“I dare you to love me” — a line in one of my favorite movies, “Imagine me and you”, where they talked about what the lily represents. I was a lifelong hopeless romantic when I first watched it, I fell in love with my girlfriend then at first sight. I believed in walking under the stars, wordlessly immersing in the presence of the other, falling in love like it was part of some grand destiny.
I left that relationship with a broken heart, a damaged soul, and I emerged out of it with a growing cynicism — if she was not the one, then nobody else would be.
I sought to form a committed relationship with my work instead, who needs romance when there is one’s life’s work? Work doesn’t abandon. I rolled my eyes watching Scandal, when the leader of the free world wanted to choose his love of his life over the world. I judged him, and I judged people around me when they chose love over purpose. Why love a person when you can love the world?
She arrived in my life like a bubble. I resisted her with all my might, and gave us a thousand reasons why it wouldn’t work. Putting out my baggage in full view, I was unconsciously putting out a dare for her, to love me. I was too broken, and she, too whole. I broke her heart by telling her I sought meaning, not happiness, that I can no longer put anyone else above my life’s work.
I didn’t realize how many walls I had around my heart until she came along. I wasn’t aware how cynical I had become by trying to push away the only person who tried to love me with her heart, without drama, without mind games — does a person like this still exist in this reality? It was as if I have won the lottery and I was desperately trying to reject the winnings.
I had done so well before her. I learned to be alone, to immerse myself in an inner-world so rich I didn’t feel like I needed anyone. I have survived without that sort of love that makes the heart aglow, that the unexpected arrival of it felt more like poison than a gift. I had unknowingly become a person who sees all good things as future threats.
She stayed, despite me. I let her love me, and she did, in the most generous way possible. I had lost count of all the ones who had broken me because they too, were trying to escape from love. Her love was whole and it threatened me more, because I was used to trying to find light in the darkest corners, instead of dealing with unadulterated bright light.
I had gotten the plot wrong. That it wasn’t me who dared her to love me. It was her, all along, who dared me to love her, to develop the courage and capacity to love a love so whole that it would utterly break me:
“Love, then, is less a utility and more a preemptive form of grief. Allowing something to matter is simply another way of saying you’re going to care when it’s gone.” — Helena Fitzgerald
She returned me to my self, the hopeless romantic. She has softened me enough, to see that I couldn’t truly be effective with my life’s work anyway, if I couldn’t open my heart to wholeness and light, to rediscover what it feels like to carry hope once again.
Originally written as an email to the subscribers of The Listserve. I’ve gotten back some unexpected moving responses back in return, which made writing a Listserve email an unforgettable, beautifully human, profoundly connected experience — that somehow, love (romantic or not) is such an universal phenomenon, no matter where or who one is.