We were sitting with our newly-engaged friends in one of my favorite low-key speakeasy bars in the neighborhood after dinner, into our our second or third set of bourbon cocktails. A couple of bartenders had stopped by for hugs and handshakes, and we’d already ordered an array of desserts for the table. I was relishing the easy comfort and joy of being with people I adore, in a place that feels like home, snug and cozy and out of the chill autumn wind that had finally made its way from the north. Summer had lasted well into October, with days in the 70s and 80s, and gentle evenings. Most of the restaurant patios had remained open weeks later than usual, without much need for the propane heaters to keep their clientele comfortable.
While we tucked into our decadent sticky toffee pudding, the groom-to-be admitted that he’d told his now-fiancée that he loved her on their third date.
“That’s nice,” had been her response.
But my friend had been undaunted by her tepid reply. “I knew on our first date that she would be the girl I’d marry,” my friend said, without a bit of embarrassment.
You’re either rolling your eyes as you read this, or you’re thinking, “Damn, I want that,” or “Yeah, I’ve felt that before.”
For those of us who love easily, who thrive on our connections with others, and feel a sense of intimacy that’s not always reciprocated, we’re familiar with the “that’s nice” response when we develop feelings for someone who isn’t wired quite like we are.
Nobody would say the love my friend feels for his fiancée now, years later, is anything like what he felt on the third date. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t real. You can feel love at your core for someone without yet being in love with her. You can believe fully and deeply that you’ve met someone who’s going to be very important to you for a long time, without being sure that a relationship is really going to work out.
Well, some of us can. And for those of us who burn hot, it can be a tough lesson to remember that not everybody surrenders to feelings the way we do. Like my friend’s fiancée, most people (I’m guessing) are a bit more circumspect when it comes to letting the fire burn. A gentle simmer is safer, still keeps things warm, and limits the chance of things boiling over too soon.
But the ones who take longer to warm up, or are more circumspect about their feelings, can also be fiercely loving and committed when they finally come around. They’ve struggled through the bumpy parts, questioned how they feel, and though we may feel like they’re stingy with their words of affection in the early days, when the L word does make its first appearance, you know and trust that it hasn’t come lightly or easily. It’s real and it’s deep and it means something to that person.
Some people worry that saying “I love you” too often or too soon can trivialize the experience, making the words just something people say. That is always the danger when you use the ‘L’ word. But that’s also what’s beautiful about it — you can say “I love you” to express many different messages. The words are special and they’re mundane, so it’s up to you how you infuse them with meaning. The power isn’t in the words; the power is in the intention. My friend told his future wife that he loved her on their third date. Did it mean he knew all of her foibles and gifts and was ready to pledge a lifetime with her? Of course not. It meant (I’m guessing), “I have strong feelings for you already, and though I don’t know where this is going, my heart is full for you right now.”
He didn’t expect her to pledge her life to him at that moment, or even to reply in kind. He knew better. He also took a risk that he’d freak her out by saying it. That happens, too.
But if those of us who burn hotter, and those who approach love with a slow simmer, both understood each other’s meaning, we might find a way to appreciate what the other brings to a relationship. We might be able to make things work.
Two fiery suddenly-in-love types can burn through their relationship in a much shorter time, because they have only surrendered to the passion of their feelings and haven’t given any thought to the reality of the day-to-day. I get that. I really do.
I’ve learned over time to be loving-yet-pragmatic, but even I slip into goofy adoration, expressing my love for someone who may not be ready to hear it. From there, it’s either muddle through until it’s mutual, or go your separate ways.
I am actually writing this at bar at an all-inclusive in Cancun — the bartender keeps refilling my big glass o’ tequila as I sit here, so I’d better finish soon.
I’ve been trying to get in a beach escape for about 18 months, but when Dad’s health started to slide, I began traveling out to California every chance I got, in order to spend time with him. The beach was calling, but I just couldn’t pick up the phone. When he left us, we had the memorial service and the funeral, and then I had conferences and weddings and Japan with the girl and Israel for work and more speaking engagements…
But all I wanted was a few days at the beach. Nothing more than sea and sand and a good book. A couple weeks ago, knowing that Simone would be with her mom for Thanksgiving this year, and nothing was keeping me in Denver, I booked a quick trip.
That’s the background; here’s my analogy.
My first day here was mostly cloudy, and very windy. The Caribbean was a multilayered cocktail of every color blue you can imagine, all whipped up and frothy from the heavy breeze. I set myself up on a chair, nonetheless, anchoring my towel to keep it from being swept away, taking off my shirt in spite of the chill, fighting with the fluttering pages of my novel, intent on making the best of it.
It wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for, but I was still on the beach, splashing my feet in saltwater, my toes dug into sand the color of vanilla ice cream, breathing deep the briney, ocean-scented air. To complain would be to be ungrateful for a precious gift.
And, oh, those brief minutes when the sun would emerge from the clouds and the wind died, the effect was immediately glorious — sparkly, warm, intoxicating — everything I’d hoped for; everything I craved. I lived for those moments.
That’s what it’s like when someone like me (or my pal) dates someone for whom outward love comes slowly. Things are good; maybe not as warm as you’d hoped at the beginning, but still satisfying and lovely. And — holy crap — when the skies clear — those times when she’s just 100% there for you — it’s better than anything you imagined. You’ll relish the cloudiness, if only for your appreciation of those sparkling previews of what’s really possible.
Just like with my vacation, intermittent blue skies won’t cut it in the longterm. You hope that those sunny patches will grow longer and wider, bit by bit, until only a few scraps of clouds drift through an otherwise perfect sky. You understand the nature of things by then — that sometimes the weather will change for the worse, but it’s never really, really awful because, you know, you’re at the beach!
Sometimes, the two of you will find a way to enjoy being different like that, maybe laugh about it, but still feel absolutely compatible. Like my newly-engaged friends. He knows she’ll never be publicly adoring; she knows he’s mushy and lovey and that’s always how he’ll be. It works for them.
As for me, I’ll never regret being honest about how I feel, opening my heart to someone who gives me a glimpse of a happy future. Sure, I’ll get hurt sometimes, and, sure, I’ll feel sort of stupid when things don’t coalesce the way I’d hoped. But I’ve spent too many years working to unlock my heart to power my voice. I’ll take heartbreak over feeling boxed up, because that’s how I’m wired, and that’s how I’m happiest. Disappointed? Yes. Crushed? Of course. But that’s okay.
Because, you know, I still got some time at the beach.