Ah, love. That deep emotion we yearn for and fight over. Civilizations rise and fall for love. Great deeds are accomplished with such feeling, and horrific acts as well. Sometimes elusive, sometimes ever-present. It might seem to be furthest from your own grasp when you see nothing but clutching couples everywhere you look, yet it can surprise you around the very next corner.
What we love can spurn us. What we push away often loves us all the more. It is a tangled web we weave, yet most of us cannot stay away for long. Even after being dumped, we go back for more. Sometimes even to the same person!
My own personal love trail has had its share of twists and turns and dead ends. Early failure might very well have turned me into a hermit. But I persisted. Even after the darkest days, I persisted.
The first time I told someone “I love you,” she said, “If you love something, let it go. If it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”
Guess what? It never was. At first all had been bliss and happiness. She was an older woman (only a year older, but when you are fifteen that is a big time score!). We went to movies and out for burgers and ice cream and other such stuff. After a few months, though, she met some redheaded dude at a roller skating rink who was more exciting than Mr. Sophomore With His First Girlfriend. So I got the “Let It Go” speech.
I have hated that speech ever since. But I love the bumper sticker I saw years later: “If you love something, let it go. If it doesn’t come back, hunt it down and kill it.” It always made me think of our short, exciting fling and the burning ache as she drove away for the last time. Such cruel fate. I was not old enough to drive, so I had to be the one standing there sucking exhaust fumes.
The second time I told someone “I love you,” she said, “There are lots of different kinds of love. Love for a puppy, for example. Love for a book, love for a friend. You need to think about this a little more.” And she sent me packing. I did not go back and tell her a second time.
The real problem this time was she liked a friend of mine, a blonde, bronzed, and brawny fellow, while I was the skinny, non-athletic band geek. Perhaps I was also not quite the catch my mommy and grandma always told me.
The third time I told someone “I love you,” she said, “Oh.”
There is no way to recover from that. You’re holding a Valentine’s Day gift for your girlfriend, you say “I love you,” and then you pucker up.
And she says “Oh.” The thanks she offered for the present meant nothing and all I could do was think “stupid stupid stupid.” My puckered lips turned sour and I stumbled into the kitchen to check on dinner. A week later she had her brother tell me she was dumping me.
There we have it. Three strikes and you’re out! Twenty-two years old at that point and ready to enroll in the nearest monastery. Perhaps I was just not suited for this love thing. I put love out of my mind and buried myself in work, drink and Fritos.
Then I met Kristin. We worked together and became friends. I liked her smile, her laugh, the easy way she got along with people. She liked my motorcycle jacket. When I convinced her I wasn’t as old as she thought, she agreed to go out with me. And we married seven months later.
It’s been twenty-five years at this point, and Kristin has taught me what love really is. It is taking care of someone, tending to their needs, and being tended by them when necessary. It is taking the best of each of you and making a union that is more than the sum of its parts.
It is always wanting to see that person, and missing them terribly if you spend too much time apart. It is solving problems, creating joy, and working through the inevitable difficulties. Together. True love is wanting to spend the rest of your life with that person, through every eventuality.
But it is more than the wedding vows of sickness/health, richer/poorer and so on, because those are shared even at weddings that are bound for divorce court before the honeymoon is over. True love is the soothed ache in your soul because this person makes you whole.
The fourth time I told someone “I love you,” Kristin said, “I love you, too.”