The first time I said “I love you” to someone outside of my family, it was to a cute boy from my 7th grade art class. We called each other boyfriend/girlfriend and once or twice even held hands on the walk from the art wing to the cafeteria. Every part of me believed I was in love.
The first time I really imagined a future with someone I was dating, I gushed to my best friend about things like where we would live or what our home would be like. At one point, I even tried pairing my last name with theirs. Every part of me believed I had found “the one.”
The first time I watched a different partner engage with a toddler in my life, I thought about what they might be like as a parent. I pictured myself making pancakes on Saturday mornings while a Wynton Marsalis record played in the background and sleepy-eyed little ones toddled to the table. Every part of me believed I saw someone I would raise children with.
The other day, I was talking with some friends and recounting stories of our first kisses. As one friend shared their experience, we learned that immediately following the early teenage year kiss, they had declared their love to this person. My friend went to defenses with some line about how cringey that was and how embarrassed they are to remember that. But then it was my turn to cut in and share something else.
There’s a line I love by poet Neil Hilborn. “You will never be more wrong than the first time you say ‘I love you.’ You will mean it, sure, but you’ll still be lying.”
It’s really easy to look back on the people we were and roll our eyes. From fashion decisions to middle school crushes and everything in between, it can be funny to reminisce on the choices, actions, and emotions of younger years. It can also be really easy to judge and dismiss those past lives.
But what if instead we tried to view them with an ounce of understanding. You will never be more wrong—what if we can acknowledge that it probably wasn’t the best idea, situation, or memory—you will mean it, sure—and at the same time, know that in that period of our lives it was the absolute truth.
What if we can find this sweet spot of laughing at the shaky video of the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene reenactment your teammates and you made after cross country practice and also recognize that these were some of the most beautiful moments of your life?
What if we can apply that to lost love? To fading friendships? To decisions that felt so deliciously sweet at the time and then turned around to destroy us?
What if we could hold space for the knowledge that hindsight brings and also honor and recognize the person who believed in something—or someone—so wholly, that they allowed themselves to dream?
What if we can look back on all those “lies” disguised as truths that every part of ourselves at one point believed and be okay with it?
To lie. To mean it.
To love. To own it.