Often times, falling out of love is slow, like shedding bits of skin over time. But other times it’s sudden. In a few cases I can remember the exact moments I fell out of — hatched out of — love. It’s true that when it happens suddenly, some leftover feelings, like the last bits of mucus from a nasty cold, might linger on for a while. Even so, I can see clearly the exact moments my heart changed.
There I was, sitting in the corner of home economics, frantically reading words as fast as some people devour chips.
Why don’t you eat some cupcakes? Why don’t you join the other kids at that table?
My teacher was a small blonde, nasal accented and disliked by most students. She was one of the “scary” or “bad” teachers at our middle school. All of the teachers had reputations waiting to be told to new students. Like us.
No thank you. I want to read.
I didn’t like her. But I think now, she really wasn’t a bad woman. My sister recently dug up a picture of me around this age. There I was, in the corner of this classroom, with a fat belly, chubby red cheeks, a little oily and disheveled hair, with eyebrows and lips not yet made thicker from hormones. He was there too. You know you are in love when someone becomes he or she. The boy sitting with his friends on that day was my he then. I can still remember the first time I saw him, hair a mess of black curls, and freckled face twisted into a smirk, and even the summer after I met him, when I realized–with great joy–that I was in love.
Much has been written about that happy, woozy, dizzying moment — whether it is at first sight or after years of barely noticing each other, a long friendship, or a casual affair — when a person suddenly realizes that they love another person. Love isn’t always true –what I mean is that it’s not always good for you, or long lasting, or very deep, or unselfish, or empathetic or understanding. Nevertheless it is simpler to say fall in love or out of love than fall in lust, or infatuation, or admiration, or neediness, or hope, or fancy, or adventure. In any case, there is a moment when one suddenly realizes that she is burning with desire for another person–whatever the motivation–and how well she remembers that moment, how much she remembers it shifting the angle of her reality usually depends on how much that “love” and its consequences affect the course of her life.
When you really want someone, it’s not just about the other person; it’s about you and how the world looks–it’s like wearing a different pair of glasses. It’s the whole world of things you desire and how you see yourself in relation to them.
When I fell in love with the boy with black hair and freckles I was wildly independent, aggressive, and while I didn’t think everyone liked me, I didn’t care who did. I had never considered, at that moment, if that boy thought I was pretty or charming. All I remember thinking is that he was simply supposed to be my friend because it felt right. His smile made me smile. I didn’t care about love or kissing or if I was attractive enough for him. Romance was disgusting. But even still, I just knew one day we would get married and play together forever, talking about aliens and lizards and telling dirty jokes secretly and he would forgive me for making him eat clovers or pulling him by his sweatshirts. In turn, I would forgive him for ignoring me or calling me ugly because I just wanted him to always be my friend and always see him happy.
A couple years later and that boy and I had stopped talking. There he was, sitting at the table a few feet away from me, and I couldn’t read the words in my book fast enough because suddenly I am nervous and excited and upset. I can’t look at his face, but I can’t stop trying to look either.
I want to be next to you. I can’t ever tell you this. But I want to be next to you.
Hey. Says another boy at his table. You see that kid over there? He’s so stupid and gross that I’ll bet he has a crush on her.
He looks at me as he finishes his sentence and bursts out laughing. And next to him is the boy with black hair and freckles and he laughs so loudly. His laugh rings through the whole room as I realize that I am Quasimodo ringing that bell.
There it is. There is the first great crack in the shell of the fantasy you built around you. There is harsh sunlight burning and seeping through. I can remember being barely able to function through the rest of my day. Choking back sloppy tears and staring down at the floor. I remember stomping off onto the asphalt of the road and the rough sigh of the yellow bus pulling away. Then finally, great big awful tears and sobs spilled out of me as my whole insides burned and the world around me melted into salty tears.
There’s the truth. Love doesn’t exist in a bubble. Love isn’t just about you or even you and the other person. Love has to wriggle its way through society, too. If you want someone to love you, you have to be good enough for them–and they have to be good enough for you. And for so long I was angry at this crying little girl because I hate crying, but now I want to tell her it’s alright, even if it is self-pitying and indulgent. I want to tell her that even though she made mistakes and could have done better, it’s okay to be heart broken and okay to let go.
I don’t sob often. I never told the second person I remember suddenly falling out of love with how much I sobbed after I fell out of love with him.
I was twenty and a ball of nerves. I had driven three hours, focusing on the road and the cars, and nothing else. A year and a half before that day, a man ten years my senior whose poor health left him constantly flirting with death convinced me that he loved me in a way no one else had or could.
He had walked me home at dawn, and we were standing in the middle of my musty dorm room, hot, bright sunlight pouring through the windows.
I’ll go take a shower, my roommate says and she quietly slips out of the room, leaving me standing there and nervously enjoying the sound of his deep laugh and watching his slow smile.
