The Thing Called Love
Today proves it.
The grass tickles a young woman’s ankles; it is soft against her bare feet. She abandoned her shoes long ago, choosing instead to cherish the freedom of walking barefoot. Hours earlier, when they first got here, the grass, heavy with early morning dew, was cold—almost unbearably so– but then the sun lapped up the last of the dew, leaving the grass pleasantly soft and cool. Fall hadn’t come in earnest yet, but the temperatures had dropped just enough for an entire day to be passed in the sun without a desperate need for water. Flocks of birds flew in V formations in the pristine blue sky above, headed farther South. Ancient, enormous trees tower above her, making it easy to pretend she’s in the rainforest. They’ve caught sight of two rabbits, scurrying from one side of the wooded trail to the other; they’ve heard numerous crickets serenading one another. They came upon a tree, fallen and laying across a pond, and here they’ve stopped to rest. She’s seated on the log, her legs bent Indian style on the log, her back resting against another tree. Across from her, he sits.
The strong jock, he beat her in an arm wrestling match on the grass earlier, then claimed victory by tenderly locking an errant strand of her hair behind her ear. His smile sends butterflies dancing throughout her entire nervous system. The day is perfect because of him and later, when he’ll kiss her, fireworks will burst behind her closed eyes; angels will sing and her own name will be totally forgotten.
She’ll call it love.
Twenty years later, she’ll find herself married to a different man. Nature no longer sings; rather, it’s just the dirt from muddy feet that she’ll have to wash from the floor of her home. Walking barefoot in Fall seems a grand way to catch a cold. Secluded paths in the woods are dangerous places, not romantic islands in the rainforests. He goes to work, eats dinner with the family, then visits with the TV while she ensures the kids are bathed and put to bed before retreating to a world of sewing needles and fabric. Sometimes a full twenty four hours will pass without an adult conversation, but words don’t seem as necessary when the other knows her so well. Later, when he’ll kiss her goodnight, the comfort of familiarity replaces the excitement of fireworks. Tucking her hands beneath her cheek, she’ll lie on her side and watch as he sleeps. She’ll roam her gaze over his stubble, over his textured face, long eyelashes and confident mouth and see not an angel but a man. Eventually, she’ll fall asleep and wake, hours later, to a gentle kiss on her forehead. She’ll open her eyelids, roll over and smile as she finds a note wishing her a good day. Maybe one night this week, they’ll have real time, she muses; go to dinner someplace nice, use candlelight and soft music. They’ll kiss. Angels won’t sing, but sweetness and meaning and tenderness and experience will prevail.
She calls it love.
Putting aside noble and lofty ideas of love, putting aside poetic definitions… what, really, is love? is it the youthful exuberance, the “sparks”, the chemistry? Or is that infatuation? Is love more realistically the trust that’s developed only with time and a clearer understanding of each other’s weaknesses and flaws? Is it the excitement or the comfort? Or is it both? Is it possible to even have both—once a certain level of trust and familiarity is established, is it natural for the electricity to fade? Once the “honeymoon” is over, then what? Is that when you see what the relationship is made out of — real love or just friendship? Or should the honeymoon remain, if even in a more subdued sort of way? How can it with the stress and responsibility of day to day life—better yet, how can it when, given enough time, hearts are going to be hurt? It wasn’t in the story but Prince Charming was the source of Cinderella’s tears, too, at some point. And Cinderella was the source of Prince Charming’s tears, too, eventually. And not just once, but, if they stayed together long enough—they hurt one another deeply more than once.
But still, they stayed.
Isn’t it possible to stay with someone for the wrong reasons? Isn’t it natural to protect that which is most vital to our well-being: our hearts? How can you be certain of something one day and equally certain it’s not right the next? On the other hand—-there is a wise quote that says, “The fact of the matter is that everyone is going to hurt you. The trick is to find the ones who are worth suffering for.” You could search until the day you die and no one is ever going to truly treat your heart and your dreams as carefully as they do their own—no one is ever going to survive a lifetime with you without breaking your heart because, despite the glowing halo you imagine you see above their heads, everyone still bleeds red: everyone is still merely human. What, then, are you to do? Does accepting this reality, this inevitability of heartbreak, mean you give up on finding soul wrenching happiness—does it mean you stop looking for that “over the top, gotta have it” kind of feeling that fairy tales and romance books promise you exist?
Does it depend on what your definition of love is?
“A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet” sayeth Shakespeare. What I might call infatuation, you call love. What I call love, you might call infatuation. Love is in the eye of the beholder. But it’s also… not. True love is played by two. It isn’t merely the accepting of another, it’s the giving of yourself; it isn’t merely the giving of yourself but the accepting of another. It’s that moment in time when your eyes lock with someone else’s and you realize that whatever it is you’re feeling inside—s(h)e feels it too. It’s a connection that cannot be faked, a real connection that cannot be forced or faked. It’s in the beauty of the fireworks and the quiet assurance in the monotony of day-to-day life that the connection will be felt again in the foreseeable future. It’s the knowledge that, whether you’re in the midst of one of Nature’s concerts or sitting silently across from each other, your soul is connected to the other’s and, no matter what, all that’s required is a glance and the connection is felt by both. When both souls know they’re bonded by something more powerful than themselves, regardless of outside circumstances…. that’s love. When the realization comes that you’ve brought heartache to the other, it’s the selfless desire to assuage the pain, whatever the personal cost.
Love is not merely knowledge of another person. You can know someone from the inside out without ever touching that person’s soul. Love, however, is the assurance that your heart and soul has been touched and that you’ve touched another’s soul. It’s a relationship. The mundane routine of everyday life will remain enough if your soul is nourished and your heart loved; if the invisible, but present, scales between what’s being given and what’s being taken remain balanced; if, despite their flaws, you still feel close enough to believe you’re capable of touching h(is)er heart and soul instead of merely h(is)er body…. that’s love. The initial spark of electricity is important because it’s the first moment that your souls connected. After all, you’re not attracted to every individual that’s attracted to you. People sometimes mistake the loss of the spark for the end of love—but that’s wrong. It wasn’t the spark that compelled you to pursue that relationship; it was the feeling of touching someone’s innermost being–and of having your innermost being touched. The monotony of every day life won’t destroy that connection, if you’re both receptive to learning other ways to continue to connect in a way that’s different from how you interact with friends or coworkers. Comfort and familiarity set off as many sparks as The Kiss. At least, if the love is real, if the soul is touched, it will.
Love isn’t so much about intellectual knowledge or perception of the other person as it is feeling and emotion because words can only tell you so much. Love is a conversation that feels as tangible as a physical touch; it’s a physical touch that feels like a meaningful conversation. Love is undefinable, yet it’s what makes us feel like princes and princesses, even when we’re lounging around with bedheads and mismatched pajamas.
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