The first time my now-husband told me he loved me, we were standing next to his car in the parking lot of the same restaurant in which we had met four months earlier. It was awkward on many levels. First, our co-workers were within earshot and they were part of the population that we were hiding our relationship from. Second, and maybe more importantly, I didn’t know we had moved into an actual relationship. I thought we were just enjoying a very extended one-night stand.
‘I love you’ seemed like a bizarre ingredient to mix into four months of ‘let’s just have some x-rated fun.’
Immediately after Rich said, ‘I love you’, I heard one of our co-workers (the one who had arrived at the restaurant in the same car as us) say, ‘I’m going to ride back with Joe.’
I wondered if I could also ride back with Joe. What the shite.
And with that, I was suddenly standing alone, facing a man who had just pledged his love to me in a parking lot, working on an appropriate reply. All that came to my brain was: But this is my favorite restaurant…what if this goes sour? Do I retain culinary custody?
What came out of my mouth was a stammering, ‘Oh…you’re great…too…’ as if I were auditioning to be the next Tony the Tiger.
The ride back to our hotel was quiet. We were staying at a hotel because Rich was an out-of-town co-worker and the company paid for his lodging when he came south to my area. I hadn’t yet invited him to my townhouse because this was just for fun, right? Did this mean I would now have to invite him over?
The silence was finally broken when he told me that it was okay that I hadn’t replied in kind. He went on to explain that, whenever he was with me, he was amazed at how many people we ran into who knew me. How he’d see people notice me from across the room or across a concert lawn and make a beeline to come and say ‘hello’. How he’d never known a person so adored by so many people. How, on this night, he realized that he wanted to join their club.
Well, that was just about the nicest thing he could have said to me. It was just about the nicest thing anybody had ever said to me, suitors, one-night stands, or otherwise.
We arrived at the hotel for a normal – for us – night together. Except that he knew he had just pledged his heart to me, and I knew that I either had to cut him loose and continue on my path to becoming a crazy cat lady or reconfigure my own ‘we’re just having fun’ feelings.
I had always hated close contact sleeping. The more of the bed I could get, the better. But on this night, instead of sleeping with a large space between us, representative of a free-from-real-feelings zone, he pulled me into the most magical cuddle of my life. So no matter which direction the morning sun sent us, at least I’d have this memory, right?
When I woke to the brightening room, I was still wrapped in this cuddle. I was surprised to wake up feeling exactly where I belonged. No panic. No urge to run. No planning how to slink out of bed and dash silently from the room. Instead, I lay there thinking through the last four months and analyzing our time together. He had been in awe of my independence, which made me feel like a star. He complimented my physique, which made me feel less self-conscious. He offered to help with my at-home to-do list, even though I’d declined over and over, insisting that I was fine on my own, thank you very much.
I remembered the exact moment of our initial meeting. I thought about how, when I shook his hand, all the gooey, romantic clichés had ganged up on me, sending tingles down my spine and waking butterflies in my stomach. How I had felt a little dizzy. How I had quickly pushed all thoughts of love-at-first-whatever from my jaded brain.
He was still sound asleep, so I decided to test it out. I whispered a very small ‘I love you too’ while peeking up at his closed eyes. No great catastrophes were launched. Instead, I was filled with joy and security and warmth.
I swear, to this day, I saw a smile cross his sleeping face. I don’t know that he wasn’t actually awake to hear me.
Perhaps there is such a thing as love at first sight. Or, at the very least, at second.
Jyl Barlow is an American writer whose humor is often lost on, well, Americans, but most of all her mother-in-law. Jyl is married with two (step)children and recently began a journey as a beekeeper as that seemed easier than raising teenagers. Jyl’s first book will be out in 2023. Follow her stories on whichwaysup.blog or community.today.com/user/jyl-barlow.