"What Is Love (Baby Don't Hurt Me)" by Miranda Fox
Songs and poems and magazines and movies and, well, really everything seems to conceive of romantic love as a turbulent, desperation-filled, all-consuming kind of thing, ricocheting between head-in-clouds, delirious bliss, and hellfire- and brimstone-filled despair. The extra element that makes it love-love seems to lie somewhere in the tumult. I’m a hopeless romantic, so the idea of “love above all,” sacrificing everything for it, love being a great drama strikes a chord. I’ve certainly been in relationships that fully match these songs—always frantic and anxious, vacillating between manic and despairing. Even the best of them have had this element of anxiety. It’s the constant contrast between gilded moments of delight and bliss and moments of utter despair that could come from something as simple as the space between text messages (and when the reply comes, shooting back to deliriously happy—“your love is my drug” to quote Ke$ha). I’d come to think that this desperate worry is part of romance—it’s because I care so much that I’m so terrified of losing them—and that the frenzy and obsession is the mystery ingredient that makes it love-love.
But now, I’m rethinking that. I really like someone, and yet I’m not anxious or frenzied or really worried at all about losing him, or anything else (about our relationship, at least. I’m worried about plenty of other things, such as paying rent and employment and whether my choices match my values, but I’ll save those for later). Yet, this conceived idea of what being “in love” looks like keeps nagging at me, because I’ve stopped identifying with the songs and the Thought Catalog articles.
Honestly, the only thing I’m worried about in this relationship is my lack of worry. Does it mean I don’t actually like him much? Am I not in love—am I not even close? But it feels like I care an awful lot about him… I know he isn’t entirely anxiety free, and while it’s sweet and kind of flattering, I also feel so sad that I’m a cause or contributing factor. I don’t mean to have any kind of upper hand in some accidental power dynamic, or for him to feel that I care less or he has to be anxious about keeping me. I think he’s great and I’d be very sad to lose him—it’s just not a very present worry. Things are great; I feel safe and comfortable, but not in the overly comfortable (e.g. bored) way—he’s a great human, all around, and we laugh a lot, communicate well, are clear open with our affections, and have lots of great sex. Why would I be anxious? There’s nothing about to go wrong, or I’m not seeing it.
See, in most of my past relationships I’ve seen the end from the beginning—not knowing when it would come, necessarily, but knowing what it would be, that circumstance or a difference of values would eventually become unavoidable. There was a sell-by date. But not this time. It’s true that I’m not as giddy when he texts (though I’m giddy other times, when I’m with him), like the internet generally agrees I should be, but I think that’s simply because a weight isn’t lifted off my shoulders when my phone beeps—I was never worried. I’m still happy, just not so delirious. The highs feel less high just from the lack of contrast with the non-existent lows. Does my lack of butterflies deny that this isn’t real love? It’s less like a fairy tale, sure, but also fairy tales aren’t true, and most fairy tales are as gruesome as they are happy-ending-filled (have you read the Grimm’s versions? Eyes get pecked out, toes get cut off).
So am I closer or farther away from “real” love than I’ve been in the past? I have no idea—I’m not entirely convinced there’s a difference, anyway. What I’m very sure of, though, is that, despite my lack of worry, what I said before is definitely true—I really like this guy. I care about him and think he’s a great person with depth and intelligence and kindness, and he’s incredibly fun to be with. I don’t know if I’m in love—again, what is that?—but there’s definitely love around and about. Probably the most (only) important conclusion to come to is that love is love is love, and my need to differentiate and define “types” is silly, derived from some conceived idea that exists in songs and poems and not in reality. Or at least not my reality; maybe for some people love comes in many different forms, but for me, I think love might be one big, deep, fierce, all-encompassing feeling that doesn’t differentiate much at its base, though its manifestations might. And as long as my life is full of love, I guess I don’t much care what “kind” it is.