What I didn’t say was that I was also jaded about love, having just split from the most recent of a string of not-quite-right girlfriends, the number of which, as I approached middle age, had reached into the double digits.
I had dated this last not-right person for more than a year. On paper, we looked great together, with similar passions and compatible quirkiness. Yet I’d known from the beginning that something was missing: we had sparks, but no fireworks, a small flame that remained small despite my most ardent fanning. Occasionally she would sleep with someone else, though it hardly bothered me. That other person, it seemed to me, was no more her final destination than I was. Until, that is, she migrated permanently into that other person’s bed.
So there I was, bruised of heart and single yet again, facing a challenge. An editor with an evangelical enthusiasm for a project, and me, a perennially single and somewhat cynical relationship flunky with a lust for newsprint column inches.
“It sounds great,” I ventured without hesitation, all the while feeling as if I’d signed on to cross dangerous borders using false papers.
Perhaps because of my honesty, or more likely because of my résumé, I was offered the column on the love lives of Bay Area couples — straight, gay, married, single or even recently hooked up. No polyamory was the only parameter.
I catapulted into my work. It’s what people do to distract themselves from a breakup, and there was that scary voice in my head that kept whispering: “You’re 50, you’re single ... good luck with that.”
In the two years since, I’ve interviewed more than 200 people about how they met, married or merged, and time and again I’ve asked my incredulous questions.
One man married a woman from the Mauritius Islands that he met through a French pen-pal organization. “You flew to Africa to meet someone after exchanging two postcards?” I asked. Not only that, but he proposed in less than a week. They’ve been married 10 years.
An Italian-American guy paid the bridge toll for a cute girl in the car behind him: she married him. A couple met in a head-on collision (neither was badly hurt); another in a relocation camp for survivors after World War II. Two lesbians met as 9-year-olds in a Christian cult from which they escaped together after high school graduation. Now in their 40s, they’re still together, amused by — and grateful for — the rare circumstance of never having experienced a broken heart.
I’ve been impressed by arranged marriages I’ve learned about, wherein at the very least the couple share values — about money, education, family — and at most adore and cherish someone they met and married in a time frame shorter than a single rotation of the sun.
A world map hangs in my office, poked with colorful pins marking the countries of origin of my subjects: the diversity of the Bay Area’s melting pot gives my column flavor. Yet what’s most foreign to me about them is not their culture or ethnicity. It’s their certainty about something as inexplicable as love.
“How did you know?” I asked a woman who had met her future husband on a plane and swears she knew they would marry from the moment she squeezed into that middle seat.
“I felt it,” she repeated to my persistent inquiries.
Felt what? I have wondered more times than I care to recall.
Inevitably, they turn the tables and ask me about my own relationship status. Sometimes I skirt the question, put up a journalistic smoke screen and simply deflect. But occasionally I give it a shot.
“How did you meet your husband?” This came at me few weeks ago from a Burmese political activist who met his wife in a Thai refugee camp. I didn’t bother to correct his gender presumption.
“I haven’t — yet,” I stammered.
Their faces fell. “How sad for you, this work,” the woman said. As I was leaving, she tucked a small statuette into my purse. “For good luck,” she told me.
Another couple tried to set me up with their thrice-divorced son.
AT times I feel like an anthropologist on Mars. So many of the people I interview have gut feelings and are hit with lightning bolts and simply “know.” But no matter how many times I hear these stories, and I hear them every week, I have yet to understand.
I’ve known things before, sure. The one time I really felt that magnetic feeling, for a charismatic blond Italian, I nearly ended up in the bin. Sure, the initial attraction was intense — ignited by a glance across a grocery store — but the flip side was like turning magnets’ backsides to each other. The repulsion — fights and jealousy and drama — was just as powerful.
I can always turn to my rationalizations: My parents didn’t give me a great model for partnership, and maybe I’m missing the gene for long-term love. But at this age, really! That excuse seems both boring and tragic. My shrink says I need to stop asking questions, buckle down and learn to love. “Quit searching for the easy, mind-blowing, true-love story,” he says. “It’s an illusion.”
“It’s my job,” I tell him, half smirking, as if I’m in on the joke. But then I go out and hear another of these stories and I wonder.
Sometimes I think it’s just a linguistic challenge: love is a noun, something precious that you find, or that finds you, like in many of the stories that end up beneath my byline. Or maybe my shrink is right and love is more a verb, something you do.
“We treat each other like we’re each other’s mothers,” said a Tibetan woman of her husband, “because in another life, we might have been.” Her marriage to an American Buddhist began as a way to immigrate, and then they started to have feelings for each other.
