I think I’ve spent a great deal of my life learning how to love.
I’ve always been surrounded by it in generous amounts. It’s always been showered over me by family and friends, I can’t recall a single moment of my life that I haven’t felt loved. But while I never lacked it, sometimes it seems like I wasn’t sure what you do with it once I had it.
My mother will tell you that as a child I loved being doted on but I’d shy away when I was smothered with affection. I was never the first to tell people I loved them, even when I truly did.
As an adult it seems I’m not any more prepared to deal with the endearment and affection. I feel it – all around me I feel love – but I’m having a hard time reaching out and completely grabbing on to it. Frankly, love makes me feel hesitant and vulnerable. Two feelings I’m not incredibly fond of. You see, I think I’ve always viewed love as a cycle – sometimes a small cycle, sometimes very large – but nonetheless, a circle that always comes back to a starting point.
Maybe I’ve read too many books , maybe I’ve watched too many reality television shows, maybe I can blame America’s divorce rate. But in reality, I’m not sure the root of my concerns.
I read a poem once by Galway Kinnell that said,
“… And yet perhaps this is the reason you cry, this the nightmare you wake screaming from
Being forever in the pre-trembling of a house that falls.
The wages of dying is love … ”
It’s a bit of a cautionary tale – what happens when you stop paying attention to the reasons you love someone, when you let the devil that’s in the details eat away at the love. That’s what he means by ‘the pre-trembling.’ I think sometimes I’m still a little girl hearing the angry whispers from behind closed doors. Sometimes I’m not ready to place my life in the hands of someone else, into a house that may fall.
I try to explain this in less confusing terms to an extremely – and rightfully so – frustrated Elliott when he asks me for the tenth time in as many days why I can’t bring myself to talk about our future.
Where is this going? he wants to know. Marriage? Kids? The natural progression of a relationship? Don’t you love me anymore? You never tell me …
And in the face of his questions, my arguments are suddenly and conveniently MIA. He is quiet on the other end of the telephone line and the silence is pleading and almost self-conscious, making my chest squeeze. It’s like seeing a wild animal after it has been in captivity for a time: magnificent but heartbreaking in its unnaturalness.
I hear his pleading and it feels like I’ve failed him and the possibility of failing him hurts – failing at something he is so incredibly sure of. Because he is sure. Unwaveringly so. And his sureness festers and grows inside of me and then I’m rapidly losing the very little control I once had.
Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses, you build up a whole suit of armor so nothing can hurt you. Then one person no different than any other person wanders into your life and you give them a piece of you. They didn’t demand it. They didn’t ask for it. They did something dumb like smile at you or kiss you or take your picture and your life isn’t your own anymore.
Twenty five years and you know what I’ve learned about love? It takes hostages.
But when you expect it to be calculating and conditional and self-serving, it surprises you and is none of those things.
Elliott wants to know if I love him – why I love him. I love him because he brings out the best version of me. I love him because he understands like no one else. I love him because I’m not sure how not to. I love him because he’s all the things I’ll never be.
I’ve spent a great deal of my life learning how to love. And sometimes someone comes along and challenges everything you think you see or know. So I’m still learning.