It Took Me 26 Years To Fall In Love

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woman and man embracing

I’ve kept a journal beside my bed since I was 12.

Now at 26, I have a box full noting more than a decade of life’s trials and tribulations. The passages that begin with simple misgivings of youth bleed into teenage insecurities, the confusion of post-grad, and into my most vivid, real adult heartbreak.

My journals were where I stored my deepest vulnerabilities. They were a friend I relied on at night after putting on a brave face during the day.

More than anything, I found myself turning pen to paper most frequently about love.

I waited more than two decades to find a man I felt was worthy of falling for, after years of bitter disappointments.

I thought I found that in Adam, a man who so easily ticked all my boxes and exceeded all my expectations. He was wonderful, and I was hooked the minute we met.

In such a short period of time, my feelings for Adam escalated so intensely that I knew I was entering unknown territory that went beyond “Wow, I really like him!”

“I think I could love him one day, and I’m absolutely terrified,” I scribbled in my journal one night.

Though it was short-lived, it was the most passionate I’ve ever felt, and for the first time in a long time, I was truly happy with a man.

But, ultimately, I wanted more than Adam could give me at the time, and I cut things off.

I was inconsolable. I didn’t know what to do in this situation. He didn’t do me wrong, so I couldn’t be angry. He didn’t lie or cheat, so I didn't feel empowered to turn betrayal into motivation.

I’ve been hurt before by failed relationships, but I never really had closure. Things would slowly fade out or they would disappear out of the blue, leaving me with questions. 

But, this was different. This was a raw, unadulterated heartbreak that I never felt before, and I couldn’t just pick up where I left off in my life before I met him, especially since I was the one who walked away.

The first time I saw Adam again after I ended things, I was full of regret. I couldn’t understand anymore why I made the decision that I had.

So, I decided to try and find the answers in myself by pouring through 14 years worth of documenting my love life.

I flooded pages of my middle school diaries about Ben, a boy I crushed on for nearly two years. 

I noted every encounter I had with him, describing what color shirt he was wearing on what day and our meaningless chats on AIM messenger.

In one book, I highlighted his name every time I wrote it down. (It was more times than I felt was useful to count)

A 16-year-old me pined over a boy who had canceled a date last minute, telling me he no longer had feelings for me out of the blue.

“The Thursday after that was one of the worst days I’ve had in a while,” I wrote. “It was so awkward seeing him. I thought we lost it all.”

But, moving away from the dramatic teenage missives that felt like the end of the world, I noticed my passages began to shift throughout the years.

My reflections became less innocent encounters and more internalized finger-pointing.

“I haven’t liked someone this much in a long, long time. I’m not sure how or what he thinks of me, but all I know is I’m sitting here crying with a broken heart because I know he just can’t like me,” an 18-year-old me wrote. 

I found 21-year-old me lamenting over needing to pretend to be someone else to attract someone’s attention. 

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“I wish I looked perfect on the outside, so I could hide how I feel on the inside,” I wrote. “I shouldn’t have to change myself. I’m always trying to be someone or something I’m not.”

At 22, I wrote about how I wished I didn’t feel things so deeply, and how I was putting on a front around the guy I was seeing to make it seem like his apathy didn’t affect me.

“I just want him to make me a priority and not an option,” I wrote. “I pretend I don’t care, but I really do. I care about a lot of things very intensely, and sometimes it cuts me deep.”

Reading through the way I talked about myself broke my heart in a way that no man ever could.

I didn’t recognize this girl anymore who put so much worth in the way others perceived her because I realized I wasn’t that person anymore.

I wasn’t the girl who magnified her insecurities in the mirror or sat around waiting for someone to text me back when I knew they wouldn’t.

In more recent years, I wrote about becoming free from the tormented relationship I had with myself in early adulthood.

“I am so happy with myself,” my 24-year-old self wrote. “I am my biggest fan and my best friend. I feel like I am my own soulmate and no one can stop me.”

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A 25-year-old-me celebrated the growing culture of female empowerment in our ever-changing society.

“I love that we now live in a time where women and self-love are celebrated,” I wrote just a year ago. “I could’ve really used a lot of this positivity growing up. I always dreamt of being confident one day. It took years to build, but I think I finally made it.”

And circling back to the present day, I can’t imagine ever doing what I did with Adam in the past.

At 21, I would’ve let my anxieties manifest until I eventually drove him away. 

At 22, I would’ve stayed in a situation that I knew wouldn’t make me happy just to hold on to him.

At 23, I would’ve tried to change his mind and convince him that I was the woman he was looking for.

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But at 26, I chose myself. I made the difficult decision and gave myself the love I couldn’t before.

Even though I miss him, underneath the lonely nights, I can still feel the sense of peace that I've fought for for so long.

One of the last things I told Adam was that he made me feel like the woman I hope is reflected to the world — someone who is confident, secure, and good enough for anything and anyone.

But, it wasn't until later that I realized that though he may have complimented my newfound sense of self, the strength of being enough came from within.

And that’s reflected in the last words I wrote in my journal.

“I keep telling myself I walked away from love, but deep down I don’t think I did,” I wrote. “I think I chose love — just for myself. But, goddamnit, it’s hard.”

Mica Soellner is a reporter and writer based in Washington D.C. She has written for a variety of outlets, including The Independent, USA TODAY, and The Washington Times. S

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