Sometimes, I don’t tell people I love them enough, or at all. If anything, I tell the wrong people I love them. I tell the people who don’t love me back or who have a curious and cruel concept of love. I mostly find myself proclaiming the infamous ‘L-word’ when I’m infused with gin and have smudged mascara because I am surrounded by those who have stuck by me through all my erratic experiences, both good and bad.
I remember a time when I thought I would not know if I would love someone, someone external to my friends and family. How can you tell? What is the symptomology? What are the behavioural signs? How will I just know? It seemed when you realise you love someone it’s an epiphany, the cliché stars align, or something just clicks. Don’t even begin with ‘love at first sight’ because if that was plausible for me, I would have walked down the aisle at least four times with every library crush I had during university. I was looking for something written in the fantastic futility of film, something every plot or poem in literature profoundly proclaims, something all the songs are written about, and something I thought I saw all around me. But love is not simple, love is not black or white, love is not gay or straight, love is not a kindness, love is not a cruelty, love is love and it is nebulous, indeterminate, fluctuating, painfully obscure and wonderfully chaotic – but damn hard to decipher in the 21st century.
Being single, being young, being at university, it is only natural to pursue this ambiguous and arbitrary emotional entity as if the degree is not what you are here for. But it seems the classic meet-cute, the locking eyes, the stumbling into one another has been reduced to the less enchanting anonymous encounter in a club or the superficial style of dating apps. Love has become a game of sorts, and sometimes it feels that everyone else wins and you end up losing.
It is bold of me to claim, profound for me to incite and maybe even a little ludicrous to say that I think all I want to do is love someone. Forget the career aspirations and travelling ambitions I have; I want those goals and those dreams to have someone to incorporate. This is not necessarily me settling for someone before I can make my mark, modifying my life’s plan for some silly boy, it’s me simply wanting to share those experiences rather than do them all on my own. It’s not a compromise, it’s looking for a collaboration. I can already hear it – “you don’t need someone to complete you”. I agree wholeheartedly with that, heck I preach it most of the time to my friends. But I am an old, hopeless, romantic fool and I always have been – and its landed me in some painful experiences but maybe I’ll get one of the biggest rewards after.
My favourite film growing up was Lady and the Tramp, one of my favourite books is Wuthering Heights (questionable love, yes) and one of my favourite songs is Hey There Delilah by the Plain White-Ts – everything was about loving love. What I am trying to say, by divulging my secret favourite things, is I have always wanted to love and be loved and it’s ok to admit that. I am frequently reminded that I am not alone, and my friends in particular are vocal to the most beautiful degree about that, but there will always be that part, that persistent piece of me that will always want someone else. There will always be a small feeling that there is a hole, and no amount of chocolate, books, hobbies or articles I write can entirely fill it.
Love was never a profound clear moment for me when it came, which makes me question sometimes when I said ‘I love you’ to someone whether I really meant it. That is not to say I said it for the sake of it, said it to secure someone, said it because the social convention of the moment dictated it, or said it because it fell from my lips out of careless verbal control. If anything, when I did say it, the relationship with that person began its downhill pursuit. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you have love, if anything it is something you’ll never call your own. I didn’t say it when I first felt it, to be honest I said it in my most fashionable style which was in A&E at midnight, slightly drunk (the perfect moment I always wanted). I knew I loved them when I realised the worst thing in the world was seeing that person upset, when I realised that I was prepared to drop everything to help even if it was a phone call they needed, because I wanted to do small gestures like cook for them and bring them a gift, because when my mind would inevitably drift (which it frequently does and is my primary method to writing) it would always find them in its sail. I also knew I loved them when I told them so much about myself, even things I don’t think I told my friends or told myself. It’s really bizarre to think that you could know someone for a fraction of the time you have known your closest friends and family but you still see the prospect of telling someone else every damaged detail about yourself as a natural act which does not need to be questioned. But, for me, when I did tell this person every chaotic but also cruel experience and memory which continues to colour me to this day, they forgot when they woke up. But it was too late, I already knew I loved them even if the feeling was not mutual.
Upon reflection, it is not entirely a negative that they didn’t love me back. It hurt, more than the reason I was in A&E that day, but I still got to do what I always wanted – to love someone. I haven’t been loved back, but now I know when I know. I am a little more hesitant now, to be frank I don’t think I’ll be saying those words for a while, but I know it will happen again. Love was both what I expected it to be and not what I thought it would be, but I know I got pretty close.
Yet, there were some aspects as to why I loved them which I could apply to people already in my life. If any of my closest friends were deeply upset, I would be prepared to drop everything and anyone to help them, we’ve cooked for each other and given each other gifts, we’ve ultimately challenged the need for therapists, advice columns but also challenged levels of correct, calm behaviour for each other no matter the situation and I honestly will never stop loving them for that. What the films, books and songs I love never proclaim is the love for friends and family. When I realised the boy I loved didn’t love me back, I realised I loved my friends probably a little bit more after (and I already loved them hugely).
What inspired this article was the prospect of Valentine’s Day. But Fuck Valentines in its conventional sense. What I love, and who this article is intended for (and they know who they are), are those friends in my life who picked me up when I was down, celebrated all my achievements big and small, are always a phone call away whether they are in the next room to me or a different country. They make me laugh, they make me cry, they make me smile, and in the words of one when she was drunk and turning 21 – “you will all be my bridesmaids!”
I’ll still be keeping an eye out for love, how can I not after exposing who I am? But that little void I recognise is little precisely because I have the right people around me. I will always delete and re-download Tinder, I will still repeat memories of my past love in my next mental drift, I will continue to watch and listen to songs which praise the pursuit of love – I can’t stop loving love. But, if you are to take anything away from what I have written (and thanks for staying this long), it is this: don’t fret about not falling in love yet, but don’t be afraid to fall because whether you hit the floor or not – the best thing is to love at all.
And to my friends who continue to read what I write and make me laugh: Happy Valentine’s Day.
– Emily Coleman