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When I was six years old, I went to church and thanked God for giving me a complete, happy family. Two weeks later, my dad left me and my mom for another woman. When I was eleven, my best friend and I caught her mom cheating on her dad with their good friend. Her dad never found out. At fifteen, I thought I fell in love with a close friend. He broke my heart, and I just slept the pain away. When I was seventeen, my boyfriend broke up with me through a text message because he had “lost the magic.” Three weeks later, he told me that he replaced me with his girl best friend.

 

I did not believe in love for a long time. I hated the thought of it. I grew up seeing couples separate, families fall apart, and people get hurt. At an early age, I became aware that relationships do not last forever. Nothing does. I was told to protect myself—build walls—and to never, ever let anyone hurt me. So I did. I always kept a comfortable distance, never let anyone get too close, prepared myself for disappointment, and avoided too much attachment. I grew up believing that I will never truly be loved in return so I shielded myself from pain, and with that, true happiness.

 

It wasn’t until I went to a confirmation retreat that I learned that it is okay to open up to people, to be vulnerable. At the retreat, I laughed, cried, sang, danced, and shared my innermost thoughts and feelings with people I hardly knew—and for the first time, I felt safe, genuinely happy and at peace. It felt amazing to witness strangers support and care for each other. That’s when I realized that if I wanted to be genuinely happy, I needed to let people in.

 

Since then, I’ve made many, many friends and became close to many people. I became more cheerful and optimistic, and I smile more often. I give people real smiles, genuine compliments, and sincere hugs. The more people I let in, the happier and better I feel about myself and about life. I learned the true meaning of love. I learned that love isn’t just the romantic kind. It is caring about other people and wishing them nothing but true happiness. It is in God, family, friendship, and kindness. Those are the most important kinds of love to me. And those are the kinds of love that make me feel whole, even if I am still not completely comfortable with the idea of “falling in love.”

 

I may not have the best encounters with love, but I still believe in it because love keeps me alive. It inspires me and allows me to view the world as a beautiful place. Love keeps me strong and makes me extremely happy with my life. It allows me to help others and spread kindness to those around me. As cliché as it sounds, love makes my world go round. I’ve come a long way, but now I am proud to say that I love love. 

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