dating, love, romance

97. The language of love

I have a friend who’s been seeing someone for a long time. They’re a fantastic match: epicurean, cultured and refined, but not at all pretentious. If they were a night out they’d be an evening at the opera followed by a deep fried Mars bar. They work hard, travel and enjoy a luxurious, instagrammable lifestyle. Life’s a beach – or, in their case, a museum, a spa or a secluded treehouse in the heart of the Lake District.

And yet, a couple of months ago he told her he loved her and she didn’t reciprocate. “I just don’t know,” she said, “sometimes I’m so happy but then…I have doubts. How do you know?” When I asked her about it recently she replied, “we don’t talk about it,” which I took as my cue to stick a Mars bar in it.

Our conversation made me reflect on how you know you really love someone. How do you sort the wheat from the chaff, the yays from the nays, the ‘One’ from the still wondering? The Oxford English Dictionary defines love thus:

Love, n. an intense feeling of romantic attachment based on an attraction felt by one person for another; intense liking and concern for another person, typically combined with sexual passion

That’s all very well, but I’ve had a lot of those feelings in my life and I haven’t expressed them all in loving terms. Frankly, I find it a bit odd we’ve even attempted a definition for something so slippery and nebulous. How can anyone objectively know what love is when we all experience it differently? I’m sorry to say, Whitney, that my love isn’t your love.

Nevertheless, we strive to find a common thread in infinite permutations of admiration, respect, connection, attraction and lust. We expose emotion to the clumsy inarticulacy of language. Every pang, throb and palpitation is thrust under a microscope for dissection; all the shifting colours of the human heart slapped into buckets like shades of Dulux paint. Maybe some things should be private, intimate, beyond the grasping intellects of the verbal bean counters. Maybe some things should be beyond compare.

Sometimes I think I have an “intense feeling of romantic attachment based on attraction” for the Thai. Once I came close to saying it. It was on the tip of my tongue, it just wouldn’t take the plunge: come on you bastard, jump. Other times, I’m not so sure. Saying “I love you” at our age feels more serious, more final somehow. You’re no longer saying it for teenage kicks or for kindness or as a fleeting fancy from which you can rapidly back peddle. This could really be it. Marriage. Kids. They’re just a slip of the tongue away.

Is this love? Do I love? Perhaps some more research is needed. I’ve yet to see what the bean counters make of: Adoration, n.

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