I've been in love 5 times. I'd say that 3 of them were truly good relationships in that they were all about equality. With those 3, I spent a lot of time with their families and they in turn spent a good deal of time with mine. There were 2 where we combined families and spent the holidays together. I thought 3 of them could potentially propose to me. The idea of such a thing terrified me with 2 of them and so excited me with the other that I kept my nails manicured for a year straight, which is not something I usually do.
The thought of being with any of them now sends me momentarily spinning to an alternate universe where I'm not entirely miserable, but I'm not entirely myself either.
No matter if I broke up with them or they broke up with me, one of the things that always happened was I'd have to cut some music out of my life, a practice that is inconvenient to say the least and searing in its inherent agony at its very worst. It's been good music that was compromised, too. I mean, I never burst into tears when I'd hear an Ace of Base song. But it's only been about 3 years since I've reclaimed Crush by Dave Matthews after talking myself into believing that it was my song before I thought of it as our song and I needed to take it the fuck back and I'd go on a march to do it if I had to. The hardest loss was Pearl Jam. I couldn't listen to them for a good 2 years. I finally let them back in, but I haven't listened to Just Breathe for 5 years now besides that time I was at a cafe with friends and some guy was playing acoustic guitar in the corner and all of a sudden I heard the melody of the song being plucked out and my head started to shake back and forth involuntarily. On the plus side, I found out I have a superpower I never knew about before: I can go spontaneously deaf if it means not crumbling to the floor in public. The music association hasn't impacted me for a while, but that's changed a little this week with Kanye releasing new music and proclaiming his brilliance to the masses. That shit has briefly complicated things. It'll pass, though.
With 3 of the guys, I spoke about politics extensively. Of the 3, 2 of them knew what they were talking about. I miss talking politics with only 1 of them, especially this month.
I experienced a lot of firsts with all of them. First real date. First sex. First good sex. First trips. First heartbreak. First realization that I'd hurt somebody tremendously. First thoughts of forever. First Springsteen concert. First inclusion in another family's family portraits. First blistering fight. First time jet skiing. First time snow skiing. First time I drank a cappuccino. First time I drank sake. First time I wore lingerie. First time I felt comfortable wearing lingerie. First time I felt like a writer. First time I felt like I was someone's person.
With 1, I made the mistake I swore I'd only make once and I found myself distancing myself from my friends and being engulfed in his life. I was 17 then. I haven't even wandered down that pathetically misguided road since.
Of the 5, 3 are doing very well financially, a thing that matters tremendously to 2 of them. 2 of the 5 enjoy their jobs. 1 of them will never be truly happy – and that's a bold statement to make –but I've known him for decades and I'm not wrong about this.
With all of them, I had what was, until that night, the greatest moment of my life. Some were celebratory moments – grand and colorful – and some were so quiet in their joy that it's hard to even describe them, but it was always those quiet moments that impacted me the most.
For a while, I hated 3 of them. Much to my dismay, I was never great at pulling off hatred. Once I realized you could hate in a dull way that doesn't require much energy, it's gotten a little easier for me. I still dream frequently about 2 of them.
With all of them, I tried to rarely discuss the others. With all of them, I rarely asked questions about their exes. I just never wanted those images in my head. With 2 of them, that probably turned out to be a mistake.
I cheated on 2 of them. I was very young in both cases, but that doesn't really count as a good excuse. 1 of them never found out, but I felt no pride about that, just relief. I'd rather set myself on fire than cheat on anybody today. I know the scars that kind of experience can leave behind and I'm not interested in marring anybody for good anymore.
There were 2 I read my writing to a lot and 3 who never showed any interest in it at all. It's actually a major reason I broke up with 1 because I felt it like a jagged dagger when the person who claimed to love me didn't support something that made me feel excited and inspired. I saw in his bland reaction an image of our future and it looked like I was seeing it through a dark filter and something turned off inside of me that very day. He's one of the people I never have dreams about.
All 5 had pretty conventional names, making mine the weird one in the duo. There were 2 I talked about possible baby names with, 1 of them seriously. I think all of them will be good fathers one day.
