The summer semester before my senior year in college I took a course called Sociology in Film. That’s where I was first introduced to Love Story, a 1970s romantic drama about two college co-eds falling in love. I don’t remember many specifics from the movie, but what I do remember is a line from the closing scene. The main character tells his estranged father: “Love…love means never having to say you’re sorry!”
And that line plagued me for years. Because to me, it didn’t make any sense.
Growing up I was a momma’s girl. I bonded with my mom from a young age, considered her one of my best friends throughout my adolescence and even into my 20s.
But that relationship wasn’t without turmoil. Mom suffered from depression. And when it swept up over her—all sudden and ferocious and overpowering—she’d shut herself in her room for days at a time.
In a deeply personal letter she wrote my sister and me when we were teenagers, she apologized for all those dark moments.
And I need to say I’m sorry I couldn’t be all those things that babies and toddlers’ walking falling legs desire… I’m sorry I could only be me and half the time I had no clue who that “me” even was.
That was my mother. She was the first love of my life. And this was not our only “I’m sorry.”
Then there was First David. He was the boy I fell irrevocably in love with in the way only a sixteen-year-old heart knows how to do. He was the boy who promised me the world and the stars and forever. He was the boy I let have every part of me. And then he got drunk and stole those same intimate parts away from other girls on the side.
For six years First David and I bobbed and wove inside our ring of relationship. We threw punches and jabs like prizefighters—always waiting for a bell that was never going to ring. Each round ended with no victor, but plenty of apologies.
That was the second love of my life. “I’m sorry” was sewn into its seams.
Later I found Second David. A quick-tempered Oklahoma transplant with a spotted past, Second David was a challenge in the same way growing a garden on a patch of earth that gets too much direct sunlight is a challenge. He was defiant and obstinate and volatile, but I loved him just the same.
Five years later, we’re still together. And more impressively, still happy. That’s not to say it’s all roses and rainbows these days. We have plenty of hunker-down, fist-shaking, voice-trembling fights. But when they’re over, we look each other in the eye and say we’re sorry.
That was the third love of my life. And “I’m sorry” helps us keep it together.
This is why the line from Love Story haunted me for so long, why it didn’t make sense through the lens of my first three loves.
But then there’s also my fourth love, my Amy.
When I was in college, I got back together with First David after one of his many infidelity escapades. Knowing none of my friends would support my decision, I lied about it. I lied about where I was going and who I was seeing and what I was doing.
After a few weeks, the buried truth bubbled its way to the surface, leaving all my poor choices and deceit fully exposed. Some of my friends shunned me; some yelled at me; some stopped talking to me.
But not Amy.
Amy had been my closest companion since middle school. We met in sixth grade but didn’t really hit it off until seventh. By the end of eighth, we were inseparable. Our friendship survived high school—even with her as a popular cheerleader and me as a reclusive nerd—, dorming together our freshman year of college, and the many years of self-discovery that followed. We never had a single fight, an argument, or even a tough moment of differing opinions.
When I tried to apologize to her for lying about reuniting with First David, she cut me off before the words could even begin to come out of my mouth.
“You don’t have to say it,” she said with empathy and kindness. “I already know.”
Looking back on it now, I realize that never having to say “I’m sorry” isn’t about not screwing up. It isn’t about loving someone so much that you never hurt them, that you never let them down. It’s about understanding someone enough, trusting someone enough, loving someone enough, that those explanations are simply not needed.
Love is real. It’s flawed. There are mess-ups and break-ups and make-ups. Some loves need apologies. And that’s okay.
But the fourth love of my life was different. The fourth love of my life was Amy. And thanks to her, the words from Love Story finally make sense.
This piece was crafted as part of YeahWrite.me‘s Summer Series Silver Lounge. Thank you to three incredible bloggers (Meg of Pigspittle, Ohio, Tienne of The Silver Leaf Journal, and Rowan of Textwall) who provided invaluable feedback and pushed this post–and this blogger–to a stronger place.