“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
How many times have we heard that one? You may be surprised to learn that it doesn’t come from some ancient philosopher or clever Tumblr account, but rather from a celebrated piece of literature that was published decades before romantic memes were a thing. Erich Segal’s Love Story became a romance novel for the times and as a result, quickly immortalised the famous phrase as an expression of epic love; the kind which apparently makes no mistakes (at least none it will admit to).
I was 17 when I was first exposed to the merciless reality of being with someone who could never be wrong; even when he was, it was my fault. My skirts were too short, my friends partied too much, I knew too many guys; the list went on. Surely I told him where he could stick his opinions and got on with living my best life, right? That’s what the 28 year old me would be screaming at my insecure teenage self, but I didn’t have this version of me then. Instead, I exchanged my minis for jeans, friends for work, parties for nights in with my boyfriend and all of my dignity and self-respect for my relationship.
By the time I mustered the strength to walk away, I was so desperate to erase all traces of the frail and broken girl that I found myself on the opposite end of the spectrum. I was fierce, cold, unbending, and most of all, unwilling to compromise (at least not for a man). My newfound attitude helped me to place the focus back on my own life and what I wanted out of it. I felt powerful and in control, and although it certainly cost me some romantic connections along the way, those were sacrifices I was only too happy to make to retain my sense of self. That was, until seven months ago, in the early hours of a warm morning in Dubai, when I couldn’t stop myself from smiling at the gorgeous boy in front of me, or the way his eyes squinted and seemed to disappear when he laughed.
Far from home, with no plans beyond some fun and sun with my best friend (whom I had badgered into travelling for my birthday), I suddenly found my remaining days filled with laughter and the kinds of butterflies I thought only existed in Gerard Butler rom-coms and cheesy Nicholas Sparks novels. It was all such a whirlwind that I had not stopped to consider what would happen when I got on my flight back. The possibility that something so wonderful could continue to exist beyond the bubble of holiday bliss was unrealistic. Thirty-two boxed, blood red roses and a beautiful belated birthday message delivered to my doorstep once I returned home soon dispelled the notion that this was destined to be just another summer fling.
Romantic bliss, however, can only go undisturbed for so long. It was only a few weeks before my doubts crept in and began to overshadow the rapturous state of my new relationship. As happy as we were, I convinced myself that it was only temporary. I believed this fleeting thing could be exposed as flimsy if I pushed hard enough. So I pushed, I prodded, I challenged and fought with him to prove to myself he wouldn’t be able to survive the strength of me at my indignant worst. We made mistakes together, fumbling as we struggled to find our footing in something that scared us both, but only he took accountability as I constantly refused to be responsible for my part. Still he stayed, with patience, love and an enduring kindness, which I am ashamed to say I took for granted.
So where does that leave me? Do I throw all caution to the wind and damn the emotional consequences? Or do I keep refusing to bend and let go of a man who has done nothing but try to love me since the morning we met? I think there is a balance, as there is in all aspects of life, and I have to do my best to find it, for both our sakes.
His brand of love, patient and kind, has taught me that while I can be loved for the entirety of who I am (the good and the bad), it does not make me exempt from fault. Accepting that is not a weakness, but rather the kind of strength I never knew I was striving for.
And I know that as I grow with him, the ghost of my empty shell will be there, mocking me quietly for the perceived weakness of my compromising. But today, I know the real weakness lies in giving my past fears the power to derail the future of my happiness. She will fade in time and I will come into myself. I will be flawed, strong, human, and devastatingly in love with a man who has taught me that love does NOT mean never having to say you’re sorry. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It means being aware, apologizing every time you make a snarky comment or are inconsiderate to your partner, through all the big and small battles in your relationship, all the while knowing this takes nothing away from your personal power. I only hope I haven’t learned that too late.
Written by Ayaan Omar
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