I fell in love once. It was long ago, and it changed my DNA. His name was Abraham. We met while I was in college. I was a freshman, he was two years older.
I was smitten immediately. But I kept my cool. He worked in the dining hall and would fall all over himself when I spoke to him. I couldn’t get what was his deal, until all my friends told me he liked me. A lot.
I continued to see him in the dining hall and then I started running into him all over campus. He would stare at me and be nervous but nothing.
Until finally he asked me out.
Ok, let me give you some background. I was raised in a homogenous town in central New Jersey, one of five sisters in a Muslim-Indian family. Our town was the perfect location for my parents’ no-dating-at-all-while-you-are-living-under-our-roof-rule. Guys found me pretty, but weren’t about to jump into a Benetton ad. By the time I reached college I had crushes here and there, but boys were never my number one priority. And I’m glad for that. Here is why: love and romance can be a soul-crushing endeavor. It leaches into your skin, takes residence in all places, and it takes much more than a U-Haul to move on. When love ends, it feels like the edges of the world have been shattered. All of that nostalgia turns to torture. Those loving feelings are still there, yet you have to bury them…somewhere. And now, older and many men wiser, it is still a venture that takes everything in me to remain in tact. So I’m thankful my parents had their rule to protect my younger self. Although when it came to dating, I really wasn’t sure what the heck to do at all when I started falling for someone.
Abe was my first real entry into dating and men. He was Muslim-Egyptian. Hot as hell. An artist. (I’ve always had a thing for those tortured artist types). When I think about it now, it was coincidental that Abe was Muslim. Because sexes were so strictly separated at the masjids and Muslim conventions I attended while growing up, I never considered Muslim men as options. Which is quite sad. Though it was comforting and familiar to me that he was Muslim. We talked about the masjids we went to growing up and he said he had been to mine. (Were we ever there at the exact same time?!) We fasted together during Ramadan. We had the same exact stance on Palestine/Israel. And I even told my mom about him.
I’m glad he was my first boyfriend but we had our share of issues.
He didn’t believe in love. Turns out the girlfriend he was with before me was a clingy/needy type who also managed an eating disorder. I was anything but that, but any sign of emotion was an indication of weakness for him. We were together for about 10 months before I decided to break up with him. I had heard one too many “I’ll never love you” declarations from the dude. And when I broke up with him, man he was surprised. Here is the thing about me: I love hard, but I get over you even harder. I’m a woman on a mission when I’ve been scorned and even if it hurts like something spicy and hot pouring through my veins, I will do what it takes to get over you. (I also had a cousin who made me promise not to contact him for two months, or else I would have to pay her $50.) Don’t get me wrong, it was really difficult after we parted ways. I would still see him all about campus, although we never ran into one another like before. I tended my wounds with a lot of Etta James and Ani DiFranco. I really loved Abe, but even way back then, as young as I was, I recognized the value of loving myself first. And when I think about that time, it was magical for me. I was so young, felt the first crush of broken love, and breaking up with him didn’t end me. I turned toward myself, journaled a ton, spent a lot of time with friends, and even dated others. But Abe was still living in my head. So after a few months my cousin ran into him at a party. And he revealed to her how much he missed me. She shared this with me and I called him that night (two months had passed). We had a passionate reunion, but I could see he was still the same person: emotionally unavailable, confused and unreliable. We were together for a week until the fractures took hold again. Thankfully I was on my way to South Africa and didn’t see Abe again for about a year or so. (And I dated someone else while in South Africa, but that’s another story entirely!)
Abe and I did get back together, and he confessed he loved me the entire time, but the glitter was lost. I spent so much time getting over him that I actually did get over him. I never loved him with the luster I once had.
He also asked me to marry him several years ago and I turned him down. And that was the end of us entirely. It would have been nice for us to work out, the fact that we were Muslim and had similar values. That we were both creative. But for whatever reason we couldn’t overcome the trappings of whatever it is that keep men and women apart these days. My insecurities. His emotional unvailability. The triggering things we did to one another. The issues that men and women – Muslim and non-Muslim – face in this age of dating in a 21st century world. It’s a tough world to navigate when you are looking for love.
I tell you this story because I recently felt the nascent beginnings of love again. He also is a creative type, and…he’s Muslim. But alas, he’s also emotionally unavailable, unreliable and confused.
So I’m doing what I did back then: loving myself and letting him go like a balloon.
Oh to love and be loved. I do believe it will happen for me and I’m thankful for all the lessons I’ve learned. But I wonder how many more people I will love until the one I love is here to stay. Only God has the answer to that.
(Photo Source: Jonathan Torello)
This post is a feature of the altM/Ishqr partnership.