“Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do so you apologize for the truth” // Benjamin Disraeli
“I am afraid I can’t fall in love anymore”, my friend tells me, with a smartphone in hand, his Tinder account left open. The shiny screen he holds so tightly is a promise of happiness in the form of endless beautiful faces smiling at you, stating availability, opening a passage to something greater than the dullness of everyday life, the loneliness most of us know all too well.
My friend is a handsome man. I would look twice if he were a stranger passing by. If I didn’t have this sibling bond with him I would probably feel attracted to him. If I had a Tinder account and saw his picture I would definitely press on the heart – or wherever it is that you press to online declare your interest in someone.
“I am afraid I can’t fall in love anymore”, he repeats. I reckon with that fear. When you hit your 30’s and you’ve gone through a number of relationships that came to an end, it is easy to start doubting if you will ever encounter someone who can make your heart beat faster again. With whom you can connect on a deeper level. Who can bring more life into your life.
Do you still remember how it feels?
J.P. was my first boyfriend. Oh my god, how I loved that man. Everything in me loved him. I remember when he kissed me for the first time after months of talking endlessly every evening. I remember us staring at each other’s eyes in the park in silence for hours until all the colours mingled with each other and the boundaries between him, me and the world around us got so blurred that everything seemed to be perfectly connected. It was a spiritual experience. We were love. I remember wanting to stay forever in his arms, lost and found in that gaze, in that fullness. I loved his smell, the clothes he wore, his kiss, the earrings in his ears, his smile, his laugh, the way he smoked, the way he walked, the way he stared at infinity, I loved his everything. I remember him holding my face, looking me straight in the eye, stopping for a moment and then saying it for the first time. “I love you”. I remember the heartfelt way that he pronounced the words, the kiss that succeeded, and this warm explosion of energy flowing from my chest throughout my entire body. I remember the ecstasy. Two decades have passed since then, and I have had the luck to experience more love. It was different every time. Sometimes passionate and conflicted, other times connected and harmonious. Love that is nourishing, and love that leaves you wanting. I have also experienced the feeble passions which didn’t have the time or the space to develop into full grown relationships. I feel grateful for it all. Most of these experiences helped me reaffirm my faith in love. More often than not, I have witnessed transformation, altruism and emotional bravery in the men I’ve been with. After decades of this roller-coaster though, one is thirsty for a stable bond with someone. Add familial and societal pressures to the mix and it becomes easy to understand how many of us in our 30’s are plagued by a “it’s now or never” mentality.
“Of course you will fall in love again”, I tell my friend. My answer intends to comfort him but, above that, I’m a believer. I trust in our ability to heal and love more, love stronger. Our heart – or whichever the organ we assign to feelings of affection – is a thing that expands as it experiences deeply transformative sentiments. These can be the origin of much pain, I hear you, but they can heal and better us too. I have not ceased to feel love for ex-partners with whom I shared my life as those people and the stories we shared shaped who I am. In most instances, parting ways was how we honored the feelings we had for each other. When you genuinely want an ex to be happy regardless of them being in a relationship with you – isn’t that unconditional love? I first learned about this concept when someone was grand enough to embody it, and generous enough to make me its recipient. And what he did involved actions. Although we haven’t been partners in more than 10 years, we stayed in touch, and we still make sure that the other is alright, even in the distance. This love – and others along the way – healed me in so many ways that, I look at it as something regenerative.
The term “fall in love” is an interesting one. It is also misleading. It seems to imply a lack of control, a sort of fate. Like you fell in a trap where luck plays the most significant role. The mechanisms of attraction are not always very conscious – when you feel totally drawn to certain smells and repelled by others, that’s quite animalistic, right? But alongside chemistry, there is another space in love where self-determination plays an incredible role. Love is what you make of it. Love is a verb and an action. We create it and feed it if we are willing and learn how to. A relationship is like a plant that you need to take care of. Feed it and give it your undivided attention on a daily basis and you’ll see it growing stronger. There’s no better feeling than building intimacy with someone and seeing that person opening up and blossoming next to you. This is what I call extraordinary love.
