The Tell-tale Sign of True Love from a Former Cynic.
Before I got married for the first time, in the months leading up to it, I would write lists of pros and cons in my journal about my husband-to-be.
I would call my best friend and ask if I was supposed to have these kinds of doubts. She would gently tiptoe around the heart of the matter, telling me I had doubts about everything I did. And so, at 23, I chalked up my ambivalence to a personality flaw and got married anyway.
I had known deep love before, but it had left me heartbroken, a feeling I made a conscious effort to avoid again at all costs. I did everything to change myself from the romantic, open, and naïve girl who had stepped into love so vulnerably to a dark and cynical one who was closed off from the world. My high school friends hadn’t yet had their own heartbreaks, and my family seemed happy that I was rid of my “emotionally intense” relationship. I was young, and my feelings were dismissed as histrionic. I went through my heartbreak alone—painting in my room, listening to songs on repeat, and smoking clandestine cigarettes, among other self-destructive behaviors.
I might’ve gotten over it if I hadn’t seen another heartbreak first-hand. My best friend’s parents were a notable couple because of their obvious love for one another. They delighted in one another’s presence and spoke of the other with deep respect and admiration. In high school, my friend’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. We watched her dad run down any possible alternative therapy, herbal remedy, or non-traditional healing practice. He was desperate.
And then, one day, when we were in college, my friend called me and told me her mom was in the hospital. I flew out with my then-boyfriend, who would later become my husband. We stayed in the hospital, sleeping in the waiting room. The day her mom died, I remember her dad getting off the elevator and collapsing to his knees when he found out she was gone. And in the days and weeks afterward, the message solidified: love could absolutely destroy you. And I wasn’t going to let that happen to me.
So, I needed checklists. I needed reassuring phone calls. Because I had already forsaken the one ingredient that would make a relationship worth having: love.
At some point, after kids and divorce and other kinds of heartache, I woke up to the fact that love is really the only thing of value during this life. And perhaps equally as important, I gained the confidence that I had enough pillars in my life, enough self-love, to withstand another heartbreak.
I was ready, once again, to jump in. I was ready for the messy, magical ride that forges its own path, indelibly tying our heartstrings to another. True love, I had the pleasure of relearning, has a universal hallmark:
When you love someone, all beauty, all sentimentality, all tenderness, finds root in that person.
I remember with my first love, when I first heard Handel’s “Messiah,” I imagined listening to it with him in a beautiful, old church with otherworldly acoustics. He would feel what I felt. He would hear the painful beauty in it too.
Anything beautiful, I wanted to share with him. And he felt that way about me. He saw a touching movie and couldn’t get out of the theater fast enough to call me and tell me I had to see it. Because for him, I was the source of beautiful and touching things. Or perhaps the conduit.
And now, when I hear my son’s laughter or watch the end of a bittersweet Disney movie (“Coco” comes to mind) or lie staring at the magic of the stars, I immediately think of my love, who would delight in the same things—who is connected to the source of all good things, through whom they also run. I want to share with him anything and everything that is touched with love—because it mirrors us.
That is the universality of love: it connects us to all other things. For some people, it is a synonym for God. For me, it remains the organizing factor that makes life make sense. It is expansive, inclusive, illuminating.
My 23-year-old self, who purposely forgot about love in the name of self-protection, should’ve known the answer: doubt and love having nothing to do with each other.
Love isn’t really even a choice; it’s a deep resonance that lights us up and pulls us in because it is a reflection of the best parts of ourselves.