you dream of love that's everlasting
"I Can Love You Like That", preteen angst, and the greatest thing you'll ever learn
I'd had crushes before I was nine, usually on boys on TV. Those feelings were dull, fleeting things compared to the thrill of what I felt for Kennywhen I was in fourth grade. That year, he came into view with his shaggy brown hair and sparking eyes to match, and I was gone. When we went to Mass on Tuesdays and morning prayers on Fridays, I'd hope that we would both be on the aisle so that when the time came to say The Lord's Prayer, he and I would join hands and it would be like that line from It Takes Two.
I had all these feelings that, at that age, were indescribable. But thank God for Steve Diamond, Jennifer Kimball, and Maribeth Derry for writing "I Can Love You Like That", and for whoever it was at Atlantic Records that decided that All 4 One needed to cover another John Michael Montgomery song. Their version was inescapable in 1995—so much so that it was the second most popular song of the year according to Billboard's Hot 100 End of Year chart. Even my mom kept a copy of And the Music Speaks (the album that ICLYLT was the lead single for) in her Ford Escort.
I was enchanted by the song from the first verse. Some of my earliest brushes with romantic imagery came from fairy tales, so I immediately thought of the Disney film and the dreamy lilt of "So This is Love" when I heard They read you Cinderella, you hoped it would come true/That one day your Prince Charming would come rescue you. In my quiet moments, I daydreamed about what my life would be like if Kenny had that oh moment for me; a sudden shock and oh my God, here she is that would change everything.
It was a lofty fantasy to have as a ten year old, but it kind of came true when my best friends urged me to tell Kenny how I felt. For a prepubescent boy who'd just discovered that some random girl was enamored with him, he took the news pretty well. He even said that he liked me too, and that I was nice. By elementary school standards, this meant that we were boyfriend and girlfriend. I was giddy, certain that this signaled the start of that reach for the stars feeling.
Spoiler alert: it did not.
I spent two more years longing for Kenny, a small eternity of my youth. In fifth grade, I tried to keep my feelings an arm's length away, and in sixth I leaned into them. I got to know him beyond the idea that I'd lovingly crafted in my head, and I tried so hard to convince him that I could be more than the friend who had the locker below his. If you give me a chance, I can love you like that. All I got for my trouble was the sting of a broken heart.
It's strange that I came to that point of understanding with this song. I was, by twelve, brimming with so much yearning that my perspective switched. I no longer desired to be the subject of the narrator's affections; I was the one aching to give my painfully earnest love to someone who hoped for an even exchange. Most girls (well, the cis, straight ones that the song is ostensibly written for) usually come to a ballad like this from the aspirational side. But All 4 One gave me, for the first time, a sense that the precocious love that I had could be more. Yes, I could want to be Loved Like That, but I could also want to return the favor.
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