I never planned on dating a man with a child.
It was never on my checklist. Actually, it was so far off of my checklist I didn’t acknowledge it as a possibility.
It wasn’t a part of the cultural fairy-tale love story I had watched growing up. It didn’t fit within my idealistic precepts of love.
When my first boyfriend asked how I defined love, I stumbled, paused, justified, rescinded, and restated my answer. Until finally, I sat speechless staring into his eyes.
Unable to answer his question with anything more than lousy descriptors and esoteric ideas, I asked him how he defined love. His lips spewed clichés, and I engorged myself on his words, delighted at what I was hearing. Perhaps this idea of love does exist? I mentally added his words to my checklist.
As I grew into my own skin, the list grew longer. I wanted my counterpart to enjoy travel the way I did. I wanted him to squeal in delight at certain foods, and I wanted us to be able to share similar passions. My sloppy list was starting to extend into the margins of the paper so that I could squeeze in every word.
Older (but not much older)
My love was all planned out. I knew what it would “look” like, and I knew what it wouldn’t look like. Thinking I was open to the world and what it had to offer, I grabbed my list and walked out my door.
And I fell in love with a man nine years my senior who had a baby.
I did a double take at my list. The one I had worked hard crafting. An age gap of nine years didn’t seem to be on the list—nor did a baby.
Suddenly, it felt like I was walking on a new planet, and I knew nothing about it. I didn’t know if I would be able to find food or water to sustain myself, but I walked onward, drinking in the beautiful sights and smells. I was in a state of sensory overload. The new planet was unfamiliar, but I felt like it was my home. I felt supported in this new world.
I shredded my checklist in a matter of seconds. I was back to square one, left to reconcile the fairy tales that society had pumped into me since I was a child.
As much as we want to define what love involves, how it should be, and what it should look like—it can’t be contained within a box or a list.
My attempt to list away the imperfections of love failed, rightfully so.
As I continued to slide further and further away from society’s ideal relationship, I didn’t know how to process the new terrain. Online lists lamented how my love was a red flag among a list of several others.
As I was trying to grapple with the pieces of my shredded checklist, I went to one of the most beautiful weddings. The bride was 61, and the groom was 64. Together, they had five divorces, seven children, and two different citizenships. And they still believed in love—the kind of love that doesn’t fit in a box.
It is messy and imperfect like a two-year-old’s drawing. But, it is beautiful and it’s own form of self-expression. Their love was beautiful because it transcended what we are convinced to believe constitutes love.
Love isn’t a series of check marks or a “10 ways you know you’ve found love” article. It’s not a baseball game, and we aren’t out after three strikes.
We have the opportunity to return to love over and over and over again, and we have the opportunity to create love wherever we go.
Shredding our checklists is about giving ourselves permission to talk to people without knowing the outcome. It is about seeing the people in front of us as humans—not check marks, and allowing ourselves to fall in love with humanity’s imperfections.
At first, exploring life off my list was like dipping my toes into the water, and when it felt right, I ran and launched myself into the deep end. The process of letting go of my list ebbed and flowed. It was less about the shredded list and more about being in tune with how I felt in certain situations.
Rather than letting a written list dictate what I should and shouldn’t feel, I relied on myself. If an age gap of nine years and a baby were comfortable, they weren’t a red flag for me.
If someone asked me how I define love today, I would say: I don’t define it. I have no descriptors or esoteric ideas to spout off.
For me, love is knowing what makes me comfortable and what doesn’t. That boundary morphs and molds and evolves each day as I wander into new, uncharted territory. If I tried to capture love in a checklist, I would be shredding the list every day and writing a new one.
Today, love is late night giggles with a much older man and his baby, and tomorrow it could be completely different.
Love, at its core, is our creation, and it is up to us to interpret it.