I’ve been in love only twice to this point in my life. Granted, I’ve been in additional relationships and uttered the words, “I love you,” in a romantic context to a handful more people in my 50 years, but “in love” as I presently define it is a rare emotion for me. I’ve never been intentionally insincere in my declarations, proclaiming my affection as a disingenuous means to an end, but in Monday morning quarterbacking my romantic history I know there have only been two instances where my emotions ascended to a level to which only Jeanette Winterson (one of my favorite authors) can ascribe words:
“Love demands expression. It will not stay still, stay silent, be good, be modest, be seen and not heard, no. It will break out in tongues of praise, the high note that smashes the glass and spills the liquid.”
“When I say ‘I will be true to you’ I am drawing a quiet space beyond the reach of other desires. No one can legislate love; it cannot be given orders or cajoled into service. Love belongs to itself, deaf to pleading and unmoved by violence. Love is not something you can negotiate. Love is the one thing stronger than desire and the only proper reason to resist temptation.”
“You said, ‘I love you.’ Why is it that the most unoriginal thing we can say to one another is still the thing we long to hear? ‘I love you’ is always a quotation. You did not say it first and neither did I, yet when you say it and when I say it we speak like savages who have found three words and worship them.”
“I say I’m in love with her. What does that mean?
It means I review my future and my past in the light of this feeling. It is as though I wrote in a foreign language that I am suddenly able to read. Wordlessly, she explains me to myself. Like genius she is ignorant of what she does.”
“Wherever love is, I want to be, I will follow it as surely as the land-locked salmon finds the sea.”
“Love’s lengthways splits the heart in two – the heart where you are, the heart where you want to be.”
“I think of love as a force of nature-as strong as the sun, as necessary, as impersonal, as gigantic, as impossible, as scorching as it is warming, as drought-making as it is life-giving.”
“Where did love begin? What human being looked at another and saw in their face the forests and the sea? Was there a day, exhausted and weary, dragging home food, arms cut and scarred, that you saw yellow flowers and, not knowing what you did, picked them because I love you?”
And, finally, my favorite:
“While I can’t have you, I long for you. I am the kind of person who would miss a train or a plane to meet you for coffee. I’d take a taxi across town to see you for ten minutes. I’d wait outside all night if I thought you would open the door in the morning. If you call me and say ‘Will you…’ my answer is ‘Yes’, before your sentence is out. I spin worlds where we could be together. I dream you. For me, imagination and desire are very close.”
Call me quixotic, but despite the fact that my heart has proven itself unreliable I continue to believe in romantic, passionate, lasting love – and that it will find me in my lifetime. Note that I say it will find me, rather than I find it, as I believe that actively looking for love is about as productive as staring at the mailbox waiting for the postman to arrive or watching a pot of water in anticipation of its reaching a boil. These things happen in their own time and cannot be timed or planned for.
Even a crush is a rarity for me. I am drawn to a woman with approximately the same frequency as our presidential elections take place (though it rarely occurs on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November). I’m not the hook-up or friends-with-benefits type; not a judgment, simply a reality. I suppose it’d be pleasurable to engage in a dalliance or two devoid of emotion, but the damned romantic in me can’t separate the two.
At present, I’ve been single for ~ 2 ½ years by standard calculations. (There exists a complicated circumstance which would allow one to argue that I’ve been unattached for only 10 months, but that’s another story for another time.) In any event, over the course of those 2 ½ years, I’ve managed to develop but one hardcore, albeit doomed, crush; that on a woman who resides six states away (perhaps more, depending on which way the wind is blowing on one’s Tom Tom at the time). No, my fixation isn’t the product of a desperate country-wide Match.com search, but rather a chance meeting on vacation a few months ago. What follows is the tale of this latest, and undeniably persistent, crush.
I owe my present fate to a late flight from DC to Miami, as by the time I arrived at my hotel, checked in, and tossed my bag in my room, the group with which I was traveling had already made their way to dinner. I arrived at the restaurant an hour late with a couple I’d met in the hotel lobby, my orientation apparently so evident that I was asked if I was with the group traveling with Sweet, a company which arranges vacation excursions for lesbians. My affirmative response drew an invitation to make the trek to the restaurant with them and we were greeted by four tables full of women, all noticeably giddy on the eve of our scheduled Bahamas cruise.
We claimed the three remaining seats and settled in, the newest strangers among a group of mostly strangers. Virtually immediately, I was trading barbs and exchanging wisecracks with the woman seated to my immediate left who had introduced herself as Kelly. We played off each other so effortlessly that when she excused herself at one point, the couple I’d met at the hotel asked how long Kelly and I had known each other. I glanced at my make-believe watch and answered, “About 25 minutes.”
