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The older we get and the more life we experience, we often become wiser in many ways.

I have found the exact opposite to be true when it comes to love. And maybe that’s because the more I’ve loved, the more I question everything about it. It’s such a huge emotion and unlike any other feeling in the world. All encompassing and rare in it’s truest form. So it makes complete sense that it mystifies even the smartest of people.

There was a time when I believed without any uncertainty that I was in love. And at some point in each long term relationship, I did believe it was love.

Now I find myself questioning my own feelings, even when it feels like it couldn’t be anything but love.

In my younger days, I was completely open- almost to a fault- when I poured my heart out to a man, without fear.

Then, after having my heart broken, I swore I would never be the first to say those words ever again. Hoping that he’d just know by the way I held his hand in the middle of the night when we’re tangled up in bed. Or by the way I look at him after a long, lingering kiss when it feels like nothing else in the world exists.

All it takes is one bad heart break to completely change a person. And so I became completely guarded and protective.

Until I met a man who made me feel like I could open up to someone again. I’m not sure exactly what made me do it, but one night, after too much wine, I said those three little, huge enormously frightening words.

It’s amazing how saying such a small sentence can hold so much meaning. How it can completely change everything.

And sadly, being hurt has made me become the girl who has a tendency to run away. Even when every fiber of my being is saying “You love him. Don’t run away.”

I’m not sure why I push men away. Maybe I’m afraid of getting hurt again. Or maybe I’m afraid of having my heart broken and it’s easier to end things on my own terms versus waiting for the bomb to drop. [OMG, THAT’S IT, ISN’T IT?]

Maybe the reason I push men away and question my own feelings is because they hold back. Men are even more afraid than women are when it comes to opening up. Many men fear commitment. So is it any wonder why women hold back, too? AND WHY IS LOVE SO FUCKING SCARY ANYWAY?

You can hold back as much as you like, but you can’t control your feelings and you can’t stop yourself from falling for someone. It’s like jumping off a cliff and halfway down, suddenly deciding you want to go back up again. There is no point of return when it comes to falling in love. You just have to let yourself fall and hope the other person catches you [or some romantic metaphor like that]. And you can’t control who you fall for or why it happens because love knows no reason or logic.

And you don’t have to understand it and it doesn’t have to make any sense. Because love is missing someone even before they’ve left. Love is listening to her talk – even when the conversation is about nothing at all. Love is wanting to know about his childhood, and how he became the man he is today. Love is lying in bed together and talking for hours, not caring if you get any sleep. Love is driving an hour out of your way to bring him cold medicine and ice cream when he’s sick. Even if it means being late for work. Love is wanting her to meet your mother and your friends because you can’t wait to show her off. Because you know everyone will fall in love with her, too.

Love is having that one person- who’s both your best friend and lover- that you can share everything with, knowing they won’t judge you. Because no matter what you say, you know they’ll love you anyway.

Love is scary and heart wrenching and hopeless and passionate and amazing and elusive and life altering and inexplicable in so many ways. And those who don’t understand that have never experienced that kind of love.

And just writing about love makes me crave all those wonderful feelings.  The electricity between two people who have that mental and physical connection that transforms sex into something deeper and more erotic and explosive. And at other times, the slow deliciousness of making love that only two people who are  genuinely connected can experience.  The way two lives become entwined by time and shared experiences and unspoken words.

Because that’s what love is: an intangible, inexplicable connection that ties two hearts and two lives together in such a way, it’s virtually impossible to break them apart. Even if it’s only for a short time. And isn’t that what everyone wants? Because love truly is the most amazing feeling in the world.

So maybe taking a chance and opening up to someone- no matter how scary it may be- and risking having your heart broken really is worth it– when you think of everything you can gain.

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The Game Changer

Fresh out of college, with my biology and education degree, I got my first real job: 7th grade science teacher. I was ECSTATIC.

Not just any job, but an actual job in my field. Little did I know how much that year would change my life.

I had 6 classes, each class separated by ability: in other words, a school’s practice of separating students into different classes, based on their academic ranking. [Academic ability grouping, as it’s called.]

Tony was in the highest group [the ‘smart’ group]. A class clown, wise ass, popular, charming, trouble maker– and he hated me. I can’t recall any specific incidences. But I do recall giving him after school detention. Frequently.

I got engaged that spring and at the end of the school year, I moved to DC.

On the last day of school, I vividly recall sitting in my empty classroom and crying. It had been a great year. I had become close to many students, most of who were in Tony’s group. I would miss them all. Notably, Tony’s group.

Years passed and one of my students invited me to their high school graduation. It was a 9 hour drive but I very much wanted to check up on my “kids.”

So I went. I was amazed at how they’d grown. I saw Tony after the graduation ceremony. He and several other boys apologized to me for their disrespectful behavior that 7th grade year. It made me feel good knowing they were regretful. My kids had grown up.

More years passed. I joined Facebook and within the first year, I had tracked down many of my former students, including Tony. We loosely kept in touch via FB status updates. Tony’s FB page was filled with pictures of he and his buddies partying and drinking, acting… well, their age.

More time passed…

I caught up with Tony again recently. We found each other again online. He told me how he had met a beautiful woman. He sounded different. Serious. Mature. Afraid to lose this gem he had been so lucky to find.

We briefly updated each other on our lives. I told of him of my recent breakup, and he told me about her. She was divorced, had children. His days of wild parties and drinking were now behind him. I was amazed at the transformation, clearly brought about by this woman. He told me he was afraid of failing her. “I am totally happy with her,” he wrote. “And I hope I can make her as happy I am. She is a game changer.

I was amazed at his articulation of his feeling for her. His adoration of this woman. In a world of promiscuity, cheating and adultery, here this young man of only 29 had discovered his forever love it had seemed. He was aware of what he had found in her, and was afraid to lose her.

When I asked him what made her a game changer, he replied, “She is special in far too many ways for me to even begin to list. She makes me feel great, every single day, every time I am with her, even when I receive a text from her. She is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

That was it, it seemed. It’s not the most perfect or the hottest person you fall in love with. It’s the person whose inner beauty transforms you. The person that makes you feel the most beautiful inside, who brings out the best in you.

And that is what changes everything.