I would like to introduce myself to all the lovely readers of Georgia Voice. My name is E. R. Burns. I am a recent graduate of the University of Georgia, a struggling author, and a recently liberated member of the alphabet mafia. Over the course of the last year-and-a-half — locked away from the world and fresh out of a toxic relationship with a long-time on-again-off-again partner — I was forced to truly examine myself for the first time in my life. During that time, I fell out of love, fell in love with myself, and then found the woman who brought it all together.
After meeting her, I started receiving all these signs, as cheesy as it may sound. Recommended articles, TikTok videos, Twitter threads — all about the Theory of Love. That was the basis for this story, and the more I was told about this theory, the more I wanted to examine the truth of it. Surely, I thought, it was not applicable to everyone. Yet the more I thought back on my previous relationships, the more truth I found in it. I had fallen in love three times, and each time I learned something new about myself. In this story, I will tell you about my three loves, how I experienced each one, and how, through them, I was able to figure out both my sexuality and what love should be.
Three. The magic number. The holy number. A balance of harmony, wisdom, and understanding. A representation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Past, present, future. Birth, life, and death. Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus. The three sisters of fate. Dawn, day, and dusk. Reduce, reuse, recycle. I think you get the point.
They say you fall in love three times in your life, and each one represents something entirely different. Three times, and only one of them is ever meant to last. Now, I’ve known people who fell in love with one person and spent their entire life in love with them. I know others who swear never to fall in love, to live in their freedom for the rest of their days. This theory is just that: a theory. But when I heard it, I couldn’t help but stop and reflect on my own experience with love.
The One that Looks Right
“False face must hide what the false heart doth know.”
I was only 15 when I met number one. He was tall and dark and handsome — as handsome as one could find in a small Georgia town. He was all the things young girls are told to find when they read Seventeen magazine. He had his own car, his own money, and he looked dashing on my arm at every dance and party and in every social media post. We were picture-perfect.
From the outside perspective, skewed by social media, we were perfectly in love, but the reality was much darker. We were young and immature, and while his father figure was less than ideal, the anger he took out on me was never excusable. I was the victim of his jealousy and rage, on a constant roller coaster of him breaking my heart and then threatening suicide if I didn’t take him back.
I loved him with the kind of love that is born of obligation and naivete, but I knew we would never last. He was the one that worked for the moment, the one that taught me what I didn’t want. We looked beautiful through the window, but the inside of the house was burning to ashes.
The Difficult One
“Years of love have been forgot, in the hatred of a minute.”
—Edgar Allan Poe
Number two was the boy your mother warned you about, the one your father couldn’t stand, and the one your friends begged you not to get involved with. But when you’re 16 and pretty blue eyes are telling you how beautiful you are, you believe them. He was forbidden fruit, and I was Eve, ready to strike a deal with the devil.
Apparently, I had learned very little from his predecessor, because the on-again-off-again only got worse. We would have explosive breakups only to come back together in fits of passion like those idolized on the big screen. This was love, I thought. This is what the main character gets. She takes the bad boy and makes him good just for her.
Seven years. Seven years of back and forth, dating other people and being less than faithful to them. Seven years of thinking this was the answer; that he was my one and only.
We as women are taught at a young age to value our chastity above all, to give it only to the person we intend to be with forever. Clinging to the far outdated concept of virginity to stay with a boy who used the concept of love as a weapon broke me.
He was my first. But he was with someone else at the time. I fell asleep in his arms that night, and he told me he loved me more than anyone. I thought we finally made it to the part where it all falls together. But in the morning, he got dressed, kissed my lips, and told me not to tell a soul before he got in his car and drove back to her. I had given him everything, and he left me still.
It wasn’t until I truly felt his absence that I understood that love was not supposed to hurt. Yes, the line between love and hate is thin, but no relationship should ever have you standing with a foot on either side. I promised myself, after him, I would never again love someone who made it impossible to love myself.
The One that Lasts
“I love her, and that’s the beginning and end of everything.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald
I didn’t think I had it in me to ever love again when I met Her. She who is far more than a number in my story, far more than a statistic in the records of my heart. She who made me understand what exactly love was meant to be. Tall, fair, and absolutely breathtaking. She is not what society, my parents, or my religion told me I was supposed to want. Yet she is everything I never knew I needed. Loving her is pure and soft, where my past loves were tainted with toxicity and toughness.
When we first met, we were both in the closet and fitfully in denial of our feelings for one another. We had both only ever been with men, yet when I looked into her eyes as she described her writing with such passion, I knew that I would never want anyone else ever again. I fell in love with her in pieces. First with her mind, then her demeanor, then her heart. Still, every day, I find something new to love.
It is unlike anything else I have ever felt, unlike anything I was ever told I would experience. Where once I felt like I was standing in the middle of a burning forest, enjoying the heat of the flame but praying to God it didn’t burn me, I now find myself in a field of melting snow. The spring air is bringing forth cherry blossoms from the trees, and the sun is warming my face despite the coolness that surrounds us. I fell in love, real love, for the first time, and it was with my best friend. She understands everything. She allows me to be myself. She makes me feel more comfortable in my own skin than anyone ever has. My twin flame. My soulmate. My beginning and my end. My magic number three. The one that lasts.
Every single one of us has experienced love in some form or fashion, and with it often comes a certain degree of pain. Through trial and error and putting my heart on the line, I learned that love, real love, is supposed to be easy. Notions of butterflies and electric passion are pushed onto us, when in reality, those butterflies are often a warning that we should not feel safe. Passion doesn’t only have to follow an argument. You should not have to convince yourself every day that you’re in love with someone.
I never thought that I would find my missing piece in a woman, and yet I have never felt more sure of anyone in my life. Love will come in many forms, but what that love looks like, in what gender it’s packaged, does not matter. All that matters is that it is safe and comfortable and makes you excited to return home to it. When you find it, that love is the one that will last.