Who in their right mind would choose to let another see them at their most unkempt, most tortured, most indecisive?
With whom would you feel comfortable resisting the urge to put your best face forward? With whom could let it all hang out? Is there anyone you trust enough not to laugh at you, not to seek to take advantage of you, or not to automatically dismiss you when you’re down?
Well, is there actually anyone?
In the age of constant connectedness and curated appearances, love has become transactional, a swipe on a touchscreen, if that. Our interactions are as shallow as our social media posts, designed to elicit envy or pity for plaudits and payment but seldom dialogue. We write and talk at rather than to another, pitching ourselves against fellow humans in our elusive pursuit of online fame and fortune.
We want to be the best product, we want to be the best brand, we want to have the catchiest tagline, we want to have the most fans, followers, subscribers, friends.
If only they were actual friends with whom we could enjoy a coffee rather than online acquaintances we’ve never met.
When only vanity metrics and money can placate your insatiable appetite for human warmth, attention becomes a kind of love. The more you get, the more you put out in an attempt to attract even more. We are so crushingly lonely we’d do anything for a fellow human to make us feel that little less invisible, that little less insignificant.
But no matter how we much we get, online attention doesn’t hold our hand while we sleep, it doesn’t make us soup when we’re sad. Online attention doesn’t give us a hug when we need to feel grounded, it doesn’t kiss our neck gently by way of apology for having wronged us even though it soon becomes clear they didn’t. We misunderstood them instead.
All the above are the preserve of love.
Everyone hankers after the perfect relationship but few are those who approach it like a blank canvas.
Instead, we come at it armed with a list of criteria the ideal partner must meet, as if humans were goods on a marketplace. We no longer take the time to find out about others, we compare who they say they are against our wish list and shun them if they don’t tick enough boxes.
Fabulists pandering to the lowest common denominator, we are trapped in a smoke and mirrors labyrinth of our own making. We keep crashing into our own reflection; it is the same as everyone else’s.
How could it not be? We lead the incurious, consumerist lives of those conditioned to believe they are the best.
But unless we drop all pretense and embrace everything that makes us who we are, how can we ever get to know ourselves?
Unless we are curious about other people instead of ignoring them when they’re too different from us, how can we ever get to know anyone?
Unless we embrace our shared humanness and try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes again even though we may not quite remember how to, how can we ever love?
Love flies in the face of conformity.
It’s not convenient, it’s awkward, it’s challenging, it’s thrilling, and it admits it hasn’t got a clue, usually by stating the fact, without artifice.
Love is self-evident; it doesn’t even try to impress
It doesn’t hold back, it gives without expecting to receive. However, it communicates with the natural reticence of those whose heart has been irreversibly broken at least once.
Those dwelling under the auspices of love favor a blunderingly yet benevolent style. Bluntness, silence, and sous-entendres all form part of their vocabulary when they choose to use words.
They much prefer action to discussion.
Love is intentional and epicurean. And yet, it is also proactive, anchored in the present moment with the kind of unabashed joy that stops time and makes it feel like forever. Love feasts on the ephemera of life and the effluvia of pain, turning them into new memories to rewrite itself with.
If it weren’t so pragmatic, love would be magic but then again it doesn’t understand hyperbole. Only language boiled down to its purest essence animates it, be it poetry or the dictionary.
Love starts with kindness.
Love is childlike in its genesis, attracted to the difference because it feels so familiar. It doesn’t judge, it just observes the object of its curiosity with ever-increasing interest.
Love begins when we see a fellow human and make them feel seen in their entirety, including between the lines. Love is an ongoing expedition into another’s psyche and emotions, one for which you can never be quite prepared.
And so you must travel light, even when you use words as sherpas for they might not withstand the weight of a crushing past combined with that of novelty. While novelty starts out as ethereal, omnipresent yet unspoken, it will hit you with the force of a meteor sooner or later. And when it does, your past will have to make space.
Lest the past should ever attempt to hold the present hostage, kindness demands you gently set it aside so you may be free to continue on your joint exploration. Love is made of discovery, not expectation. Slowly, two minds make themselves at home in each other’s thoughts before hearts awake and souls catch up.
By then, love is already a long-standing intellectual habit and the engine of mutual empowerment.
Every day, love renews and recreates itself, pragmatic yet playful.
Should serendipity send us its way and us theirs, how will we know love?
Love won’t introduce itself; it will disarm us and strip us bare.
And then we will have to choose daily between running for cover or staying put, exposed in all our unfiltered realness. Some days the choice will be more difficult than others, almost reluctant when we cannot believe such love is even possible now.
A past of assorted impossibilities will attempt to hijack love with patterns and predictions. On those times we fail to remember facts and fiction aren’t the same, we will want to preemptively break our own heart before love does.
And yet, we will stay put in defiance, the playthings of fear, lust, rejection, vision, acceptance, and abandonment until the moment passes.
Because surrender, mutual trust, and shared vulnerability are no longer alien to us; together with bluntness, they are love.
Our love: we made that.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.