He was watching me, one eye dead and useless, and one eye alive and twinkling happily.
Goodbye, I tell him and we hug.
Goodbye and good luck on your trip. See you when you get back next month, he says softly but his whole chest vibrates with his smooth, low voice. I go to kiss him on the cheek, but he finds my lips instead, kissing me for a few moments and then lets me go. He leaves me that day. In love.
I remember the first time I saw him in the hospital. A small, pale body attached to machines for old, dying people.
What can I do for him? Don’t be selfish. He’s pushing you away because he is sick and you’re just a stupid, annoying kid. Stop getting angry. You don’t have a right to be angry. You aren’t dying. You have your health. Control your anger. Support him. You need to be an adult and do the right thing.
The day before I fell out of love with him, I had been staying with my parents for a few weeks ,and he told me he was in the hospital again. I, of course, was too insensitive to realize that. He cannot deal with a relationship right now. He is still sick. I must find some other place to live for the summer while I work in a job he wanted me to get so we could spend time together.
I am in my father’s SUV. I have driven for three hours to start a job I don’t even want anymore. I will spend the summer away from my family because I can’t admit to them that I got this job for some man I was dating who was too old for me and that I want to give up because he has rejected me.
I drive past the little shops on main street with their dark paint and red brick and the wrought iron lamp posts holding flower pots with deep magenta blossoms. There is the sign for the old department store that went out of business years ago. You told me about that place. There is the Greek hamburger place your friend owns. The pizza place college kids like me eat at when we are drunk late at night. Ahead of me is the road towards your house that we have walked down, hand in hand, through snow and rain and sleet and sun and wind. And there you are, coming up the road, smiling and laughing with your friend by your side.
There you are. You look happy. I am crumbling, pooling with guilt. And you are smiling. One time you walked through a snowstorm with a large bouquet of roses for me. And one time I think you cried because you said you knew I was going to eventually leave you one day.
But here you are now, walking and smiling. And I remember how you smiled when you showed me a picture your ex-girlfriend drew you while you were in the hospital. I don’t draw.
I drive in circles till I find a dark parking garage. I unbuckle myself and crawl into the backseat where I curl up and I cry. I don’t ever remember crying so much.
And when I pull myself out of this state, ten minutes later, I know that I don’t owe you one thing. I won’t ever worry when your sugar is too high or low. I won’t care if your pride suffers because you are too blind to read a menu. I won’t massage you when you are in pain. If you are in the hospital, I will not consider giving you my health or my time. You are no longer my problem.
Love is about lying in moments. Because sometimes things are forever and ephemeral. Somehow that moment when you kissed me and that moment I cried in the back of my SUV are eternal. But they are also finished.
I fell out of love while riding in the back of car, once, too. We are in a taxi. You love to talk and talk, and you know I’m angry at you because I can’t look at you or I might cry, and I hate crying in front of people. And if I cry in front of you, it reveals that I’m really into you and I never only wanted to be friends who awkwardly sleep together sometimes, and it’s my fault and your fault. I know I’ve liked you since I met you and that same constant talking that is so bothersome now was so effortlessly charming then as you rattled off constant streams of esoteric knowledge and witty retorts.
And maybe you won’t ever love me. I am okay with that because I don’t think we are destined to be, but I wish you treated me like a woman you were sleeping with instead of someone you could easily talk to for hours everyday and just as easily dismiss when a woman more “compatible” with you came around.
Are you bipolar? you ask me while I stare out the window and try to focus on the red rear lights of the cars around us. I look at you now, my head turning slowly towards a face that looks a little guilty.
Ah. There it is. You’d rather believe that I’m chemically unbalanced, out of control, than admit that you have done something wrong and made me upset. I will cry even though I’m not crazy. I know I’m not, and I realize in that moment that you don’t have a right to make me feel bad about having normal emotions. I will cry because I have a right to be upset. And in the morning I will wake up, and I will realize that I don’t care if you saw me cry. It doesn’t matter if you love me or not. It doesn’t matter if you think I’m right or wrong or if you respect me or not. I know I wasn’t perfect either, but I don’t care.
Suddenly I’ve fallen out of love.
I will not write a beautiful, lovely poem about this moment. It is nothing as sweet as being warmed by a smile, or kissed at dawn, or charmed at dinner, but it is nice to walk away from you when we go to the airport and know that I can cry and I will cry, and what was inside of me will drain out and leave me dewy and fresh.
The moment you fall out of love is painful and sickening and dizzying. But you wake up the next day, knowing you never dreamed of him, you never imagined what it would be like if he were there, and you wake up knowing it isn’t you and him. You get on a plane ready to ride through clouds without visions of him, to jet into a future free of him. When It is just you and the world, expanding infinitely out around you, and you feel glorious and powerful and free.
Well. Sometimes falling out of love is pretty damn nice, too.