I don’t think I understood love for most of my life. Yes, I loved my family. I guess, I loved my friends? The idea of romantic love particularly made no sense to me, and once it did it seemed like something I had to avoid. Love was for girls and I didn’t realise it but I was trying so hard to NOT be a girl.
When I first started to crush on someone in Class 6, I was in heavy denial. This was not what I wanted. Life was tumultuous that year as I had not only lost some loved ones, but had also broken off with my closest friends. And of course, I was starting puberty, except it was the wrong kind. So, amidst my body forcing me into ‘boyhood’ and my brain starting to take the toll of mental illness, I was also experiencing romantic attraction for the first time. When I did allow myself to fantasise, I went overboard with the idea that I was in love, that we were meant to be, and all those other ideas that come with being a lovesick teenager.
Another thing I hadn’t realised was that the social life in my school (or at least, the social life I was allowed to tangentially engage in) was rather sheltered than elsewhere. When I went on a camping trip in Class 7, everyone was all about love. As a reaction, I doubled down on how stupid it was. I said as much to everyone who asked, while secretly harbouring a crush on someone right there.
It was in Class 10 that I thought I found true love. Spoiler alert: It was just another episode of infatuation. I was alone with no one to truly call a friend, feeling out of place in the world, depressed and dysphoric. So, I latched on to the one person being nice to me. I became friends with her over time, good friends. But I had a huge crush on her, I thought we were so in love, I thought it was reciprocated (so did people around me so I’m not the ONLY misguided teen in this scenario). This was a time where even I believed in the ‘friendzone’’. I find myself once again reminding everyone that I disagree with my teenaged self entirely.
What I really didn’t understand back then was love in the form of friendship. I was broken, in more ways than one. I didn’t even love myself. So how was I going to understand loving others?
Things changed in college. I made a friend on the first day of classes, and that friendship developed into something so loving and deep that they’re still one of my closest friends to this day. I also started dropping off the people from school who treated me like shit, keeping just three people around, who actually loved me and mattered to me.
In college, I also started coming out, started transitioning in small bits and pieces, learning to see myself as I actually was, learning to cope with my mental illnesses. Sure I had crushes, none that went anywhere, but now I was sensible enough to not think an unrequited crush was the end of the world.
There was one friend though. One friend who I crushed on a bit. On a sleepover half a year after I’d finished college, we ended up holding hands and then inadvertently cuddling and talking under the sheets the whole night, including an almost kiss that I’ll probably always regret not going for. Following this was a date, a heartbreak, a period of awkwardness, two emotional and revealing letters, and a few calls lasting till 5 am that resulted in us being in a relationship.
We broke up four months later, having met just twice in the middle, kissed but once. We broke up not just because long distance is hard, but because she was poly, and was realising she couldn’t be in a monogamous relationship. I wanted to try it out for her, but she said I wouldn’t be happy like that. Part of me was unsure, but we broke up. It took months till I could speak with her again, and over a year till we could comfortably interact. The thing about an amicable breakup is that the love doesn’t necessarily go away. We didn’t break up because of something wrong with either of us, so we kept that love for each other. For whatever it’s worth, that journey helped form my sense of love.
In August 2019, I started hormone replacement therapy. Over the past 1.5 years, my body has slowly changed to feel more comfortable, more myself. With that, I’ve learned self-confidence and self-love like never before. I can actually look at my body and my face and like how they look, I can think of myself as hot and desirable, and that’s amazing. Something I read once that has stayed with me forever is that, as a trans person, loving yourself is a radical act, an act of defiance. So I continue to defy.
Being confident in who you are goes so far in helping you be confident approaching others. I’ve become much more social, making many new friend groups which have led to more dear friends whom I love. Friendship at some point stopped feeling like this daunting thing that had to be achieved. Friends stopped being people who tolerate me. It all started with that one person the first day of college, and now I have so many friends who I know love me, and who I love. And I can experience this love for all that it is, really feel the emotions that had been sealed away for years. That one friend? They’re still here, extremely close to my heart. We meet when we can and it feels like nothing has changed. That’s love.