Real love is a pilgrimage. It happens when there is no strategy, but it is very rare because most people are strategists.—Anita Brookner
Valentine’s Day makes life difficult with its damned if you do, damned if you don’t expectations that make life impossible whether one is in a relationship or not. This pseudo-holiday creates performance anxiety for relationships by forcing the question: is this love? And if this is love, is it real love or just that momentary emotion one creates out of a desperate need to feel something positive about a person without making a commitment?
Superficial love can happen, and does happen, all the time. That love that lingers on the surface is circumstantial, though, and like oil on Teflon slips easily away with only a faint residue of memory left behind. That’s why such love needs baubles and trinkets and silly holidays; without those things, superficial love has no traction, goes nowhere, and quickly evaporates. Even then, and this is what proves frustrating, there’s no guarantee that any of those things will hold a love in place long enough for it to grow.
Real love, by contrast, goes deep, sets anchors, not just one but several because it has no plan for leaving, ever. Real love wants to be eternal and when that’s not possible, whether, by design or fate, we come out of it with indelible marks, signs of having wallowed in that deep emotion. The marks are not necessarily scars, though that can happen, but signs that one has participated in something larger than and outside of themselves.
Real love binds us to another soul. I think parents understand this better than anyone. The moment one looks into the eyes of their own child for the first time, it happens; we are captured by real love and forever linked to this tiny person no matter how they might behave or what poor choices they might make later in life. We’re ensnared not by a heart, but by another life and we can no sooner escape from them than they from us.
Real love is not monogamous for if it were we would never be able to love our own children. Real love spreads its tentacles and shows no favoritism. Real love does not love one more than another. Rather, real love reaches out to whoever will take it and draws all together, creating a web that holds everyone safely, equally.
Real love is symbiotic, taking as it needs, giving to nourish and support the other. Highways of emotion flow back and forth between those who love so deeply and sometimes the roads traveled most often are the first to wear out. Sometimes love replaces those paths, other times it finds new ways of achieving what is necessary.
Real love is not immortal, however. Kahlil Gibran reminds us that I-do’s do sometimes die. Reasons for such are myriad and not insignificant for such true love does not go easily nor quietly into the night. Struggles ensue as those anchors, one by one, are ripped away, the ties broken, the highways crumbled. Ending such love is a process, not an event. One does not simply wake up one morning and decide to leave love on a shelf with a note.
So, love ends, and in its place are the marks, the reminders, the memories of where that love once stood. Sometimes those marks are painful and become scars, for love sometimes love is taken from us unwillingly, sometimes violently, and that hurts. More often than not, however, those marks are reminders of how we’ve grown and changed, like the height measurements of a child on the doorframe. We look back at those marks and smile, perhaps sad that those loves are gone, but happy that we had them for a while.
Then, love begins again, for it is always reaching out. Sure, pain and bitterness may give us cause to fight against it, but love that is real is impossible to put off or deny. True love does not have an agenda, and I’m no longer convinced it even knows how to read a map. Love chooses whoever love chooses simply because love chooses to choose. I am repeatedly reminding Kat that I love her because I love her. There is no other qualifier. While there are many things about her I appreciate, love is not dependent on the qualities of another but drops anchor wherever it chooses. We do not choose love; it chooses us.
And as love introduces us to another, we find marks on their lives, just as there are marks on ours, for they have loved before; they know the pain of loss and the joy of receiving. We embrace that new love and move forward, knowing that it will not disappear without a trace, and happy to be so marked.