“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own” // Benjamin Disraeli
We can only experience extraordinary love if we are whole (or relatively whole). “Who’s whole anyway?”, you might be thinking. “Everyone’s broken, everyone has wounds to heal”. Well, that’s true, that’s just a human condition. But you also know how fast our hearts can recover once they blend in with a like mind (should I say a ‘likeheart’?). My friend is looking for that extraordinary love or, in other words, a love that’s whole, a real connection. I suppose we all are. But one thing is to have a desire for something; whether or not we’re in an emotional state that allows us to act on it is quite another.
If you like coffee as much as I do, you must remember the first time you drank one. Remember feeling like you were the queen / king of the world? Right. A few years later, do you still have the same sensation when you drink your morning coffee? Impossible, right? Unless you give yourself a break from time to time, the more caffeine you drink, the more caffeine you need in order to feel something similar to what you’ve felt initially – by the way, I’m writing this at the cafe and I have just heard someone ordering a three-shot cappuccino. Ouch! If you never went on a coffee-detox, chances are that after your morning coffee your body feels even more tired than before you had it. With love, it’s the exact same thing. Unless you’re 13 years old, after a relationship has come to an end, you are emotionally worn out. You need a break, especially if it was a turbulent or painful one. Sometimes even a feeble passion takes its toll on us, let alone a serious relationship. I’m not saying we need to turn monks and go live in a cloister. Processing times and coping mechanisms will, of course, be different for everyone. I’m talking about basic emotional hygiene. I mean, we’re taught to brush our teeth every day and wash our clothes. Why on earth wouldn’t we do the same work on our inner-world, the one space that determines the very way we stand in life?
One needs to emotionally recharge. Even if you don’t take the time to do that consciously, it is going to happen anyway. My friend has been doing Tinder for years. He had periods in which he had a few dates every week, sometimes it slows down. Sometimes he enters a relationship and that’s when he actually gets his rest. That’s when he’s done with the chasing: he then gets on what I will call energy conservation mode. It is an awesome thing that you can rest next to your loved one, as long as you are still able to give. As long as you are emotionally available. My point is, any relationship is an emotionally demanding situation. It has an impact on your entire system. It’s like you’re entering a whole new dimension. Everything you’re interacting with is new, no matter how much you feel compatible with the person in front of you, no matter how ‘easy’ it might feel. When you are entering a whole new dimension you need, at the very least, to be present. You can’t be fully present if you’re processing and recharging. You can’t be present if you are busy to a point of hardly being able to pay attention to your inner-feelings, let alone the subtilities of emotional communication with your partner.
“Man, you need to stop dating. You need to be alone for a while. Seriously, give yourself a break”. He looks at me with sad eyes. “What am I supposed to do? I’m not going to sit at home and get depressed on the couch”. As he pronounces these words, I see the beautiful man in front of me shrinking a little bit. His past relationships didn’t go all that well. It’s still all too difficult to assimilate. I notice the pain in his lost silent gaze. But he doesn’t want to think about it too much. “I need to go on with my life”. His gaze goes back to the Tinder screen.
I am happy dating sites exist. I have friends who have become a happy couple with someone because of it. I’ve never tried it but I don’t say I never will. However, as far as I can see, Tindering is a time-consuming activity. The same thing applies to when you’re meeting and dating people offline on a very frequent basis (okay, you have a plus here because you’ve probably spent less time online). Romances are draining. I know it all too well. At some point, I got so fed up with it that I started to get worried I wouldn’t be able to notice the presence of someone special in my life anymore. I mean, how could I if I was still processing what had happened with person X and Z, if I hadn’t figured out how that had transformed me, if I hadn’t given myself time to let those feelings sink in, if I hadn’t really dealt with being with myself and just myself for such a long time. When all you do is go go go everything feels like it’s more of the same, lines get blurred, you’re less capable of making sensible decisions and listening to what your gut tells you.
I want to still be able to notice someone I really like, or potentially might really like, if that someones crosses my path. And I want to be as whole as possible when I meet someone special again. So that I give him the best I have. This way, when hard times hit, you’ve already given so much to each other, already know each other so well and have such a strong bond and a solid foundation, that the structure that sustains the relationship won’t crumble down that easily. You want to preserve your integrity as much as possible in between romances. How do you do that? How do you recharge and become whole again? The answer can be summed up in three words. Time spent alone.
