Sudden silence... "Laurie?" Shay called out, "Where'd you go?"
"I'm tired of wasting energy on him," Lauren replied, now speaking in barely a whisper. She'd sunk to the kitchen floor, propping herself up against the refrigerator. "He doesn't deserve you, girl," Shay said melodically. Lauren scoffed and shook her head. That's not what this was about. She couldn't understand why people felt okay treating her like this. She'd come a long way with healing and loving herself. She was now at a place where at the very least she knew what she was worth - the very best. "I've gotta come up with some kind of strategy, Shay," she began. "Like, ground rules; rules of engagement or something?"
"What, like boundaries?" Shay answered. "That certainly sounds healthy, my friend."
She fell in love again. And this one was different. Real is the wrong word to use... because the others were very much real (if they hadn't been, they surely wouldn't have taken so much time to heal from), they just came nowhere close to this. Pure, beautiful, healthy, balanced love. Lauren maintained that she needed a strategy to protect herself from pain, especially since there seemed to be so much more to lose this time around.
They were holding hands as they ate lunch. Lauren looked up at him and said, "Do you love me?". She knew the answer, she felt the answer, lived the answer. The most tender smile spread across his face. He took her face in his hands and whispered, "Yes." He gently pulled her into a deep kiss, then he gazed into her eyes. "I love you."
On the last Sunday of every month, Lauren vowed to ask him the very same question. An easy question, she thought, with an easy answer.
The first many months were a no-brainer. Answers like "Of course" and "Always, baby" were more common than a simple yes. The question was sometimes answered without words, a burning gaze of equal parts desire and devotion or being swept up in each others arms. At times that were harder, it was given as kisses upon tear-stained cheeks and gentle reassurances that they were in this together.
Life, and time, progressed and the energy and answers began to change. Even when the words remained the same, "Of course" came with an air of annoyance. There were no kisses after the "Yes", just tightly pursed lips and clenched teeth because he didn't know how to tell her that it was starting to hurt him that it seemed like she couldn't take him at him his word. He didn't know that she was checking in to save herself, to do better than the last time. All that he began to feel was that his love was not good enough because she couldn't feel it. After all if she could in fact feel it, why would she ask so often?
He began to pull away to tend to his bruises... and to seek situations and people where it took less to be appreciated for his love and kindness. In truth, there was never any doubt that she knew he loved her, but her seemingly constant questioning became misinterpreted as her stating his inadequacy. And so he subconsciously became it, slowly giving up because it was easier than feeling and addressing his pain around what he perceived as her message to him. He hated the idea that she was not happy. Her happiness was the only thing he once wanted. But it scared him to know that he wouldn't be able to give her what she deserved.
Lauren could feel him pulling away and she started to panic internally. She tried to contain her anxieties, but they always got the better of her in some way. If it wasn't blurting out a misconception she had built up in her head for days or weeks, it was her energy shifting too. Slowly withering away from the inside out as her fear drained her. Her bubbly and bright nature became more and more staged and hollow as she desperately tried to maintain control and stability within. She couldn't hide her fear, although there were times when she thought she'd been able to as it was a poison that informed her thoughts and her actions. Her desperation affected so much more than she was able to realize. She tried to reassure him of her love, "I love you so much, you know" multiple times a day. She didn't realize how it was making him feel guiltier - that all he heard was "Why can't you love me as much as I love you? I am so good at loving you, why aren't you capable of this?". She didn't mean (or say or think or feel) any of that in the slightest. She wanted him to know that "I love being loved by you", "I feel your love in the depths of my soul", "it is because of your love and the way that you love me that I am able to love you so much in return", "you make me so happy".
Constructive conversations became repetitive and redundant... because they weren't conversations about the right thing. Words were exchanged tenderly and honestly and sincerely, but the actions that were being taken thereafter weren't addressing their underlying misalignment. They were both constantly misunderstanding each other. So blinded and overwhelmed by the thought of being deficient in some way despite their intense love for one another that they couldn't see straight.
The last Sunday of October came around... but even though the answer to the question was the same. "Yes, yes, yes - undoubtedly, unequivocally YES, I LOVE YOU." It suddenly wasn't enough. They were hurting each other unintentionally and hurting further at that realization. There was too much pain. And what hurt the most is that it was no one's fault, there was no one to blame, there was no malicious intent. When he ended things, Lauren couldn't understand. She didn't know how it was possible that she hadn't done enough. She couldn't make sense of the fact that she had dived so deeply and bravely into love yet here she was on the other side feeling like she had been simultaneously not enough/too much. There was so much that she had left to say, so many Sundays she had wanted to spend loving and being loved by him.
There was nothing that she could have done to prepare herself this time around, she had not been preparing for an end. That was a lesson that she had to learn, too. It was not on her to fix, it was not on her to convince other people that she was deserving. All she needed to do was be and feel loved.
For she IS love. And so is he.