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the shape of love [lifestyle]

teenage romance is way overrated

To love is a beautiful ability. To hold another person’s life as more precious than your own, to stir at night remembering the warmth of their touch: there’s little in life we value more.

The first time I learned of romance was when I finally understood that my parents’ kisses and intertwined hands were reserved for a special kind of bond. I expected it to wander into my life the way a person returns home—as if it always belonged there. All I had to do was wait.

But as I grew older, I began to understand love as an exchange. Beauty (the right kind), intelligence (but not too much), confidence (make sure it’s not arrogance!); if you gathered these qualities, love would find you. So what did it mean to be someone who never found love?


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The first time this love visited my life was through a phone screen.

Wrapped in my comforter, I stared at the text, a silent confession sent from seven miles away. My hands trembled as my eyes scanned the message over and over.

Was this love’s wandering? Had I finally checked off enough boxes to reach it?

I swallowed, trying to calm the intense heartbeats that rung in my ears. Fantasies already flashed through my mind: stargazing under a moonlit night, lying next to a crackling fire in the bitter winter, dancing through a rainstorm as our laughter roared over the thunder.

But when I tried to imagine a specific person, the fantasies blurred. The speed of my heart slowed and the churning of my stomach turned sour.

I closed my eyes, slowed my breath. The phone’s screen faded to black as it slid from my hands, turning the entire room dark.

Who was I to be choosy? I had begged for love, and as soon as it had showed its face, I turned away.

I picked up my phone, tapping it to let the screen display the text once again.


But deep down I knew this wasn’t what I wanted. Love hadn’t found me yet.

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On a December night, lying awake in my bed, I tried to make love diagnosable, a list of symptoms I could check. How do you know?

And it seemed like I would get only one answer: When you know, you know.

And if I didn’t? If I let love slip past me like sand through my fingers?

When you know, you know.

I turned onto my side, letting out a breath as my bed squeaked underneath me. I thought of the smiles whose sweetness I had ignored, the offered hearts I had turned away from. What if I was supposed to know? What if I’d missed the spark, if the bolt of romance had shocked me into running away?

Love felt like a darkness I kept reaching into only to pull back my hand and find it empty.

When you know, you know.

But I didn’t know, and I felt it in every pulse of my heart.

I refused to ask anyone. Admitting my inexperience wasn’t the problem. To reveal my curiosity, to let my trembling desperation loose would break the wall of indifference I had worked so hard to build. If I faked that I was content, I could pretend to myself and everyone else that I didn’t crave what seemed so out of reach for me.

But I did.

What did it feel like? The brush of a lover’s kiss? Their whispered breath complimenting your beauty, your intelligence, your being?

Where is that love?

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I find it while sitting in the driver’s seat of my still-running car, parked in my friend’s driveway as the heater shields us from the winter cold. The clock has long since passed midnight, and pop songs meant to be blasted with the windows down instead play softly from the radio.

My friend is rambling about some inane topics—a grade that didn’t quite measure up to his expectations, an annoyance he experienced at work. But then the beginnings of his tell-tale grin break out on his face, and we both know he’s about to tell a stupid joke.

We can’t help the laughs that escape us, rising high above the music and spreading through the car. I feel my laugh echo, reverberating through me until it settles, warm and content.

And that’s where I find it. Not in a kiss, a blush, or a shy confession; I find it in a boisterous laugh with my friends.

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On my best friend’s birthday, we drive down to a park near the seaport, carrying bags filled with picnic supplies. Little cakes and overpriced bagels lay on top of a checkered blanket.

I lean back, my hands braced against the ground. I hear the faint voices of sailors as they tie their ships to the port and families on an afternoon walk passing by. I can taste the salt of the sea in the summer air with every breath I take.

My friend turns to look at me and her dark hair swirls around her face, dancing with the breeze. Her eyes meet mine and her smile is wider and brighter than the sky above us.

And I know: to love is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

I hum along with the music that swells from the speaker. It’s simple, isn’t it?

Love isn’t just a flash, a bolt you feel leaping across your veins.

Love is what I feel when I look at you.

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