I’ve been in love three times. How about you?
I’m not referring to unanswered adoration. I mean the reciprocal version, where you plunge hand in hand, helplessly. Three times seems like a generous allotment for such a chance event. I am grateful.
When asked this question, most folks have a clear number in mind: If you’ve been in love, you know it. But how, precisely? The duration varies widely and the symptoms are many: Love is a creative process, made new each time. So how do we know, unmistakably, that we have fallen in love?
For many it’s a period of immunity. Bad news bounces off them and nothing provokes concern. They live in a state of blissful suspension, far above the quotidian world. For others the earth becomes surreal. Even the lowliest objects—a broken cup, a piece of newspaper caught in a fence—take on a certain beauty and rightness. Some liken the experience to a drug they can’t get enough of. The more they consume, the more they need, and time spent apart from the loved one is agony. An ache, some folks call it, a glorious and nearly unbearable ache. “You lose control,” a friend told me, “but you’re okay with it.”
Oh those hallowed hours spent gazing at one another, faces inches apart, the sheer delight in discovering a new freckle or gesture. Time, surrendering, slides out the back door. While the rest of world continues somewhere else, lovers are locked away, immersed in a slow tease of mutual discovery. They will not be available to their friends and family, and for this they must be forgiven.
Nothing this extreme can last. The lives we abandoned want us back, and invariably we are reclaimed. In the presence of our beloved, we are not quite as careful with our words or fastidious in our manners; we floss in plain view, burp without apology, and inch by inch our perfect images fade from view. At first, the signs are subtle—a withering look, an eddy of annoyance, a gust of exasperation. Finally we can’t hold out any longer—the world elbows in and hands us a load of laundry. We can’t believe it, we won’t believe it, but there it is. Honeymoon’s over.
Plenty of couples do not recover from this transition; I am interested in those who do. I want to understand, to name, the kind of love that is left.
It has work to do, this leftover love. I see it operating in the background, like virus protection on a computer. I see it forming its own bulwarks.
This is a no-nonsense kind of love. Left unattended, it nurtures itself. Roomy and forgiving, this love allows us no end of mistakes. While our backs are turned, it makes us worthy, and as many times as we need, we are reminded that it’s still there. What luck to find this love that doesn’t go away. We may miss our passionate beginnings, but we trade them for something far more fierce.