It was always supposed to be casual. He was transparent about that. Newly divorced and feeling affection-starved, I was vulnerable and agreed to something that sounded exciting. It most definitely was. But somewhere along the way, I foolishly fell in love. He found comfort in my bed, expressing his appreciation through pillow talk and long hugs. And I, inexperienced and out of practice, mistook his gratitude for love.
For me, it was love at first sight. The moment I laid eyes on him, it was like lightning struck. I know he felt it, too; his body jolted as our eyes met and we smiled at each other.
While it may be called love at first sight, it certainly is not that—not actual love, anyway. See, love grows over time. Chemistry, however, can happen instantly, like a spark. That lightning bolt moment was nothing more than infatuation. I’m 46. I should have known that. But my first love, the one I married for 22 years, well, he was love at first sight, too. So, love at first sight that turns into a two-decade marriage is the only kind of love I know. Really, I’m just now learning to recognize love.
What happened with Mr. I’m-being-transparent-all-I-want-is-casual-sex really shouldn’t be a surprise. Think about whenever someone says “thank you” to you. Doesn’t it feel good? It especially feels amazing when they add additional comments, like, “Thank you for what you did for me. You’re really awesome.”
After an expression of appreciation like that, you can’t help but feel special and nice, right? It’s a boost to your self-esteem and you feel warm and fuzzy.
That was my situation. Between his compliments and the fact that he’s 10 years younger than I, my ego felt uplifted. And as he shared bits and pieces about his life with me, inquired about mine (and actually listened!), told me how much he appreciated my energy, and weighed his head heavily on my shoulder when he hugged me goodbye, I mistook these acts of gratitude for love. Being appreciated feels good, even when you’re being used. It still feels good.
I haven’t been loved in a while. And, as I said before, I’ve only experienced romantic love once. What do I know? I mistook gratitude for love, but now I know better. Now I know that just because someone says to you, “Thank you for what you did for me. You’re really awesome,” it doesn’t mean they love you. They just really appreciate what you did for them.
This guy didn’t send mixed messages. I can’t accuse him of that. A mixed message would have been if he had said he loved me, but then continued to see other women. That’s a mixed message, for sure.
All this dude did was express appreciation through tenderness. It’s my fault that I mistook it for love. It was a lesson I needed to learn, and one I won’t forget. Unrequited love sucks, and this is the first time (hopefully the last, too) I have ever experienced it. But now that I understand where I went wrong, that I mistook his gratitude for love, I can move on. I can get over him. And I can grow from a better understanding of the difference between gratitude and love.