While engaged primarily with Kelly and the couple who’d befriended me, I couldn’t help but notice the demure woman seated directly across from Kelly. Stylish, with an easy smile and fresh, natural beauty, she was undeniably physically attractive. I scanned those seated around us; who was the lucky woman who would be introducing this woman as her girlfriend? Observing the interactions at the table, I couldn’t solve the riddle, and eventually I drew her into the conversation by feigning frustration with her “boisterous” (NOT!) behavior.
I scolded her, “Listen. We’re trying to have a conversation here, so you’re gonna have to keep it down. You’re just a little too loud and it’s makin’ it difficult for the rest of us to converse.”
If the moment had been recorded, I’m quite certain the video would reveal my face turning a previously undiscovered shade of crimson as she smiled at me, clearly appreciating the irony of my lecture. In that moment I was instantly smitten.
As fate would have it, she was Kelly’s best friend AND she was single. As fate would further have it, she was also only 32 years old and lived approximately 2,347 miles from my home just outside of Washington DC. Nonetheless, as the night wore on and dinner gave way to a group outing to a South Beach nightclub, I continued to engage with her at every opportunity, and attempted to demonstrate my chivalrous nature, retrieving drinks not only for her, but others in our crowd.
That night I ended up leaving the club earlier than most, hitching a taxi ride back with several Sweet staff who were benevolently looking after me. After having borne witness to my skull-crushing fall several months prior on another vacation, they were determined to save me from myself and, at a minimum, ensure my safe embarkation on the ship the next morning.
Back at the hotel, but not yet ready to call it a night, I befriended the bartender who, when queried, informed me that he’d be leaving his post at midnight, a scant 20 minutes later. I asked what I’d have to do to keep him there and the bar open and he told me I’d just have to keep people drinking. Never one to fear a challenge and determined to keep the bar open until Kelly and her intriguing friend returned, I re-positioned myself on a barstool next to the only other patrons in the place, a gay male couple whose adult beverages appeared to be in need of replenishment.
Before the night was over, I’d dragged people in off the street to down shots with me, become new best friends with a guy from Venezuela (much to the annoyance of his male date), been invited to go clubbing with a P-Diddy look-a-like and his harem, and succeeded in my quest to keep Keith, the bartender, at his post until Kelly and Marie returned. I later learned that we’d closed the bar at 3a.m., a fact that eluded me in my happily inebriated state.
The Sweet crew set sail the next morning, and though I boarded the ship alone I was hoping to run into Kelly and Marie as quickly as possible. That hope dimmed as the immensity of the ship was revealed and rather than wandering the 11 decks aimlessly searching, I met for lunch with Tammy, a friend I’d made on the prior vacation, she being the one who kept me awake and held ice to my head after the previously mentioned fall.
The afternoon passed pleasantly enough, but when Kelly and Marie didn’t appear at the Sweet happy hour event at 5p.m., I worried I might not see them again the entire trip, a concern which was abated later that night as several Sweeties (as Sweet’s travelers are known) gathered in one of the ship’s nightclubs. I spotted Marie across the room and pointed her out to Tammy.
“That’s the woman I was telling you about. You gotta help me out here. I have such a crush on her,” I shared.
Always willing to help a friend, Tammy responded, “You got it! What do you want to do? You wanna hook-up?”
It was in that moment I realized that no one could truly “help me” in that situation. I sat there thinking about Tammy’s question and looking at Marie still making her way across the club to our group and then shook my head “no.”
“Nah, never mind; I don’t know what I want. I don’t hook-up,” I admitted. “What I want is to talk to her, get to know everything about her and let her get to know everything about me, then fall in love and get married. And that ain’t happening on a weekend cruise.”
And that about sums up my romantic – and some could argue self-defeating – nature…
Marie and I didn’t hook-up on the cruise, nor did I propose marriage. But I did spend a lot of time with her and the more I learned about the person she is – her kindness and generosity; her work ethic; her intelligence – the more I grew to genuinely like her. We had several conversations and spent some very memorable – though completely innocent – time together that I won’t detail here, as I respect her, and our fledgling friendship, enough to hold the finer points as our own.
It’s been three months since I stood just inside the ship’s casino the last night of the cruise and said what ended up being my final goodbye of the voyage to Marie. In the ensuing months we’ve kept in touch, primarily via sporadic text messages when her demanding professional life and active social life permit. I’ve confessed my crush to her on more than one occasion, typically in my characteristically self-deprecating manner, and though she is ever-gracious, I am quite certain our relationship will never advance beyond friendship. Nonetheless, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to my next Sweet vacation as Marie will, indeed, be making the trip, as well. And I am anxious to spend as much time with her as events and she will allow, as this proximity-defying crush has me yearning to get to know her in more than a superficial way.
As I’ve said, it’s not often I feel that way about someone, but the ever-hopeful romantic in me continues to dream that someday I may be laying on a blanket on a beach somewhere next to Marie or someone like her, reading aloud from Winterson’s “Written on the Body.”
Dare to dream, right?