“Our hearts knew before our brains,” she told me.
I wrote it down and read it over several times before deciding to make that the final line of their story — it will guarantee moist eyes, at least from some readers. But these love-as-verb stories are not as flashy or Hollywood-esque as the ones in which love falls from the sky.
“It must be torture,” a woman told me the other week. “To be single and meet all of us lovebirds?” She had hooked up, after 40 years, with her high school nemesis. They had randomly crossed paths (without the help of the Internet) 3,000 miles from where they had grown up. Curled on her couch, she cooed into the shoulder of her new true love.
I drive off from apartments, homes, trailers, even a center for people with developmental disabilities (where a couple had met at a special-needs summer camp), and I’m writing the column already, but I’m also thinking: Will anything like that ever happen to me? How happy are they really?
I put the key into the ignition, and wonder if, on the way home, someone will cross in front of my car and our eyes will meet and we will just know. In the years I’ve had this job I’ve gone from dating, to seeing someone, to seeing no one, to dating again. Yet I continue to ask, notebook in hand: How do people know with such certainty that their person is the one? Or do they not know and just decide?
I’m paid to wonder about these things. But even if I weren’t, I’d still be looking through that window, questioning what was passing between that doctor and his wife — an outsider always peering in, ever curious — which, it turns out, is what makes me perfect for this job. Because after all my years in relationships, and the years of writing my column, the commonness of being fully coupled — that level of intimacy — is still as mysterious to me as the boundary of our universe. I can’t see it, but I know it must be out there somewhere.Continue reading the main story
How do I know that true love exists? I have seen very few but very special relationships in my life that have given me the hope to believe in true love. I have also seen relationships that simply don't work. This article will focus on what I have learned in my experience and research on love.
PART I: What is Love?
This is a question that has been explored by philosophers and poets, and almost everyone else as well, for as long as humans have been around.
Love can be defined as a strong bond between people. There are many types of love: brotherly love, motherly love, love for pets, love for activities or places, and everyone's favorite- romantic love. The purpose of this article is to focus solely on romantic love between two people. Romantic love will be defined as a profoundly tender, passionate for another, including sexual desire and passion. Dictionary. com separates the first part and the sexual part. I found this interesting. Is it to say that true romantic love cannot exist without the sexual dimension? I think it can, especially when the couple may not physically be able to make love. But the sexual part takes the emotional, psychological and spiritual love to another level; the physiological level. Sex alone though is not love. This should be obvious. It can be the thing that makes you smile in the morning or the thing that makes you cry at night. A deep, true love can be something that is bigger than obsession, a deeper connection with another human being in which we can share our whole selves with the other person; our likes and dislikes, passions, fears, memories (happy and sad), dreams, and spend quality time with each other.
Love is NOT lust, obsession, a competition, or a game. When it starts feeling like this it is a sign that it may just be one of these things and not true, deep love. A quote I read the other day really struck my mind: "We desire what we know will not last, but we love only those things which are eternal." It was not credited to anyone and a Google search turned up nothing, but what matters here is the message. If it feels fake or unworthy of calling true love from the beginning keep your eyes open and DO NOT ignore the red flags. Remember these words and tell yourself whenever you need to be reminded: It is better to be alone than in bad company. While it is true that any relationship needs compromise and work, there are limits. If you feel like you are not happy or not being your true self, these are major signs that there is trouble. One of the signs I have had in a past relationship was that a good friend of mine pointed out that every time I was asked about my girlfriend that my face and voice tone changed. It took a friend pointing it out to make me realize that I was in an unhealthy and unhappy relationship.
PART II: How to Find Love
"How can I find love?" is a very common question on almost everyone's mind. And for good reason. Life can be pretty awesome, and love can make it even better.
What to Do:
1. Be positive. Picture your dream partner and what they will be like. Make a list of traits and remember that personality traits are more important that physical, though those are important as well. Wake up every morning seeing the day ahead as an opportunity to better yourself and your life, while at the same time helping others as well.
2. Improve yourself. Learn a language, read more (find the types of books that you are passionate about, there are books for EVERYONE!), stay busy and make your life great. If there are negative people/bullies, in your life, slowly start distancing yourself from them. It may feel a little awkward at first, but you will flourish in your new positive environment. Trust me. It is also true what they say: For someone to love you, you have to love yourself. Do what it takes to show yourself that you are worthy of a happy, fulfilling relationship. Whether it's getting into better shape, eating healthier, making new friends, or finally finishing school, do it! Your future self will thank you for it.
