On Valentine’s Day, What Does Love Look Like?

I’m not really the dating type.  I find first dates to be far more fun to prepare for and obsess over than I do to actually go on.  Which is funny, because I do love going out.

But I love comfort.  I love familiarity.  My favorite part of being in a relationship is recognizing an expression that will come over a man’s face.  Knowing that he will recognize the expression that will come over mine.  Remembering little pieces of his body, and recalling the way he moves his hands when he talks.

Travel, adventure, dancing while pop music pounds through my ears.  These things give me energy.  Challenges, hardship, struggle – these are where lessons are learned.

But I don’t think anyone’s ever said it better than Alix Olson, who wrote: “. . . and then I believe in coming home.”

Love has interesting connotations for people.  When I think of love, I think of my parents dancing to our old Jazz Around Midnight cd, the lights turned down low, murmuring to one another while rays from the setting sun shoot through the windows.  And so jazz and wine and quiet nights with long talks are what I think of when I envision love.

This is hardly first, or even second date kind of stuff.  This is the comfort you share with someone who is already a part of your life, a constant presence.  Someone who sits near me, reading a book while I contently plug away at my thesis as Ella and Louis harmonize in the background.  That’s what love looks like to me.

Instead, I play dress up, and I go out to nice dinners or “grab drinks after work.”  And all the while I’m feeling uncomfortable, because whether I like him or not, human nature dictates that I want him to like me for sure.  And so I’m trying alternately to be charming and funny and cute and smart and whatever else he might want of me.  And I know that he’s probably feeling the same way, since that pressure is by no means one-sided.

But it feels unnatural to me.  As though I’m acting out a scene from a movie, instead of dating in a way that is comfortable and easy for me.  After all, what does one talk about on a first date?  I’m a feminist blogger, so that’s always awkward.  The man almost always feels obligated to prove to me that he, too, is a feminist, so he’ll talk to me about Gloria Steinem or tell me about that time he defended his friend who was harassed on the street.

Or else he’ll ask me about school, and what is my graduate thesis is on.  And in case you’re wondering what else isn’t first date conversation, be sure to add ‘sexual violence in wartime’ to your basket as well.

I try to turn the conversation to him – to travel, or literature, or even what kind of weekend he’s having.  But there’s an extent to which men have been taught by society to pay special attention to women, to flatter them, to seem especially engaged in who they are.  And so we end up spending the night talking about sexual assault or access to birth control.  All the while feeling like we’re both on some kind of job interview.

So in the meantime, I’m forced to endure all sorts of awkward first, second, and heaven-help-me third dates with men who feel no more comfortable with me than I do in that setting.  It’d be so much easier if we could just be at home.  But I’m no more comfortable going to a stranger’s house than I am having a stranger in my own house.

So how do I get to a place where I can explore love in a way that is comfortable for me?

Today is Valentine’s Day, and it’s one of my favorite holidays of the year, despite having never been in a relationship on February 14.  I don’t feel bitter at all towards the friends of mine who have found love.  I don’t call it Singles Awareness Day, or find reasons to wear pink/red – or not, as the case may be.

I think about this day a lot as I wonder what love really looks like.  Increasingly, people are starting to recognize that romantic love isn’t just between a man and a woman.  Or that it doesn’t always end in marriage.  Or that it doesn’t always look the way it does in the movies.  Or even that a loving relationship between two people – or even more – doesn’t look even remotely the same as it would for two – or even more – other people.

Of course, some people never find that sort of love.  The kind we’re all taught to believe in, wherein you find a companion and a soulmate for life.  The Washington Post recently did a feature on this topic – men and women who had spent their lives looking for that very kind of love, but had just never found it.  I have no idea if I’ll be that person or not.  Or maybe I’ll find love many, many times, and sometimes it’ll include wine and jazz and sometimes it’ll include adventure in the great wide somewhere.  Or intellectual stimulation.  Or sexual expression.  Or something I can’t even define right now because I’m 27 and just haven’t learned that much yet.

I don’t know if I need to change my idea of love – what it looks like, feels like, and tastes like, in order for me to ever really experience it.  But for right now, I have at least an idea of love.

And that’s comforting enough.  For this Valentine’s Day anyway.

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