments in the handwriting of reckless optimism? There are no experts on love, I nod knowingly, only those with the courage to try.
My penpoint embraces the empty page, a kiss temporarily tentative, soon passionate, frenzied, without regard for the transformative permanence of spilled ink.
I was twenty-two years old when I reached the conclusion that I was, perhaps, not meant to find love in this story. For years, I’d been searching for the kind of love that burned within me, undeniable. I had dated women, laughed and danced with them, held onto them through sorrows and epiphanies, but my heart always came up short. Each time I gathered the nerve to ‘put myself out there,’ I turned back to find my heart standing stubbornly against the wall.
No more girlfriends, I told myself, and, terrified to disrupt my world, no boyfriends, either.
On scratch paper, I drafted companionless futures for myself: Adopting a kid on my own, an adventure buddy for a chapter in the wide, wild city. A life of journeying, meeting faraway people and incorporating them into my stories. Perhaps some hearts weren’t molded for that kind of love.
Not in my plans: The man who, that very year, disrupted my world with his own confessed self. The night he leaned in to kiss me and I discovered how it felt to get lost in somebody. The mornings he’d wrestle me away from getting to class on time, the tears I’d spill telling him everything, the strength I finally found in my own unraveling. The way rescue felt suspiciously like shattering.
And I, a man who’d all but declared himself unlovable, stumbled into my chance to be seen and held. Without a plan, without the security of my carefully stacked walls, I gave all the everything chase.
If you ask me to speak at your wedding, I’m going to look you and your loved one in the eye and tell you that showing up is love in action. I’m going to tell you that you shouldn’t go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink, that –– in love –– saying sorry is a sign of strength, forgiveness a sign of courage, owning our mess a sign of devotion. I’m going to tell you that we are, each of us, comprised of mess and magic. I’m going to tell that loving someone expands us, and expands them, and to embrace the miraculous discomfort of that. I’m going to tell you that the story is yours to write, together, two sets of handwriting on the same page. Building, complementing, frantically trying. Yours.
I will say all this with conviction. These are firmly held tenets, hard-won ideas softly engraved into my sternum. This is what I know about love, I will tell you, eyes earnest. These ideas are the soil in which I plant my own love, waiting for it to bear fruit, not brought to me by science, but by wild, unapologetic hope. By the idea that, perhaps, there is magic to believing in magic.
The first draft of my love story was written in provisional ink. It all seemed to be happening so fast, and there was so much I’d been missing out on. We were clumsy at love, at the art of honesty and compromise. Perhaps the ground beneath us was crumbling from the start, but we didn’t have eyes to see it. We stood up from the couch, held one another, and danced slowly in the living room.
I jumped into the second draft with a commitment to going for it. I scribbled furiously, spelling out love and adventure and courage and showing up in all the ways I’d failed before. I wrote with such fever, such fire, that I failed to see he’d stopped writing with me chapters ago. Shoulders heaving, I tore away those reckless pages myself, crumpling them and tossing them away.
And so it’s gone, me approaching the blank page with a pen and believing in myself to write anew. Write with courage again this time, I beckon myself, but pay attention to who you’re inviting to write with you.
Be sincere. Take up space, but listen. Say what you mean. Forgive, but remember. Run like you did before you felt what it was to stumble, palms to concrete. You survived the scrapes, but, my God, imagine what you’ll find if you don’t fall?
What do I know about love?
I know that I’ve been searching for it, in one form or another, for just about every page of this story. At middle school dances, shyly standing at the perimeter of chairs and watching people slow dance to O-Town, I was searching. In high school, holding hands on the bus on the way to marching band contests, I was searching. At twenty-two, in the short-lived age of aromantic Michael King, I was searching. I was searching when I stumbled into my story, when I gathered up my fragments in the ages of heartbreak, when I unpacked my bags in New York City. Searching, searching, searching.
Where can I plant this love and watch it bear fruit?
And perhaps it’s true for all of us. We’re sizing up blank pages, imagining how they might connect to the pages that brought us here. Perhaps our stories can all include space for a love story, if we want one. And, married or single or going on first date after first date after first date, perhaps we are all searching, scanning our worlds for a good enough lead to sink our penpoints into pages.
I don’t know what I know, but I will keep going. I will search, write, share. I will love, before I know I’m ready, before I’m sure I’m right.