I can fully admit that I have been too swept up in pop culture for too long. I was raised on Ross and Rachel, Hermione and Ron, Harry and Sally, Jim and Pam. Way, way before I was actually dating, I was watching, reading, and dreaming about relationships full of tension and uncertainty. I have never quite understood the science behind it, but I am fully on board with on-and-off / will-they-won’t-they relationships. …though I never thought I would live one.

My first long-term relationship was an on-and-off again one. That guy and I dated without a title for 11 months, broke up for eight, got back together for five, did some kind of a weird “we still like each other but won’t act on it” thing for nine and then finally called it quits three years ago. I honestly didn’t think I would ever love another person again, and though that sounds entirely dramatic, I was 25 and truly believed it. It is hard to fall back in love after a big, big love. But, then again, it’s possible.

I met my current boyfriend something like almost two and a half years ago when we both worked at a jewelry store. I hate saying stuff like this, but I was immediately interested in him, something that I am usually not. He wore a suit, he was very funny, he was British, and he had quite the reputation of being a ladies man. I usually don’t even talk to men with reputations like that, but here we were, working at a shop with only five other employees.

We spent a lot of time together very quickly. I had a huge crush on him but I didn’t let on because I knew he was out there charming everyone he talked to.

It only took two weeks before he asked me out to dinner. I have very rarely been directly asked on a date. I have had lots of “let’s hang out,” or “what are you doing right now?” type of dates but I have rarely gotten dressed semi-nice, picked up, and taken out to dinner. He was proper though. He doesn’t like being known as “the British guy,” but I honestly believed that maybe he was raised differently than all of the American twerps I had had crushes on before. I was pretty right, it just took a lot of digging to find it.

The date went well and we went out again but then some time passed and we kind of decided not to pursue anything. That lasted for about six weeks before we started hanging out again, casually this time. A month into it, he asked me to be his girlfriend, something that I felt celebratory about, but something that I also hesitated to agree to. Look, everyone has unfinished business in their lives and I happened to have kind of a lot at the time. I was crazy about my silly British crush though, so I said yes, of course.

We dated for five very tumultuous months. We are both very passionate people, which was something that I truly felt enhanced our relationship. The last on-and-off boyfriend (well, the last boyfriend in general) and I lacked passion. We loved each other, but we would never fight or vehemently agree on anything. Everything was just…chill, all the time. I liked that my new boyfriend would fight for me, even if it felt misplaced at times.

We broke up because, though the movies make it look cute, fighting is the worst. We weren’t Noah and Allie, we were just two people hurting each other again and again. The breakup sucked, but we both got over it. He made a lot of really important life changes and I got a lot of my single rebelliousness out. We reunited again after about seven months apart.

That time, it felt great, but something was missing. We were both very complacent. I think each of us felt satisfied that we could make things work again. For him, his efforts in bettering himself had paid off—he had gotten me back. For me, I healed my broken heart, attempted to let go of the past, and completely grew up. (Like adult job, apartment on my own, car, cat.) We dated for a few months and it was fine, it was sweet, it was easy, but it was nothing much. We never fought the second time we dated, which made me feel weird. Was all of our passion caught up in arguing and nothing else?

We broke up after a few really tough choices, but we remained friends for awhile. People drift, as broken relationships do, and we both kind of moved on. He tried dating other people and I spent the majority of my year watching every single television show that has ever come out in the history of time. I mean, I’m not even mad about it, I am very impressed with myself.

If you would have asked me before, I would have said we would never, ever get back together. Look, I have already admitted that I am the queen of back-and-forth relationships, but getting back together for a third time (kind of a fourth time, honestly) just sounded ridiculous to me. Over pho one afternoon at the end of September, he joked, “So are we doing this again?” I scoffed and kept eating my delicious soup, but I had kind of hoped he would mention getting back together. I surprised even myself.

It wasn’t entirely smooth sailing. We talked a lot about what we both want and need, and though usually things like marriage or children or relocating cities don’t come up in the very beginning of a relationship, when you are getting back together for the third time, they kind of have to come up. There have been plenty of times where the idea of marriage and children really wasn’t on my radar, but he has always wanted those things. We would not have been able to get back together if we were unable to discuss these kinds of huge life choices. Sitting across from one another on my bed, discussing whatever a future may look like was the most adult I have ever felt in a relationship.

And that’s the thing. This relationship this time feels comfortable, and stable, and strong. I have never felt any of those things in any of my relationships ever before. I don’t mind telling him that we need to spend a night apart, and he doesn’t mind telling me when I’m being condescending. (I do that.) We feel comfortable spending time apart and we feel comfortable spending time together, regardless of what we are doing at the time. I can finally hang out with his sister without feeling intimidated and he can finally hang out with my best friends without questioning anyone’s motives.

What I know now that I never knew before is what a real, loving relationship feels like. If he doesn’t text me back right away, or if he hasn’t texted me for hours, I am not wondering if he is mad at me, or cheating on me, or avoiding breaking up with me. I know he is working, or sleeping, or way too into Firefly. I know he feels the same way–though I have literally never taken hours to respond to a text message in my life. Hey, we all have our strengths.

I feel very loved, and I feel very comfortable, and I feel very sure of our future. I have never felt this way in my life, and everything leading up to this moment has been worth this feeling.

[Image via NBC]