I speak to 1 of them regularly, 1 of them periodically, and 3 of them never. I'd be perfectly fine running into any of them, but I'd be way more excited to see 2 of them than I would be to see the other 3. Regardless, I'd probably blush scarlet upon seeing all 5. I've always wanted to be able to control that blush thing, but I've never figured out how.
My favorite thing to do with 4 of them was to lie in bed and talk and cuddle. 2 of them always wanted to go out and do things and 1 of them wanted those things to include hiking and biking. I enjoyed all that more than I thought I would, but even then I hated wearing sneakers. 4 of them made their peace with the fact that I always wore heels while 1 would stare at my feet with a puzzled look on his face because I was wearing five-inch heels after a snowfall. He's the one who once asked how many black dresses I owned and I never told him because I feared the answer might kill him.
With 2, I went to football games. With both, our team played the Patriots. 2 of them drank a lot and it annoyed 1 of them because I didn't. There were 2 who gave incredibly thoughtful presents and my favorite of all of them cost $10 on eBay. It was a Pillsbury Doughboy doll we'd once seen at an estate sale we'd stumbled into and I'd almost bought it but didn't feel like carrying a Pillsbury Doughboy around for the rest of the day. That choice was a mistake; for the next month, I told him I rued the day I'd chosen not to buy that thing and he found it online and put it in my Christmas stocking. It's on a shelf in my upstairs bathroom even today.
There was a moment where I wanted 3 of them dead. It wasn't a focused thought, but I'd be a liar if I said it wasn't there. For the record, I'm pleased that all of them are still alive.
I'd say that 3 were crazy into sports, 1 wasn't at all and 1 kind of was, in that he at least knew what was going on and could have a conversation about a game in a crowd. Only 1 could seriously play guitar and 3 of them worked out constantly. All of them had nights where they broke and I watched as they ate everything in sight, a thousand calories going down in less than an hour. 2 of them would get crazy tummy-aches after one of those binges and I knew it was coming before they did and I'd instruct them to rub their bellies counterclockwise because that actually helps for some weird reason.
I went camping with 2 of them and, both times, I brought makeup. I also helped build the fire, so nobody mentioned anything about the three mascaras I'd tucked into my bag. I cooked dinner for 3 of them and was almost certain that I accidentally poisoned 2.
I can say with certainty that 2 of them really changed me, in that they altered how I saw the world and how I went after what I decided I wanted. I analyzed all of them more than I think they ever analyzed themselves. I was way too honest and open with 4 of them.
All of them kissed me first and I still remember each initial kiss. I know where we were and I know what I was wearing and with 1, I remember what he was wearing. 4 of them were really good kissers and with 1 of them, I remember the kissing more vividly than anything else. 1 was a bad kisser and it never really got better with us, but I hope for the girls who came after that something has changed. I faked it in bed with 2 of them because I didn't want them to feel badly about the fact that it wasn't ever going to happen. 1 of them always pulled me on top of him and he's someone I never faked it with and I had a really vivid sex dream about 1 of them very recently, but it was with someone you'd never expect it would be.
For a time, I considered each of them my best friend.
On all of them, there was a particular physical feature that I loved and they were never the same. With 1, it was his thick hair. With another, it was his shoulders. And 1 had an upper lip so perfect that I found myself having full conversations with it. 3 were very classically handsome and 1 was adorable to me but maybe not to everyone else and 1 I wasn't all that attracted to, but I fell in love with him anyway. All of them used to tell me that they liked my lips and my smile and 2 commented frequently on my eyes. 1 of them used to place his finger on my face to trace my dimples.
I've randomly run into 2 of them. One was at a bar and one was at a concert. It felt very nice to see them and both times I still felt that odd physical draw I'd once felt constantly when we were in the same room. I chalked it up as simple chemistry and moved on. 2 used to frequently comment that I look young and 1 of them texted me back a couple of weeks ago after I'd sent him a picture of my family to say, "You don't age!" His statement is not true in the least, but it was lovely to hear and I texted him back that I was turning his message into my very first tattoo.