3. Meet people. I think people sometimes forget that humans are social creatures and that we need to interact with one another. Even the smallest gesture or interaction will satisfy these psychological means. Everyone has them, too. Even the "loners" eventually find other "loners" to be "loners" with! Volunteer, join/start a book club, take a class, talk to people in the grovery store and ask for recipes, talk to your parents, your waiter, and meet their friends. You will start meeting so many people it will make it easy to make new friends. Remember not to overwhelm yourself with all these new people. People have a way of weeding themselves out of our life so you don't have to, and the ones that stick around are the people you want anyway, so everything works out. Get out of your comfort zone! Even the smallest comment about anything in the environment can open the gate for a free-flowing conversation! Some people love to talk and will talk to anyone. I learned this firsthand. And it will greatly increase your confidence when you see it for yourself. One of the best books that I have read on this subject is Always Talk to Strangers (shown in Amazon.com capsule on right) .
4. Be proactive. Most people take a passive role when it comes to love. I think of it as a numbers game; if you are moving about in circles of people like you (same interests, values, etc.) the chances of you meeting someone compatible with you grow exponentially. I say exponentially because through every new person you may meet 3 more people -so meet 3 new people and that potentially means that you could meet 12 people total. And then those new people may introduce more! It is a chain reaction. I don't like the idea of sitting back and waiting for something to happen. Leonardo da Vinci said, "People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them, they went out and happened to things." This is the attitude that I agree to take with love. But for some, it is good enough to sit back and wait to see what the current on life brings.
5. Be patient. You will need to show patience and don't be discouraged if the first few dates or potential mates don't measure it. I have been single for almost 2 years now, and there is no prospect in the horizon, but that can always change! The best part is that it only takes one person to change your world and make everything else make sense. All the incompatible people from your dating history will not matter when you find a keeper. And there are plenty of keepers out there, trust me. The idea of there being a perfect for someone is a nice thought, but statistically impossible. There is probably no one that matches you on every interest and level, but would you want that anyway? It may be boring. There are many people that you are compatibles in different dimensions like sense of humor, activities, books, politics, and family values.
6. Be truly open with the possibility of falling in love. I know a lot of people with issues they carry from past relationships. This is hard to recognize and admit for some people but can make or break the next relationship. If you are still fearful/hurt/angry/in love with the last relationship you had, you need to take time from the battlefield of love to heal your wounds and get your psychological self in order again. Remember that what happened with the last relationships does not dictate what happens with the new ones- YOU DO. They are not the same people. I have seen some of the relationships with the best potential gone down the drain because of a person's baggage from the last. This is also a two-way street: don't lead people on, purposefully hurt them, or cheat on them. This usually makes them jaded and makes it hard for them to trust again. If you notice a pattern on your past relationships, probably a link of reasons of why they are now past relationships, don't ignore them -explore them! Write about them, talk about them -anything to help you learn better for the next. For example if you tend to go for the bad/dangerous type but always seem to get your heart broken, try dating other personality types. You may pleasantly surprised. Also this is a great way to get to know yourself: what you like and don't like in a person/date/situation/etc.
You Found Love! Now What?
1. Keep your feet on the ground and don't illusion yourself. At the same time, enjoy the magic of chemistry two human beings can create with one another. Stay realistic but hopeful. This is a perfect balance, just like in nature, and can be difficult to accomplish. Luckily you have your friends and family to help keep you in perspective. Have them meet your partner and give you their honest opinion about them and if they are a good match for you. This is a priceless opinion because no one knows you better than your friends and family, plus they have an objective view. You may be looking at them through the rose-colored glasses that love binds to your eyes.
2. Keep your individuality. This does not mean to be by yourself most of the time. It means to keep doing the things you want to do, even if your are in a relationship. If you love watching history documentaries, keep doing it! This is an opportunity for you and your partner. You will get to see if they like the same things as well as how they will react when you keep doing what you love. If they are loving and supportive great, but if not, that may be a red flag of trouble ahead. The ideal situation is that you both can do the same things you like together. But some alone time is also healthy. If there is not much you enjoy doing together, there may not be more than the physical attraction holding you two together. Not always, but sometimes this is the case.
3. Keep your options open. Never settle for less than what you deserve. If this person matches everything you've been wanting in a person, GREAT! But if there are doubts in your mind, remember that there is no need for a commitment right away! If things were meant to work out with you and your partner, they will. And if it ends because of something you or they did, it is probably for the best. Actions and feelings don't lie. Never stay in a relationship just because you don't want to be alone. You were born with everything you need, and you've made some good friends since then, so you don't need anyone to validate your existence.
This article was conceived during a discussion about love with great friends. It will be continued to be revised as needed and please feel free to read my other logic-oriented articles. Thanks for reading!