Everything happens so fast in this world, especially if you live in a big city. We have all the commodities we could ever wish for. We don’t need to wait for anything anymore. Not for a letter, not for our food, not for the next episode of our favourite tv series, not for sex. We seem to have everything at our disposal, ready for consumption. What we don’t have are that many opportunities to train our patience anymore. When we want to talk to someone we grab our phones and do it immediately. We have all sorts of imaginable (and unimaginable) foods at our disposal. We consume clothes and furniture and information in the way our grandparents used to buy fresh bread for the entire family every day. And, in the same fashion, we got used to consuming people. You might have had this, snacking on cookies out of boredom while you’re doing something tedious on your laptop. Do they taste good? You probably don’t even notice how they taste in that situation, right? How many of us go and scroll on Tinder when we’re bored? Or, alternatively, we might go to a party. We might kiss someone, maybe even end up having sex. No wonder love doesn’t look special anymore. The very way we approach it is lazy. We don’t give it our best. We allow our attention to drift and get distracted by what’s available and what’s easy. We have lost our ability to wait for what can potentially be meaningful to us. And we grew unwilling to ‘do the work’: the work of self-reflection, the work of getting to properly know someone else and taking the time to learn how to communicate with that someone.
Amsterdam, like all capital cities, has such a concentration of attractive interesting people everywhere. It’s insane. There are cool, smart, and fresh folks at every corner. They are smiling on our Tinder screens. Having fun at the club. Drinking beers at summer festivals. It’s all so tempting. I have certainly got distracted by the walking possibilities around me in the latest years. We don’t want to miss out on experiences nowadays, do we? It is so easy to get confused, to find ourselves searching for the next best thing, getting more and more superficial without even noticing. We don’t want a bald guy or a woman with large hips. We don’t want a hairy woman or a man who’s shorter than us. We don’t want a Dutch guy because they are dull, we don’t want an Italian because they are casanovas. We want someone attractive – a blond chick on high heels (but not too high) who’s both relaxed and mildly passionate. We want someone with a good job, a decent status. Someone well educated. But we don’t want the typical businessman. Nor do we want a hippie with a dog. The requirements are abundant. But what do we have to offer ourselves?
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, this is a sentence credited to Albert Einstein. “I am moving on”, my friend says. “I need to move on”. His phone never leaves his hand. He is moving on and I wonder where to. It seems to me that the place to be is here, and now. That’s where your presence is needed. Where else are we suppose to move on to? Is it really worth it to move onto somewhere new lacking faith in love and life? Do we want to get somewhere amazing just to fall from fatigue like an overtrained marathon runner?
Our energy is finite so we need to understand where we want to spend it and who we want to spend it with. For us to understand what we are made of, and what we need, is it essential that we spend time with ourselves. I don’t mean time with ourselves at home watching Netflix, scrolling the internet, or gaming or drinking – the same old mindless patterns. I mean challenging ourselves. Spending time working on our awareness. Trying to reflect on what could have gone better in our previous experiences, what did we learn from them (instead of just trying to push the memories away), perhaps how could we do it differently next time. This is what will, hopefully, keep us from repeating the same patterns. We need to feel it all before we “move on”: we need to feel the boredom, the pain, the sadness, and also the contentment and joy of being alone. Or, at the very least, try. We want to make room for contemplation of some sort, whether by engaging in some mindful activity like meditating or painting, whether by staring at the ceiling. Contemplating and feeding our inner-worlds of riches that we can, later on, hopefully, share with a loved one. We are agents in creating the conditions for love to happen. In slowly filling ourselves up again. So that we don’t just ‘fall in love’ again but so that we also create love and feed it.
So that the next time someone awesome for us crosses our path, we notice, and we’re ready.
“Life is too short to be little. Man is never so manly as when he feels deeply, acts boldly, and expresses himself with frankness and with fervor” // Benjamin Disraeli
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