What’s it like, I’m often asked, to be so willing to fall in love with everyone you meet?
It’s really nice, to begin with: I’m an optimist, a believer in things that aren’t always there. I choose to see the good in all the moments I probably shouldn’t. It’s refreshing to love everyone without constantly worrying about who will hurt me next.
It is also very naïve.
While I love viewing life through this lens, life, unfortunately, doesn’t always work this way. I’ve gotten sucked into multiple abusive relationships without even realizing it. Sometimes, as much as I hate to admit it, people really don’t have the good intentions you want them to. It’s the human condition: even the nicest people eventually realize that, if you have no boundaries, they can do whatever they want.
I think before moving to college, I had a twisted view on love: if I gave other people love, they would be forced to reciprocate. Some warped section of my brain from my previous unhealthy relationships (which, ironically, fed more unhealthy relationships in the future) made me feel like I needed to be needed, and if I didn’t, I was worthless. I needed to be perfect, but I wanted to be the perfect person for another person. I needed to be the first person my friends confided in. I needed to be the reliable one, the kind one, the one who was everything that everyone wanted. Therein laid the problem: back then, my reasons for pursuing love were not motivated by a desire to view life through a positive light.
That is not how love works.
I wanted to make people feel loved so I, in exchange, could feel inherently loved in return. I did this because I never wanted anyone else to feel small, unloved, the way I did in my past relationships. But loving others before loving yourself is a dangerous hobby. That’s the fatal flaw in loving everyone selflessly, especially when it’s not really love. Love is a two-way street; expectation is not.
So after this realization that I was loving selfishly, do I still fall in love with everyone I meet?
Yes! Even more, actually.
I’m still doing what I used to, just detaching myself from the unhealthy aspects of it. I wasn’t loving bad people. I was loving people who saw what I was willing to give and took it. That’s completely fair. However, once I started to set boundaries for myself and give love unconditionally, not out of the expectation of getting any love in return, life changed exponentially. The problem did not lie in my loving too much, or the world being absolutely unsalvageable, or others’ differing values from mine. The problem lay in what I expected to receive, in this problematic “terms-and-conditions-apply” love I gave. I love loving other people, and I’ve come to find that loving others is not mutually exclusive to loving yourself.
That, I think, is the misconception that surrounds falling in love too fast, in seeing everything through a positive lens, in being an eternal optimist despite all the universe’s red flags. We assume love is this transactional thing where if we give some, we get some back, like smiles for colored beads and bottles of wine for love letters. The world isn’t like that. Love is, yes, loving the world around you unconditionally, but also loving yourself enough to know when to hit stop. It’s loving yourself enough to not need anything in exchange. No manipulation, no expectations. Just kindness, just grace.
To ask, “Doesn’t it hurt when you wear your heart on your sleeve?” isn’t asking whether it hurts to love people too fast, it’s asking whether it hurts to show what’s on the inside. And yes, it’s hard, but it shouldn’t hurt. Love is vulnerable, but it is not weak. You mean to ask, “Don’t you get hurt when you love people, trust them, and they manipulate you in return?” Yes, that hurts. But falling in love too fast doesn’t mean giving people too much knowledge about you, too much ammo, too fast. It means showing compassion. If they hurt you, love them in return. Show them the joy they didn’t, but also tell them it’s not okay to hurt you like that: you matter just as much as they do. Maybe it’ll change them, maybe it won’t. That’s okay—it’s not your duty to fix others. But by balancing showing compassion to those who hurt you and setting boundaries for yourself, you are showing what it is like to love wholeheartedly. That, I think, is what love really is—helping others by showing love to both others and yourself.
So what’s it like to fall in love too fast? It’s so, so good. It’s nice to love everyone you meet and assume the best in everyone that walks by. It gets messy sometimes, but love is love, and it is all we can ask of each other. So what if people disappoint you? We aren’t perfect; people hurt people. The important part is that people love people too. The rate at which it happens doesn’t matter—it’s the intentions behind it that do.
By Lauren Lee
Illustration by Ben Thomson for Vice