I used to think that if you didn’t know what love is, it meant you had never felt it.
That was an over-rationalization to an emotion nobody really knows how to describe. Of-course, we try. There are so many words in so many languages but none of them adequately describe that overwhelming feeling in our chest that floods our headspace and makes it hard to breathe. We came up with the word love to describe something so incomprehensible and we’ve transformed it into a form of currency, to ask for favours, to say please, to say thank you, to create affection, to have sex.
I think it’s absolutely possible to know what love is if you’ve never felt it.
He told me he loved me two months into our non-relationship and it tasted like a lie. I gathered opinions from other people like they were the pieces to a lie detector test. The lie burned like fire in my mouth and I thought if someone just told me it was true that it’d extinguish the fire. “He still tells me he loves me even though he’s with someone else,” I told Javier, a perfect stranger really, on a bus back from Navarra. His face looked almost pained when he answered, “Maybe he means it.”
Maybe. What a God-awful word. It’s the most unreliable, useless fucking word in the English language. If the world worked in absolutes maybe we wouldn’t lose so much goddamn sleep.
“Maybe,” I agreed, the lie growing hotter inside my mouth, burning me inside out until the parts of myself I thought I recognized had turned to ashes. I’m a new person, reborn, empowered and absolutely sickened by the human desire to be loved. “But he should keep it to himself.”
No, I know what love is and I know what it isn’t.
He said “I love you” when he meant “You’re adorable.” And then he just kept saying it, like the more he said it, the truer it was, whilst I struggled to decipher the messages. “I don’t want you to leave.” “Good-bye.” “I miss you.” “I wish you were here.” “I don’t want you to be happy I have a girlfriend.” “I wish I could kiss you.” “I’d break up with her if you came back.” “I wish I could make love to you right now.”
It wasn’t that complicated, though. I think every time it just meant, “I don’t want to feel alone.”
When I was fourteen I swore I’d never be the type of person who said I loved someone unless I was absolutely sure I meant it. I’m not as innocent and I’m not as pure as I was at fourteen. I say I love you like I’m putting two puzzle pieces together and am perfectly content to stay ignorant to the fact that they’ll never fit. It’s so blindingly easy to say you love someone when you don’t mean it. The only time it’s hard is when you actually care.
One of the most vivid memories I have of my childhood is when my mom almost died. It was a miracle she lived, the doctors had already told my dad it wasn’t likely she’d make it. My parents were already separated by this point. Too much time hanging onto teenage habits and too many problems forced them to realize that they saw the world in two different ways. When our parents split we always think they’re not in love anymore. The night they intubated my mother because she couldn’t breathe on her own I asked my dad if my mom was going to die. My dad collapsed into my arms, crying as hard as I’d ever seen him, and said, “I think so.”
The first time my parents looked at each other after my mom woke up, I wanted to leave the room. They didn’t do anything like kiss or hug, they didn’t even hold hands, but it still felt like an intrusion, like I wasn’t even there. I’ve never seen anyone love like my parents love each other. That’s how I know what love is. Love is such a strong feeling that it’s almost something tangible, something you can see, something you can feel making every air particle in a room thicker, something you can taste like honey sliding down your throat.
Love is too unmistakable to not know what it is.