“Do you love him?” My Spanish friend asked.
I was in Madrid, talking to my friend about a man I’d gone out with a couple times and was crushing on.
“Love him?” I answered. “I barely know him.”
“Madre mia,” my friend said. “I’ve been in love with a woman for years and I’ve never even spoken to her.”
Life is different in Europe, as is love. There, you take two hours to savor every meal. Lounge in cafés until dawn contemplating the universe. Open your heart to the beam of light coming from another person’s soul and know you love them instantly. Maybe you know immediately, maybe you know in a year, but no clock ticks to let you know when it’s “appropriate” to feel it. Love shows up when it feels like showing up.
Europeans know there is no escape from the senses, you don’t choose when feelings come. Life brings suffering you can’t protect yourself from, just as it brings ecstasy. So just live it.
Thus, it’s been challenging being back in my beloved US where life is lived in crash helmets and knee pads. Where social interactions are conducted like business meetings, everyone polite, polished and putting their best foot forward. Where a woman can’t fall too soon and a man can’t call before three days without appearing psychotic. Where relationship is treated like a medical procedure conducted with steely detachment, rather than a gift.
My friend Kim is madly in love and ashamed of herself for it. She’s got a guy she’s lukewarm about and another she’s feisty for, but is avoiding the latter because she thinks it’s unhealthy to be so enamored. Meanwhile, she’s lost five pounds missing him. Apparently, I’m the only one she can discuss him with because I won’t judge her for feeling so “crazy.”
In Europe, if you tell someone you’re crazy about a person, they grin and welcome you to the ride. The last time I told my American friends, “all I can think about is him,” I was immediately diagnosed. The cure was to distract myself with work and exercise. Apparently, my friends didn’t see the smile on my lips. I wanted to feel this way. I liked it.
Have you not heard a love song, I wanted to ask my friends, have you not read a poem? This is what the first blush of love is like. Chaos and nausea and losing control. Seeing the world in only pastel colors and walking around with stars pouring from your eyes. The rest of life fading into oblivion as your gaze lands on one extraordinary person. When simply thinking about him is the most satisfying thing you could do with your day.
Like so many people, Kim is trying to manage. I see her walking the edge of her own immense feelings and reigning herself in, as if taking the plunge guarantees her drowning. She thinks she needs something simpler, less intense. She doesn’t believe enchantment might actually lead to something concrete and nourishing, so detaches from the magic to focus on practicalities. It seems Lukewarm will be her choice in the end.
“If you feel something,” I told her. “It means you’re alive.”
“And if it doesn’t work out?” She asked. “If we stop feeling something, does it mean we’re dead? Sorry, I don’t know if I can take that chance.”
My girl is afraid and if there’s anything we’ve done to ourselves in modern America, it’s cocoon ourselves in fear.
Who wants buttoned-up, hands-folded-in-your-lap kind of love? I prefer shoot-me-out-of-a-cannon, eat-you-for-lunch kind of love. I’ll take the delirium and the euphoria, the bedlam along with the soul-shattering bliss. Maybe it’s a fantasy and maybe I’m a fool. But I’d rather have one day of real feeling than a lifetime of dull.