“Sandy Grain, I love you…”
...muttered the old guy sitting across the aisle from us on the LIRR in his sleep.
Ah, love. Four letters, one beautiful beast of a word.
"Love is like a rumor. Everyone talks about it. But no one truly knows."
Love is everything and nothing you want it to be. Love is arduously simple – imperfect and rough. It is trying desperately to color inside the lines and slipping outside – just enough – or not giving a shit and coloring all over the page.
Love is complicated, but it fascinates us. And, try as we might to remain lackadaisical or even apathetic about it, deep down we want answers: How to find it, how to keep it, how to do it, and how to make the most of it.
Because love challenges us. It beautifies life, and it eats away at our souls. It makes us feel more seen and more alone than anything else in life.
So we read books, and we watch movies, and we listen to podcasts centered around love. Yet the long missives just don’t quite get it right. There's more to it than that, and that wasn't our experience.
More often than not, we find the most meaning in aimless anecdotes.
“...[H]ow I’d loved the early letters, how charmed I’d been, how flattered, how much less charming they began to seem, how burdensome they became, and then, finally, how boring...The story of love.” (Nora Ephron, I Remember Nothing)
These quips are simple versus all-encompassing. They are fleeting thoughts that capture tiny pieces that we all bite into now and then. They are disappointingly yet cozily familiar, like those slightly stale strawberry hard candies that your grandmother always had in her crystal candy dish: You always imagined it as perfect, yet found comfort in the slightly-stale imperfection. Because you yourself were, and are, imperfect.
So we take pieces from here and bits from there, until all of those short quips slide into a story without a main thesis. And there, from that helter-skelter narrative, we can finally construct some sort of personalized empathy.
I’m currently re-reading On Love, by Alain de Botton. Written when the author was in his early 20s, it follows the relationship of two people – the narrator and Chloe – from their first meeting until the author finally feels capable of moving onto a new romantic interest long after the dissolution.
It’s one love experience, so there are many times when, as a reader, you think, “Nah. I don’t agree with that. That’s not how it was for me.” But there are many other times when you think, “Wow. That’s exactly how it was...You somehow molded a vague, subtle, and completely convoluted sentiment into a single sentence.”
Here a few of those sentences that stood out for me:
1. If Chloe and I overcame certain of our differences, it was because we had the will to make jokes of the impasses we found in each other’s characters.
Love is about choosing your battles. And it’s a whole lot easier to let things go if you force yourself to laugh at the lunacy of two minds processing information in such different ways.
One of the reviews on the back cover of On Love describes it as “Smart and ironic.” When D read that, he scoffed: “Ironic. Ha. They should just say ‘Smart and funny.’ Funny is better than ironic.” To which I replied, “It’s a deep book. Funny is too surface-level.”
He is a black and white tunnel vision of literality.
I am a gray wide-angle lens of metaphor.
This makes for a constant journey of practicing patience, as 90% of our conversations boil down to me trying to carefully communicate, without sounding defensive, that 1) “It’s not about being right or wrong”, or 2) “That’s not what I meant.”
We continue to laugh more and more at impasses.
2. It takes the intimacy of a lover to point out facets of character that others simply don’t bother with.
It’s always interesting to read or watch love stories unfold, because in many ways, D and I didn’t follow any typical trajectory. Call it backwards, or old-school, or just the way it happened, but it still amuses me.
For example, I only recently made the idiosyncratic observation that we completely switch roles when we’re out at our Hampton Bays house: I am more relaxed and unhurried, while he spends most of the weekend finishing up projects and moving nonstop, buzzing and shorter-tempered, deep sighing and grunting his way through an endless list of tiny to-dos. He always gets anxious before we leave, as if preparing for the apocalypse, and it takes him quite awhile to rev down the engine.
I have to say, I find it a little refreshing, knowing how he struggles to deal with my “morning disorder”, aka my apparent inability to leave the apartment in the morning without acting like a crazed cyclone of a human being.
Would anyone else be amused by observations like this? Probably not. But he is an endless course of fascination to me.
3. Habits began to leak between us…The language of intimacy they helped to create was a reminder that [we] had created something of a world together.
Love is letting in.
Love is compromising and shape-shifting and staying true to your values while creating new shared priorities.
Love is adopting words into your lexicon that you never thought you would use.
Love is inside jokes and butt slaps and morning routines and creating a world together.
And love is laughing together as you fart freely.
5. I didn’t love Chloe so much as marshmallow her...From then on, love was, for Chloe and me at least, no longer simply love, it was a sugary, puffy object a few millimeters in diameter that melts deliciously in the mouth.
Me: “You’re a complete nut job.”
D: “And you’re a complete nut job for falling for me.”
Love is whatever it looks like for you.
Love is challenging and complicated and wondrous and affirming and everything and nothing more than what you make of it.
Love that makes it is hopefully a constant reminder that you chose a person whom you knew you needed and wanted because 1) s/he helped you be a better version of yourself, and 2) because s/he loved you right back: Lover, friend, family, partner in crime.
Love is kind of like a rumor: We all talk about it, but none of us really know what it's all about in a succinct way. How can we? The dictionary tries to boil it down to "an intense feeling of deep affection", but, as we all know, that doesn't even begin to cover it.
After laughing at the sweetness of the Sandy Grain love on the train, Dennis turned to me and said, “I want to be an old guy muttering in my sleep someday about how much I love you.”
That sounds pretty good to me.