Do you remember the first time you fell in love? I do. I was seventeen. And it was amazing.
I’d had various crushes on boys before and had even dated one guy for six months. He was a sweet kid and we honestly loved each other, but it wasn’t The Real Thing.
Not even close. I was visiting relatives in a neighboring state when The Real Thing knocked me off my feet, stole my breath and made my heart pound so hard I thought it would break my ribs. It was decades ago, but I still remember the way my heart leapt into my throat the first time I saw him. It was love at first sight. (At least it was for me.)
I was sitting in a folding metal chair against the wall talking to my cousin at a church dance when this boy burst through the double doors leading into the gym. He was looking over his shoulder and laughing, shirt untucked, tie loose and hanging off to one side and in dire need of a haircut. He looked like an unmade bed, but he was absolutely gorgeous.
My jaw dropped. I grabbed my cousin’s elbow and yanked him down to my level. “Who is that?”
He rolled his eyes as he pried my fingers off his arm. “That’s Tom* and he’s nothing but trouble. Besides, he already has a girlfriend.”
I wasn’t going to let a little thing like another girl stand in the way of True Love. Until I actually met her and abandoned all hope. She was gorgeous, with dark, curly hair, a dimpled smile and curves in all the right places. I was all knees and elbows.
But when I returned the following summer, things were different. I’d filled out a bit and Tom had just broken up with his girlfriend. We fell in love during a three day youth conference in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
We snuck out of our well-chaperoned dorms every night and stayed up until dawn, talking and holding hands. He didn’t even try to kiss me. But I swear, when that boy gazed into my eyes, even the stars shone brighter. He made me feel as if l were the most intelligent, beautiful and desirable girl on the planet. (I wasn’t, not even close).
Summer is short when you’re seventeen and in love. We kissed good bye in front of everyone, including my parents (raised eye-brows all around). I got in the car, buried my face in a pillow to hide my tears and pretended to sleep all the way back to Oklahoma.
My life for the next two years was a dichotomy of emotional highs when Tom and I were together and devastating heartache when we weren’t. Long distance relationships suck at any age.
When we were nineteen, Tom decided to serve a two-year mission for his church. He told me not to wait for him. I did anyway, for about nine months, until he told me to stop calling him.
I thought I would die. But I didn’t. I survived and met someone else. It wasn’t love at first sight for either of us, but it was and is, The Real Thing.
Pete and I have been married a long time now. We’ve had our share of misunderstandings, hurt feelings and heart aches. The wear and tear of daily life can rub the shine off any romance.
But I swear, when that man looks into my eyes, I believe it all. I believe in Soulmates and magic and One True Love and Happily-Ever-After. He makes me feel as if I’m the most intelligent, beautiful and desirable woman on the planet. (I’m not, not even close).
Call me a delusional dreamer if you wish, I don’t mind. It won’t shake my faith in love or magic. And it won’t keep me from writing stories about heroic young couples, willing to sacrifice everything and fight insurmountable odds to be together either.
When I create characters that I genuinely care about (and why spend years with them if I don’t absolutely adore them?) It lets me relive that first rush of new love. It also reawakens old hurts when they behave badly, struggle with jealousy and make devastatingly bad decisions. But in the end, just like love in real life, it’s worth it.
*Not his real name