On Valentine’s Day, I had the extraordinary pleasure of talking about love with two women. One of them, I know like the back of my hand. I love her. She’s married to a man I also love. Together they are an unstoppable force, and the only reason I’m not jealous that a man is taking away the attention of my best friend is because together they are perfect, and I love them as a unit, just as much as I love them separately. The other woman I had only just met for the first time, and she’s also married to a man she loves. Then there was me, currently out of love, but having had the extraordinary pleasure of experiencing it two – maybe three – times in my life so far.
The lady who I didn’t know so well – let’s call her Annabel – said to me, “Are you married?” I said that no, I was not, but I had only recently in the past couple of years or so found out that everything they tell you about love is true.
It used to drive me nuts, when asking people how they know they’re in love, they would reply, “It’s just a feeling. It feels right. When you know, you know.” That’s an awful thing to say to someone who had never experienced love, because I did not know, and I desperately wanted to. “But how do you know?” “You just know.”
Unfortunately, this is true. You just know. You know the person is right for you when you know it. When you feel like you’re about to explode and be calm and be silent and be loud and be exhausted and be happy and be still. There is no way to express what love feels like exactly – it’s why there are so many songs and poems and novels and movies written about it, and somehow, it’s never been expressed exactly right. From the dawn of love stories, there have been experts and storytellers at the height of their craft trying to find a way to express how love really feels, and it’s such a high that even through nobody has quite succeeded, there’s no stopping them from trying. It’s why I’m writing about it even now, and at the end of this piece both you and I will go away with a hint of what love feels like but not truly knowing – until it happens to us again. We spend our lives trying to portray how love feels, but it’s not something you can express. It’s just something you know.
When all the love songs you hear on the radio make the most sense, when poetry feels extra sparkling to read, and the morning air feels fresher than ever. When you go to bed and right before you fall asleep you reach your hand over to the left side of the bed and take comfort in the warmth of his body or take comfort in the fact that he would be sleeping right there if he wasn’t asleep in his own bed a couple of neighbourhoods over.
The idea of love feels extra hard when you’ve never experienced it, and even harder than that when you’ve fallen out of it. How do people bear this? How do they open themselves up to this feeling over and over and be grateful? And then you fall in love all over again and it’s like the first time, but it’s also like something you’ve never experienced before. Every time you fall in love (and if you’re lucky it’s plenty of times) you realise that you never truly knew what love was, until today. And every time you fall in love that’s true. And every past love you’ve ever had was true, too.
The beauty of falling in love is that every time feels like the first time, and every time it feels so overwhelming and extraordinary that you can’t wait to explain it to people and express how incredible it is. And all people see is just a woman in love, like it’s something you see all the time. It’s like a sunset. It happens every day, all around us, and every time we have to stop and look. And it feels so, so good.
Image via Elliot Erwitt, ‘California’