Sometimes I am forced to confront the fact that I am just a heart with sleeves. Really and truly. My dad and I are the same that way. Just hearts with sleeves who go around in the world trying to function like reasonable people and not just fall all over ourselves being in love with everyone. We have had varied levels of success.
I've spent a good amount of my life being in love. Sometimes with people and sometimes just with the ideas of them. It's an easy distinction to miss. But let me say that being in love with actual people is so much better than just loving the idea of them. People are so often not what you expect, and sometimes this can be their best thing. If you haven't yet loved someone for who they genuinely are, go outside and try it. You can even tell them I recommended it. I don't mind.
A brief note: There's a risk, writing something like this, that you'll have someone read it who wonders if you're talking about them and feels awkward about it. I am trying not to worry about this for two reasons 1) Close to no one will read it, and 2) If I've spent any time being in love with you, (romantically or platonically), you probably already know about it. Because, as I said, I am more or less just a heart with sleeves.
Moreover, if I've spent any time being in love with you, (romantically or platonically), you can be assured that I still love you and would probably still lie down in traffic for you if called upon to do so. This is a side effect of being a heart with sleeves. This, I merely add because it is always nice to know that someone loves you. Especially on Valentine's Day.
Now, I don't want to slog on with the gooey details of the times when I was in love, or wax on about how the planets aligned, or the way fruit tasted sweeter, and the stars were brighter, or whatever over indulgent imagery Nicholas Sparks would use to describe all the ways it changes your life. It's unnecessary to dilute something so stupidly great with a bunch of cliches that make it sound nauseating.
Instead I want to take the opportunity to admit that I do, in fact, believe in love. Even sometimes love at first sight. Even sometimes true love.
Many people scoff about love at first sight and true love. I am those people sometimes. Especially when watching The Bachelor. But I am suspending my scoff today and am going to attempt to speak more earnestly, because feelings and holidays.
I have come to be of the opinion that love looks different to everyone and that it feels different to everyone. I don't think you can tell someone how they personally experience love any better than you can tell them to stop being in love. So when I say that I believe in "love" what I really mean is: I believe that, given the right person/place/thing, people can feel an array of shiny-positive feelings, and those feelings will likely make them act completely bananas and dumb as hell in ways that the rest of us will ignore and/or generally accept as cute, sweet, romantic and/or crimes of passion.
I understand that this seems unnecessarily vague. But in truth I think this is as clear an idea of what love is as I've ever had.
When I turned six, I remember giving a long speech to my best friend at the time about what it was like to be six, and what she should prepare herself for as a naive and unworldly five-year-old. We spent an entire recess with me proselytizing and her "taking notes" with a twig on a wood chip. We were young. Aside from this being evidence of my early onset elitism, it also shows you how I used to believe the world worked. I thought you sort of went through life getting lessons flung at you by people wiser than you about what everything was and how to do it. And at a certain point in my life, I figured someone wise and well-versed in the subject would come along and explain to me what the fuck love was like and how to recognize it and what to do about it.
Spoiler alert: it didn't happen that way. The experts never showed.
Instead there are just a bunch of people with opinions: there are the newly single "I thought it was love" people and the newly coupled "well for us" people, and the well-established "we think" people. There are countless Cosmo quizzes about whether or not you've found "the one" and articles to explain what his "hug style" says about him. There's statistical research on dating trends and the "best cities for singles". There are the eHarmony commercials with that song from The Parent Trap playing in the background with average looking people just smiling giddily at each other about how they got married two minutes after they met for coffee. There's that new study that suggests you can "fall in love" with anyone if you ask them the right set of 36 questions. There are books-- from the Anna Kareninas to the Twilights. There's TV, from the Ross and Rachel to the Moulder and Scully. And then there are, of course, movies, where you meet the boy next door but he's just a nerd/your best friend and he's mostly around to give you advice to use later because really you like the guy who surfs/doesn't notice you/already has a girlfriend who totally doesn't get him, and sometimes he invites you to a "casual hang" and you think it's a date but then it super isn't because his friends are there with their girlfriends and none of them like you at all and so you're heartbroken and you go home and cry and it rains and you feel catharsis and you basically decide you're done with boys for good, until the next day when your boy next door/nerd/best friend gets super attractive because he got a hair cut and now he's revealing his feelings and suddenly you're realizing your feelings and wow! You're both having so many feelings and you would kiss right now but.... YOUR MOM CAME HOME. So now you have to wait till prom.
