The first time I fell in love I was 26 years old. After bouts of unrequited love and an obsession with chasing men, this then Alpha female with a penchant for chaos, drama and otherwise emotionally-detached men, met Elijah. With dark chocolate skin, a diamond stud on his left ear and the height of a basketball player, he wooed me after asking for my number on the Rowan University cross-campus bus.
He was 21; a young man earning his Bachelor of Arts at Rowan while living with his parents. I, on the other hand, was an independent New Yorker pursuing her Masters in Writing. When I was with Elijah, I felt like a “woman.” For the first time, I balanced my demanding and assertive nature with the feminine. I could let my guard down a little.
With Elijah, I was softer. I let him lead. I let him love me. Still, at 26 I had yet to know myself. As much as I felt like a woman beside Elijah, as someone who was admirable, respectable and someone to be proud of (as he often told me) I didn’t love myself enough to believe that, yes, I am to be admired, loved and respected.
That is what love was for me in my 20’s. I yearned for love while being guarded. I said I wanted a relationship yet I wasn’t open or ready for a relationship that was authentic, transparent and vulnerable. I craved intimacy – for a man to see me and love me as is – but feared being rejected for who I am.
Love in my 20s was filled with contradictions: actions that went against my innermost desires and needs; insecurities hidden by concrete walls that I built over time; my tender heart caged in by my toughness for fear of being hurt.
What was love like for you in your twenties? If you’re in your 20s, what is love like for you now? Some men and women shared their stories:
“Like waiting hours to ride a roller coaster at six flags, anticipation builds- you get on and it’s only a few seconds of bliss. You deal with the side effects later, and spend even more time waiting on another line.” – Mariela, 25, NYC
“Tormenting, heart breaking…” – Angy, 36, Bronx, NY
“Love was the thing just out of reach. The butterfly I chased after not understanding that all I had to do was sit still, open my hand and let it come to me.” – Silli, 40, Orlando, FL
“I thought I knew what love was in my 20s. Now I know what it’s not.” – Franco, 37, Queens, NY
“In my 20s I was looking for the one. He had to be over 6 ft, Catholic, educated. I should had been open to explore and love me more! I think I believed in love at first sight but now I’m more about asking about their families and relationships with them. I’m in my 40s…” – Espy, 42, Whittier, CA
“Love was like a damn riddle. So confusing. Mind games…fake…fake as in it’s not what people make it seem to be.” – Dileyka, 25, NYC
“The same man who I was with in my 20’s (began when I was 18) I am still with, and I am 37! I was NEVER into looks, ethnicity, race, culture, etc. Love wasn’t SEX. I had him wait for our first time and he took an HIV test prior to us having sex. I didn’t settle for love. I opened my heart and mind to all the things that love could provide! I didn’t invent this “man of perfection” or dream of this perfect love. I definitely didn’t want him to change for me. I can honestly say I have all that I want in love, and he’s exceeded whatever expectations I may have had. I do think when we have this fantasy about this LOVE in our mind, it’s not real love.” – Eileen, 37, NYC
“In my 20’s love is what I like to call the “best worst.” I fell in love, I fell out of love, people fell in love with me, people fell out of love with me, I broke hearts, I got my heart broken. Sometimes it felt like panic but other times it was the best feeling in the world. Most importantly, I learned through experience. I know what I want and what I need from someone. I also learned what I needed to work on to be the best partner I can be. Like I said, it was the best worst.” – Larissa, 31, Bronx
And so that’s love for many of us in our 20s. Confusing, painful, eye opening, beautiful, encompassing – with many lessons learned. I wouldn’t have it any other way.