Falling in love, when I was young, was the best thing I could imagine. It was what life was meant for, and nothing could be more thrilling, fulfilling, and blissful. I looked forward to it with anticipation, experienced it with joy and relish, and, when it faded (or blew up with fanfare) tried to be philosophical and appreciate both the ride and the fall. Of course that didn't always succeed, but there was at least an attempt.
The first few relationships couldn't be called "love" by anyone, and they were of such brief duration that no one would argue about it anyway. It was the usual sort of junior high/high school 'trying things out,' figuring out not only what kind of person I liked, but what kind of person I was. And I was slow to mature in a lot of ways (though not to pretend that I was) so the misses in those figures were spectacular. I made some really bad first moves, and agreed to some stupendously dumb dates that were an obvious No.
"My first real love" happened in college. (Interesting, that, since I'd already gone out with someone else a couple of times who turned out to mean a great deal to me, and still does, but I wasn't in a place yet where I could realize it.) The story's been told here before, so I can spare the details now. Short version: infatuation turned to attraction, to affection, became love. Crushed by betrayal. The end.
The next couple of years were variations on that theme. Some more meaningful than others, some just passing interest. Not much of any duration.
And then: dating, for real. And then, engaged. And then, married.
So it all changed, with that one guy. It seemed like I finally had a sense of how it was supposed to work.
Only ... did I?
I thought so, at the time. I thought I had it figured out. Everything had totally calmed, you know? Everything was sort of settled and friendly and, in the vernacular of the day, copacetic.
It's another way of saying, there wasn't much happening there. When I look at the happiest, most satisfied, even 'most content' (and I do not use the word 'content' lightly) couples that I know, the one thing that they have in common is that there is stuff going on between them. Some argue or fight. Some are all over each other. Some talk on the phone or text all the time. Some set a date night and stick to it. Some have religion or politics or hobbies that they share. The thing that all of them share is that link, the passion or ferocity or enthusiasm. The fire.
Yesterday was the anniversary of the divorce, twelve years. It crept up on me, and I recalled the date while standing in the shower. Got a mouthful of soap and shampoo in my eyes after doing so, too. The usual "where were we now" moment, followed by a gentle test, like the tongue against an aching tooth. Still sore? Nope. Fully healed? Maybe so.
I had a dream a week or two ago. In it, my former spouse (H) called me. He and his current wife had broken up, were divorced, and he was moving back here. Since he and I were both single, he thought it made sense if we got back together, and proposed that we remarry.And so, thanks to that dream, I actually do feel like that whole part of my life really is. Done.
We negotiated by phone. We would each sell our current houses and buy a new one; we did that by phone as well. The wedding would happen when he got here. I wouldn't be able to move us because I had to travel for work (the one bit of this dream that was completely ludicrous) so H was going to take care of all of that himself.
I returned from my (laughably impossible) business trip, to the house that we'd purchased (which happened to be the first house that we lived in together in the state that starts with 'I'). As I walked in and looked around, I realized that H had not only moved my stuff there, but had put it all away--and labeled it. ALL of it. So, the fork was labelled "Fork" and the spot where the fork sat was labelled "Fork." And so on and so forth, for everydamnthing I owned, through the whole house.
I was flabbergasted. "What. Did you do?"
"I put your stuff away."
"Why? What makes you think you know where it goes?!"
H leveled a look at me. "I always knew where it went, better than you did."
That started a fight like no fight we'd ever had before. In fact, it started every fight we'd never had before, because we never really fought. There were some arguments here and there, but no honest to God fights. And we brought up EVERYTHING that had gone unspoken, everything that had been shoved down, out of sight, every hurt feeling and inconsideration and slight. All of it.
And then, we were done.
And then I woke up, bewildered and relieved, and vastly amused. Not only did I feel that elusive sense of closure, but the role of H was temporarily being played by Rob Morrow. (An obvious function of having seen far too many episodes of Northern Exposure recently, though he was a good fit for the role and played it with aplomb.)
In the post-H era, there has been more of all this. The trying out, the figuring out, the tests and attempts and Who Am I? phases. Dates, infatuations, crushes. Attractions, affections, adorations. Lustsssssss. Likes. Love
What has changed? Now I know: falling in love as a grownup is hard. It is way, way harder than it was when I was young. It's not about learning and developing and trusting. It's about forgetting, and lying, and five-finger fillet--forgetting that you've been hurt before, and lying to yourself that it can go right again, and...opening yourself up, maybe to euphoria and maybe (more likely) a blade to a knuckle, shattering the bone.
[the title quotation is by Charles Dickens, from Martin Chuzzlewit]