1 of the guys had an ex-girlfriend who was dying to meet me. I realize now that she was far more interested in the prospect of me dying than she was at ever getting to say hello to me. With most of them, I liked their friends. I think 3 of them really got my sense of humor and all of them made me laugh really hard and really long. With 1 of them, I laughed so hard that I almost peed in my pants -- and by "almost," I mean that I did.
I went on long car rides with 3 of them and sometimes felt comfortable in the silence that set in somewhere around hour 4 of the journey but sometimes I'd feel nervous that we weren't talking and what did that mean for our future? On paper, probably only 2 of them ever really made sense for me.
2 always looked way better with scruff and 3 looked more handsome clean-shaven. None of them ever complained that I was clean-shaven.
I saw Broadway shows with 3 of them and watched terrible TV shows with 2 of them. 2 loved Lost as much as I did and 1 publicly stated it was the worst show ever, even though he'd never seen it and knew it was my favorite. I hated him that day – and my hatred was for real. All of them got the Seinfeld references I made and 1 told me he actually got hard when I told him for the first time that Pulp Fiction is my favorite movie.
My brother brought up 2 of them randomly to me over the last week and I smiled as I thought about both, but I don't wish that I were still with either one. I had raging debates with all of them, but there were 2 I definitely enjoyed that intellectual back and forth with more than I did the others. I thought all of them were very smart, but they were smart in different ways. Some were academic geniuses and that translated into the business world while a couple were just so thoughtful and contemplative and aware and that's the kind of mental trifecta that can lead to some fascinating conversations.
All of the 5 slept soundly many nights while I fitfully prayed for even a moment of rest. All of them snored, but all of those snores sounded different. 1 of them made me consider the pros and cons of separate bedrooms and 1 made sounds that were pretty cute because it just sounded like he was pronouncing the letter "p" over and over and it was so odd and endearing, that I'd kind of stare at him for a while with a smile on my face while he slept.
2 of them introduced me to books and television shows that ended up really mattering in my life. I think I bought certain books for all 5 of them. All 5 met and liked my mother and my stepfather. Not 1 ever knew my father.
4 of them have read at least one of my books while I'm not sure 1 even knows I've written anything at all. Even if he knew, I don't think he'd pick up a copy and I'm more than okay with that, though he might get a kick out of the fact that some semblance of him appears in both. When 2 of them mentioned my books to me after reading them, I felt insanely and unpredictably embarrassed for reasons I still don't fully understand. I currently have a picture of 1 of them in my phone, but there are photos of a few of the others hidden deep in my emails or in some folders on my computer. I never look at them, but I'm not very good at pressing the "delete" button either so they're just taking up memory space, something I just realized might be an oddly profound thing to say.
I think I could've ended up happy with 2 of them and those relationships ended for very different reasons. The life I would have had with 1 would be crazily different from the life I'd have with the other, but – if not for that elusive element of timing – I could see myself smiling through both sets of days, though one of the scenarios would be way more of a stretch for me.
3 of the guys know what I look like with curly hair while 2 have only seen it down straight or up in a ponytail. With 1, I'd get a bladder infection after we had sex and, to this day, I think I might have been allergic to him. 4 of them lifted me clear into the air at some point and 3 of them gave me piggyback rides. I built a full-on fort on the floor with 1 of them and baked cupcakes for 3.
All of them smelled good, but I couldn't tell you the soap or cologne any of the 5 wore. I just know they all smelled clean and they all smelled different. When a guy left a tee at my house recently, I realized it still smelled like him even after I washed it and the first thought I had was that he smelled differently than everyone who has come before.
I think 1 of them should go on Jeopardy and I believe 1 would win Survivor. 1 of them had a really nice voice and I liked it when he would sing to me. 2 of them were good dancers.
All of them would know better and would not stand between me and a platter of pigs 'n blankets at a function, but 1 would probably lecture me about the sodium content. Some of them I felt more comfortable around than others.
My guess is that none of them are reading this post and I find some comfort in that. I might not make it a point to alert certain other people to check it out either, but I've got no issue about writing it. I'm just someone who will understand tonight better if I first contemplate yesterday -- and that’s maybe kind of a bizarre mindset to have, but I’m pretty sure that 2 of the guys who once mattered would really understand what I mean when I say that.
Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York. She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle.