With every girl’s-choice dance that approached, I hid behind a fictitious smile or fake laugh as I sat through my classes, desperately pleading with all of my energy and thoughts for a girl, any girl, to ask me as her date. Yet even as I did, I knew no girl ever would. And no girl ever did. At the end of high school I was zero for fifteen. My perfect losing streak left me desperate to love and desperate to prove to myself that I was indeed lovable.

The problem was, I didn’t believe that I was loveable at all, and because I didn’t believe it, I found myself looking at time as my worst enemy.

With every girl I dated after leaving home, I got better and better at capturing her genuine interest in me. I got better and better at believing I offered value to a relationship. I got better and better at feeling like I was actually worth something.

Yet, with every start to a relationship I also grew desperate for time to slow down. With every tick of the clock, I knew it was one less tick before I was suddenly unlovable and undesirable to her. I always sensed that it was just a matter of time before the girl saw me as the person I really was. A fat loser, a natural target to be laughed at, and not actually attractive at all.

The only thing I really knew was that I wanted to love a girl, I wanted her to love me, and that if I could somehow beat the clock, she would never discover that I was all the horrible things I believed myself to be. Of course, I never thought any of these things at the time. These shadows of the past are only what I have figured out in all my long and lonely hours trying to learn how and why I ended up divorced twice.

Looking back to those years just prior to when I met my first wife, there is no doubt for me now that this was all true and that it was all going on. It took almost no time at all to decide that I was “in love” with any girl who paid the slightest bit of attention to me, and I never hesitated to blurt it out, desperate for her to say it back. Because I always did it so hastily, the girls never responded with the words I longed to hear. They never said, “I love you, too.” Usually it marked the beginning of the end. A sure-fire guarantee to kill the relationship before it could ever find its wings.

With every failed attempt, the clock grew to be more and more my enemy. Every time I said the words and didn’t hear them back, it caused me to be more desperate for reciprocation on the next go-around. I felt worthless, and I needed somebody, anybody to love me. I needed to prove to myself that I wasn’t without value.

I needed to know that somebody cared because the truth was, I knew how dangerous my situation was becoming. I knew that I was nearing the edge of a cliff that I never wanted to look over. I knew that I was on the verge of doing something dangerous or stupid to free myself from those enslaving and consuming feelings.

And there, at the peak of it all, when I was most desperate to beat the clock or suffer the consequences, I met Andrea, my first wife.

And when the day came that I said “I love you,” she said it back.

For the first time in my life, a girl said it back.

When that happened, the clock suddenly seemed as if it was strapped to a 20-ton bomb. I pulled out all the stops. I did everything I could to keep that young 19-year old girl loving me. I wooed her, I wined and dined her, and I made her love me before she had the chance not to. The clock wasn’t going to beat me on this one. Not when somebody had finally said “I love you, too.”

Marriage proposal came only months after we began dating. Three months after that, we were married.

As I stood looking at my new bride, I knew I had done it. I had beat that damned clock.

And so, I crossed the threshold of our first apartment, holding the hand of a young girl, having no idea who the hell she was. She walked across the same threshold that day, holding the hand of a 21-year old boy, also having no idea who the hell she had just committed herself to for life. We didn’t know each other, and we had no idea that we didn’t.