No Dating to Kiss goodbye

My parents didn't forbid me from dating as a teenager, but my pool of eligible young men was restricted to church and my homeschool group. And thanks to a book written by a twenty-one year old homeschooled kid about the foibles of dating, we were all about courtship. Terms like "boyfriend," "girlfriend," and "dating" were dirty words.

There were a few good humored, sensible young men in my homeschool group that were very easy on the eyes. But although hope sprung eternal, I think I knew deep down that it was fruitless to imagine that any of them would solicit my father's permission to come over once a week to sit stiffly in our parlor to pay me court.

But I imagined anyway. I was pretty sure it would look something like this (sans the dancing, but definitely including the hamster):

It wasn't until my last semester in college that I fell in love for the first time. Throughout college, I'd always had a thing for one gent or another, but this was the first time I'd experienced anything mutual.

Though I had yet to experience reciprocal inloveness, I wrote about love constantly in high school and in those early college days. It amazes me how frequently and authoritatively I wrote about romantic love before I had ever had the experience of being in love. As I sorted through my paper files this weekend, I came across this fragment of writing from about ten years ago that I think I meant to work into a love story:

Manhattan in Winter.jpg

These few paragraphs say so much about how I understood love and inloveness in my early college days. They drip with a hope in the magic of inloveness, but also the impulse to kill that hope in magic before it exposed me for a fool.

I've been in love for over seven years now, and I can't speak with authority on some kind of universal experience of inloveness, I can say something provisional about the potentials of romantic love. Or at least do better than viewing all inloveness as parasitic by default.

The Dazzle of Real Fantasies

Those early stages of dazzle are not unreal or (necessarily) unhealthy phantasms, the bubbles that will be burst once we get down to the daily nitty-gritty of "real love." I think that's actually a very suspicious disposition toward love. Rather, sometimes our deepest and most emotionally raw realities are fantasies of the loveliest kind, real fictions to be nurtured and elaborated on. 

Our experience of what people might think of as the "highs" of inloveness are (or at least can be) co-authored realities that produce a heightened sense of mutual awareness (the "us" factor). They are not the fake stuff that we must beat back to get to the real stuff of love, but the beginnings of a delightfully fabricated reality of life together that we must continue to fashion anew.

Likewise, "the daily grind" of ordinary life is not the foil to these concentrated moments of awareness of being in love, but the necessary food of a relationship that is contingent and changing. I'll dare to contradict Shakespeare and say that love isn't ever-fixed mark, but a perpetual movement. And I'll affirm (contra Hartley Coleridge) that love is a fancy and a feeling, not "immortal as immaculate Truth" unless we own that immortality is contingent upon perpetual transformation and "truth" is anything but spotless. The surest way to kill love is to expect it to be always the same, and it's from this expectation of sameness that we get the inloveness/daily grind dichotomy.

My pre-inloveness writings have a common theme: a roiling hope in the realities of deep connection, and also an abject fear that such love would never materialize (and, further, that if it didn't it would be my fault for failing to engage the "really real"). What I missed (among many things) was the concept of creation and cultivation. Love isn't a matter of "real" vs. "fake," but of creating an awareness of the environs in which love grows and learning how best to tend and nourish.

Magic sweeps in, washes over and into us. It's the spell of the tide that flows over us and ebbs back into the dark sea, the undertow tugging us into its uncertain deeps. Don't be afraid of its unfathomed worlds or the strength of its grip. In time, the sea will cast you up again onto dry land. You will trace the sand with your finger, the wet sand that (scientifically speaking) did not exist until you perceived it.

You will touch the solid, shifting earth and wonder which was real: the magic of the sea or the rootedness of dirt? And you will be answered by the crash of waves and the sensation of particles moving beneath your hand.