Saturday, 9 October 2010

What is Falling in Love Like?

When 15 years ago or so I asked my father how he knew he wanted to marry my mother, he was somewhat taken aback. But he admitted that this was the sort of question a father ought to answer, and so he hemmed and hawed and in the end said it was metaphysical.

The classical answer to "How do I know this is the right person?" is even more unsatisfactory, as it is "You just know."

"You just know" never worked for me, for I have fallen "in love" about a dozen times, although usually with people I barely knew and who barely knew me. Feeling dizzy when seeing a certain attractive young man, feeling overcome with grief and going home to listen to Beethoven is not, I have at long last decided, actual proof of true love. In fact, any kind of drama can in general be thrown out by the court as inadmissible evidence of true love.

I really don't have the heart this morning to go through a very long list of things I once wrongly thought were the tokens of true love (e.g. a man's suicide threats) but are actually symptoms of infatuation or hallmarks of immature or control-freakish personalities. Instead I'll try to wring some generalities out of particulars. To do this I will look over the blue notebook I brought to Scotland to record my impressions of the majestic highlands, etc., and ended up full of the perfections of B.A., a blog reader (and friend of friends) who had offered to put me up in Scotland for a week.

1. Happiness without Hysteria. From the first moment I met B.A. in person, I felt happy around him. In fact, when I first heard his voice, I felt very relieved because it was such a nice voice, pleasant, friendly and attractive. Also, I had been travelling for 20 hours straight, and there he was with a cup of tea. When I woke up the next morning, I felt perfectly happy.

2. A Grip on Reality. This happiness was not 24/7, however, as I soon caught a cold, and B.A. seemed to talk incessantly. I spent a third of the time wanting to gag him, a third of the time chatting along, and a third of the time either sleeping or writing about how happy I was and how interesting B.A. and Scotland were. When I wasn't thinking "He's so attractive," I was thinking, "He looks just like one of my father's bearded British colleagues, only younger."

3. Clear Knowledge of the Person. B.A. was about to make his first confession, so in the manner of unwary people on a first date, he practised on me. It was a very exciting conversation, I must say, covering about 30 years and including B.A's process of conversion. And this is when I got a very strong crush on B.A. Nevertheless, I do not recommend that anyone sit down with their foreign houseguest and just blurt. I had a back-up running-away plan, incidentally, should my host have turned out to be a weirdo.

4. Justified Respect for the Person. B.A. was so kindly and cheerful, that eventually my one fear was that he wasn't a little in love with me, he was just that nice to everyone. I have never had such a thoughtful host. "The great thing about B.A., besides being charming and witty, is that he is extraordinarily kind," I wrote. Since I was laid low for what has become my annual Michaelmas cold, he brought me endless comfy blankets and pots of tea. Meanwhile, when we first went to Mass, I discovered that he had many friends in the small congregation, who invited him (and me) to their parties and whatnot. I met his boss; she liked him too. B.A. never had an unkind word for or about anybody, and he was very well-read, intelligent and had an educated taste in literature and music.

5. Attraction. I wrote, "Dear me, I wish my host were not so attractive... He will no doubt marry the first British traddie who comes along." Meanwhile, I knew he had had for years a crush on the singer Emma Kirkby--who has fuzzy red hair--so I could hope he had a thing for fuzzy redheads in general. When for mysterious reasons he told me what his annual income was, I took it as a good sign.

6. Realization that you and the Person could have a really splendid life together. I loved his town, his flat (so comfy!), his job, his traditional Latin Mass, his cooking, his friends, his friends' conversation, his friends' dinner parties, his interests and his jokes. (Still do!)

7. Friends watch avidly and cheer from the sidelines. One of his friends buttonholed him after Mass to tell him how splendid marriage is. Other friends simply smirked at us. I remember quite a lot of smirking. And hints. Lots of hints.

8. Being Seized and Not Minding. So eventually B.A., who had had his own process of faling in love, seized me in his B.A.ish arms and demanded to know if I would be his "darling girl." I said yes. Then five days later he asked me to think about marrying him. I said yes.

It was very romantic and so, despite being a cynical 21st century person, I do believe in love. Love is a fact. It can be experienced, understood, judged and decided upon. In fact, I have worked out a whole Lonerganian reflection on it.

Meanwhile, B.A.'s baby-having potential did not really occur to me until he told a relation that he had found "the One" and she asked, in the manner of cynical non-religious relations everywhere, "Is she pregnant?"


Jessica said...

Hey Seraphic,
I know your "real" falling-in-love process went pretty quickly, but I'm curious: do you have a suggestion for how to know when to be patient and let feelings develop, and when to just cut things off?
For example, I dated a guy for over two years, and I definitely liked him, but after a year or so I realized I wasn't in love with him. Looking back, I wish I would have broken up with him earlier, but I still don't know what I would do in a similar situation. Or, say you go out on a couple of dates with a guy, you're interested in him, but not quite certain about him yet. How long do you hang out in this "uncertainty" stage before moving on?

Domestic Diva said...

This may be a little weird, but I (as a single person) think knowing I've found "The One" to be analogous to knowing I'd found the right house. Years ago I went house hunting because it "was time," "financially prudent," etc. I found a house that seemed good, but had a few drawbacks. Long dramatic story short, I ditched the house because it was going to demand/cost me too much...much more that I could give.
Some time later, I found another house. This one was more expensive, but needed less from me. It needed very little work. I had room for a roommate to help with expenses. And while the price worried me a bit, I found in my heart that I was willing to sacrifice in order to have this house and and I wanted to work to make this house a successful venture. I could certainly live without this house, but my life would be enriched by it And I have enjoyed this house - even the work, even the sacrifices - maintenance, planning, improving, emergency repairs, and all!
I know a house isn't a marriage, but whereas so many of my dating relationships have cost me more than I could give, and have proven to be the wrong fit all along, I think of a good marriage as being one that isn't perfect but isn't draining either - one that I am happy to work to improve, one that I enjoy the adventure of, one that is well worth the sacrifices it calls for.

Seraphic said...

Domestic Diva, I think that's a good metaphor. Certainly I had to make major sacrifices to marry B.A. and live in Scotland. (For one thing, I don't get to see my family that often. And how I cried my first Christmas outside of Canada!)Frankly, though,I don't think about the sacrifices all that much (although I do miss my family); I just know that I was supposed to marry B.A. and I did!

Jessica: if you are over 21 and feel that you are of marriageable age, give them one year. That's it. If you don't know you want to marry him after a year, off you go. Don't waste either your time or his.

Seraphic said...

Oh, and all nice guys deserve at least three dates (DEFINITELY two because usually people are overly nervous on the first date). Then play it by ear. Don't overthink. If you like to hang out, hang out. But once you KNOW, absolutely KNOW, you could never marry this guy, it is time to say "You know, you're a great guy and I've had a marvellous time, but I don't feel a spark."

Apple said...

I'm usually a lurker, but a friend recently sent me this absolutely wonderful read into the nature of "love," and I thought of it immediately upon reading this post.

Andrea said...

"I really don't have the heart this morning to go through a very long list of things I once wrongly thought were the tokens of true love (e.g. a man's suicide threats) but are actually symptoms of infatuation or hallmarks of immature or control-freakish personalities."

I know you didn't have the time *that* morning, but as a new reader, itemizing what are symptoms of infatuation or hallmarks of immature or control-freakish personalities certainly would make for a good post.