We see these golden standards and we hold our lives up to them and squint hard to try and find the resemblance. Sometimes we get carried away with the idea of fairy tales. And sometimes, when we can't see any likeness at all, we get carried away with the idea that fairy tales are bullshit.
I don't think anything is so straightforward as glass slipper on foot = eternal happiness. I don't even think putting on shoes is that straightforward. But just because life doesn't look like some (mildly racist?) Disney cartoon, doesn't mean that there's no such thing as true love. True love is not measured in how many bluebirds help you get dressed the morning after.
I have a good friend whom I love dearly, and who has been my friend for a long time. And once, after years of not seeing each other for a multitude of reasons, this friend showed up at my door unannounced. Most often when I think about love, I think of the first five seconds after I opened the door that day. Five seconds in which neither of us spoke, and nobody moved. We just stood there smiling and staring like idiots. I remember feeling like I almost couldn't breathe, like we couldn't quite believe we were really looking at each other. But there we were. Sort of laughing at ourselves and thinking, "God, I fucking love you." Five seconds when just standing there together was so much more than enough. If it can be measured at all, true love, to me, is measured in seconds like those.
Too much? Too real? Let me bring it back down. Try and get at this thing from another angle...
Like a lot of people I know, I got really obsessed with Chance The Rapper's Acid Rain a while ago, an album that, if you're not listening to in its entirety on a regular basis, I am here to tell you is genius. You can start listening to it or you can go ahead and accept that you're making a huge mistake. Your call. I am (obviously) still pretty obsessed with it, but I went through a dedicated period of time where it was quite honestly all I would listen to. And sometime during that window, I decided that for me, love can be summed up by the song Interlude (That's Love). This is not to say that Chance, in a two and a half minute song, explains something that is I think deemed wholly unexplainable. But, everytime I hear that song, I am overcome with a kind of intoxicating joy that I associate with being in love. Is that ridiculous? Of course it is! It's completely ridiculous! It's maybe the MOST ridiculous! And yet...
So, of course, once I'd made that discovery, I started to notice other songs that elicited a feeling that was on par with Interlude (That's Love). To name a few (though Chance still holds the crown): Everlasting Arms by Vampire Weekend, Really Love by D'Angelo, Someone New by Hozier (the acoustic version, not the lesser, album version), Part Two (On The Run) by Jay-Z featuring Beyonce, Better Man (also the acoustic, if you can find it) by Paolo Nutini, Won't Stop by OneRepublic, Universe & U (No, but seriously. Go acoustic) by KT Tunstall, and a variety of others. Some embarrassing and some downright brilliant. Some embarrassing and brilliant also.
The thing that's the most fun about this exercise is that I don't think any two people will have the same list. I don't doubt that anyone I asked, from my closest friends to total strangers, would come up with entirely different songs. Some people might include Metallica or Prince. Maybe they would have songs that held special sentimental value, or maybe just a compilation of a lot of One Direction deep cuts. My sister and her fiancé told me recently that they've decided their song is Tonight Tonight by Hot Chelle Rae because they agree it's the worst thing they've ever heard. And then I'm sure there are people for whom music does nothing, and they'd describe love in completely different terms. (I am not friends with these people because they stress me out, but I respect that they exist. Probably in droves.)
Which is all to say, there's no universal way to know. There are no experts. There's no one to tell you when it's right. Not even Cosmo. Not even Chance the Rapper.
And still, I find myself falling in love all the time. It's distracting. One of the best/worst things about being a writer is all the details you notice. And one of the best/worst things about being a heart with sleeves is that you find even the most bullshit things endearing. I'll fall in love with the way he shrugs his right shoulder up when he says something he's worried might offend you. With the way she plucks pills off her sweater when she has to talk about her parents. With the way he holds a pen. With the way she laughs without making any sound. With the way he orders food like he's asking for a favor. With the way her voice goes up when she answers the phone. I could go on.
So I suppose I wrote this today as another way of saying that I love you. Something I don't say enough given the number of wonderful people in my life. I, in all my fucked up weirdness, love you, in all of yours. And not because I hope you'll one day be anything other that what you are, but because you are exactly as you are right now.
Truth is, at the end of the day, we can't say definitively that love is any one thing across the board, except lucky. Being in love, and being loved, can make you feel like the luckiest person on the planet. And that is a pretty sweet deal.
Happy Valentine's Day, y'all.