I spent the better part of the last decade on an exhausting, confusing and sometimes traumatic search for true love.
I wanted to feel giddy as I created intimacy with someone, but most of all I wanted to find an everyday kind of love. I longed for a partner that would brush knots from my unruly curls and help to fold the ever-finicky fitted bed sheet. I dreamt of someone with whom I could argue the finer points of toilet paper and pay bills. I wanted to choose a love that also chose me. I knew if I ever found such a love, I would work diligently to stay in it.
The harder I scoured for my everyday kind of love, the more heartache and disappointmentI uncovered. I invested so much effort in my hunt that my romantic history now reads like the chlamydia-riddled progeny of a comic book and a Greek tragedy.
There was The Guy Who Did Not Believe the Holocaust Happened and The Guy Who Sent Me a Dick Pic from the Restaurant Bathroom. There was The Guy Who Lied About Living in His Car, The Guy Who Forgot My Name on the Third Date and The Guy Who Definitely Had an STD. Some of my courters were inconsiderate, others were outright rude. Some dates were boring, others utterly chaotic. Many of my dates were terrible, others were just fine. A select few led to short-term relationships of various sorts.
And then last fall, at the age of 29, I made the decision to undergo my fifth heart surgery.
I was born with two congenital heart defects: atrial septal defect and a cleft mitral valve. Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect in the United States and affect 1 in 100 live births each year. There are over 40 known defects; little is understood about the cause of any of them and there is no cure. My heart defects were not discovered until I was six years old. Several weeks after my diagnosis, I had my first open heart surgery.
Sixteen years passed before my cardiac issues resurfaced. As a young adult, I fainted frequently and sweat profusely. My resting heart rate was often over 200 beats per minute. I had two surgeries to correct numerous electrical irregularities, and a pacemaker implanted to resolve the dangerous condition of heart block.
As a survivor of congenital heart disease, I have consistently struggled with issues related to self-worth and anxiety. With equal parts sadness, guilt and gratitude, I often reflect on my existence as the sole product of medical and technological advancement. I have spent hours staring at my many scars, wondering how anyone can believe that scars are at all beautiful. And on many an evening I have gone to bed, all but certain I would be dead come morning.
As my most recent surgery approached, dating was even lower on my radar than the Kardashians. I was instead plagued by nightmares: an infinite, vacant, sterile, hazy hallway. A colony of rabid bats feasting on my barely beating heart. My body pinned to a rusted surgical table, my heart slowing with each beat. Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling in my hospital room.
Okay, so that last one was a sex dream, not a nightmare, but my anxiety about my upcoming surgery was so extreme that I barely even cared to use my vibrator.
The days leading up to my surgery were full of meditation and nervous diarrhea. The days following my surgery are a blur though I am told I was both unpleasant and bossy. Alas, my scary, scary surgery had come and gone.
Recovery ensued. My heart felt better than it had in years. It was raw but it was healing. And I did not realize it at the time, but it was more open than it had ever been. It was so open that I found the love of my life on the four week anniversary of my surgery, when I absolutely, positively least expected or desired it.
I spent many years lamenting the pitfalls of modern dating. I even established myself as a blogger on the very topic. Yet somehow, I never actually considered what it would be like to find my forever guy. It is more wonderful than I ever could have imagined. Still, the reality of finding love at almost 30 feels a little like a chaotic heart rhythm.
The Internet is rife with commentary on love: how to cope when love is lost or not yet found, incessant reminders that love is most easily attained when not searched for, suggestions on how to cultivate self-love and guidance on how to know when “The One” has indeed been found.
Yet the Internet and society in general are scant with truth about what actually happens when a burgeoning romance evolves into a lifelong commitment. Just imagine if When Harry Met Sally began where it ended. The movie opens as Harry and Sally declare their love for one another, and then 1 hour and 36 minutes of Sally navigating shifting dynamics in her friendships, family and lifestyle ensues.
No one would have what she was having.
The status of ‘single’ never stopped me from pursuing social gatherings, activities and hobbies of interest. As such, I shared my most intimate feelings and cherished memories with my parents and my girlfriends. In their steady embraces I have cried many a tear. In their delightful company I have giggled myself silly. In my darkest hours, they were my lights. In my lightest hours, they showed up and cheered.
And they always will.
These relationships remain of utmost importance to me as I struggle to find balance in the aftermath of newfound love. Gone seem the days of regularly agreeing to spontaneous and random happy hours, brunches and weekend getaways. I will miss the days when my dear friend and I moved the TV into my bedroom on hungover Sundays to binge on bad movies and even worse takeout food. It is not that any of my social relationships were fillers for a romantic relationship I hardly expected to find; it is just that things feel different now.
Change is both the saddest consequence and most meaningful gift of this existence.
I cannot quite tell if the loss I feel is for my single life or the most youthful of my years. Perhaps it is both. Maybe the two cannot be separated. True love, after all, does feel awfully grown up.
I am thrilled to be so madly in love. I have finally found a worthy partner. In this love, the sun rises brighter and sets deeper; the air taste better and my heart beats steady and smooth for the first time in a very, very long time. I believe that my scars may in fact be beautiful, and at the very least I acknowledge that they are not nearly as hideous as I perceive. Instead of fearing imminent death at bedtime, I look forward to waking up next to a handsome face. Each day is an adventure.
And so my life’s dynamics are evolving. My friendships will shift. Some may fade away. Others will build strength and intention. Entirely new bonds are sure to develop. My family will expand and grow. My routines will change. I will settle into a new normal. Homeostasis will return, if only for a short while before development displaces it once more.
And all the while, the absolute most important relationship in my life endures with resolve and dedication.
I love that I get hot unless it’s 65 degrees inside. I love that I cannot eat sandwiches. I love that I get a little crinkle around my eyes when I laugh at something someone says. I love that after I spend the day with myself, I can still smell my delicious perfume. And I love that I am the last person someone wants to talk to before he goes to sleep. And it isn’t because I am lonely, and it isn’t because I had heart surgery. I write this tonight because when I realized I had to love myself before I could ever love somebody, anybody, else I wanted to start loving myself as soon as possible.