How To Stay In Love

Both a lyrical essay and a love poem, Jackson Bliss writes this tender and fiercely beautiful piece about the love of his life

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1. Find Your Teenage Courage To Love Again: Love LB with everything you’ve got.  Love her like you did six years ago, back when you were the boldest version of yourself and you weren’t afraid to be stabbed in the heart by the cholos of destiny. Love like you have nothing to lose except solitude, fear and cynicism. The audacity you had then is the audacity you need now. Love is always audacious, the creation of a tiny endangered world for two. The cynics will always hate you for your noisy affection, shooting their slingshots at anything that moves.

2. Drop the Metric Units: When you lived in Argentina together, you taught English all over Buenos Aires like a traveling circus while she made empanadas, cleaned the tiny apartment and did laundry like a champ. Later on, the two of you translated screenplays together for extra pesos, working under the table. As a fiction writer and recent PhD now on the market, you make the dinners, walk the dogs, take out the recycling and water the plants while she works downtown as a pediatric nurse (the best kind). Part of your strength as a couple is your flexibility, your ability to negotiate and warp gender roles effortlessly. You find new ways to love her and you’re not attached to the things that don’t work anymore (or that never worked). Because your love is dynamic and fluid, both of you continuously evolve, a million tiny universes created inside one another, growing inside both of you every instant.

Slowly, you realize you love her for her flaws. You love her hang-ups and her idiosyncrasies. You love her because of these things, not despite them. Because, because, because.

3. Stop Idealizing Each Other: In the beginning, your love is pure, unpackaged and elemental. It’s in your face like a lead singer of a metal band shouting out lyrics you can’t make out. But you can feel the syllables in your chest. Your earliest moments are a whisper, based partially on deficient knowledge. You barely know each other. You don’t know each other’s middle names or your favorite colors yet. You’ve haven’t discovered each other’s quirks, your idiosyncrasies, your secret kinks and repressed insanities. You don’t even know if she’s a dog person or a cat person. But over time you learn all of this. Slowly, you realize you love LB for her flaws. You love her hang-ups and her idiosyncrasies. You love her because of these things, not despite them. Because, because, because.

4. Burn the Fucking Map: At first, your fledgling love is a wisp of snowflakes. Eventually your love becomes a buoyant riff inside your head. An emotional catechism inside your pocket. A cosmology of longing in your hands. Six years later, you’re still crazy in love years after the first rush. Your love is deep and unfathomable. You could get lost in each other.

5. Assassinate Rationalism: Don’t list the reasons why you love her because those are probably the reasons you like her, the things you tell people when they ask you. You love her because it’s impossible to stop, because nothing you do has ever cured you of your brain fever, because you’re helpless when she smiles at you like you’re the only boy in the playground. But your love isn’t rational. Most of the time, you can’t even explain how or why it works. You don’t know why it’s different with her. You don’t know why her sadness inflicts you. You don’t know why her joy infects you. You don’t know why everything got better after she took you to a Peruvian restaurant in Wicker Park and told you to dip your bread in the green sauce, which burned a hole in your mouth. You don’t know why both of you are so childish when you’re together, why you buy LB hello kitty geishas, why she pretends to comb out the tangles in your shaved head. The only thing you know is when she kisses your cheek or when she tells you she’s proud of you, the whole world disintegrates into soft light. The joy you feel is a perfectly strummed chord.

6. Love the Tiny Spoon: Sometimes, you bust out laughing when you notice how small her shoes are, small enough to be kids’ shoes really. Sometimes, when she looks at you with glowing tenderness, it breaks you down. Sometimes, when you talk about her to close friends, you start to cry. Sometimes, through the window you watch her walking to work and it fucking obliterates you. It’s not that you’re weak when she’s gone either. It’s just that you’re stronger when she holds your hand, something you would never admit to anyone, something you didn’t even realize until you wrote it down. Sometimes, when you’re not looking, she tackles you on to the bed and shouts touchdown! She dances while you play video games, makes you watch baby elephant videos and sticks monopoly money in your wallet. And the truth is, you love every spoonful of it because it’s her, it’s her, it’s her.

7. Slow the Fuck Down: Every now and then, you watch her sleep as the morning sunlight sneaks through the blackout curtains and cast oblong shadows on her face. When inspired, you smell her skin and kiss her cheeks. When you rub her hair, she sighs in her sleep. Sometimes, you spoon with her under the covers even though it hurts your back, which makes her clasp your hand in her sleep. Zoe and Gogo! (your two dogs) protect her on either side like warm little sentinels. Sometimes, her eyelids flutter as she sleeps.  Sometimes, you kiss the shadows of her face before sneaking into your office. After you do some yoga, meditate and work on your novel, she stutters into the office with her face smushed from sleep. She sits on your lap and hugs you, her skin still warm from the soft voltage in her dreams.

8. Go out on Dates Every Week: Even when you were losing your shit during your field exams, you still dropped grad school at least twice a week to conjugate your existence and share the gift of food. Even when you were chained to the couch, reading abstruse books for your dissertation, you still went out to cafés with her to watch the sunlight crashing into Venice Beach. Even when you’re busy writing the next great Asian American novel or fiddling with a Garage Band track or breaking your thumbs on your Xbox, the one thing you don’t negotiate are your dates with LB. She’s the only person in your life you can probably take for granted (because she loves you as passionately as you love her) and she’s the only person you will never take for granted precisely because it’s her and precisely because it’s you.

9. Open Your Mouth: According to Hindu tradition, words have vibrations. The word love is both an act of affection, an act of confession and an act of healing. I love you.  Te amo. Je t’aime. You tell her these things all the time because you want to capture that moment before it dies, before you forget the sound, before your cell phone rings, before zombies smash through your window, before the world burns up from the inside out. Sometimes, it feels crazy or monomaniacal. Sometimes, you’re not even in the mood to tell her. But when she asks you to, and often when she doesn’t, you tell her. The world is your witness. You tell her all the time because it soothes her, calms her down, because it tells her where she is and who you are. You don’t want her to forget that she’s loved. You don’t want her to live one day not knowing how much you love her, how fleeting the soft syllables are, how quickly memory erodes into chaos. You know it’s supposed to get old. You know it’s vulgar, redundant, even annoying to tell her as much as you do. But the act of telling is also the act of doing, your own piecemeal mantra. Your love for her is a gospel that you preach whenever she loses faith in the world. It’s the way you save your self from the plague of old age and the termites of regret. It’s the one perfect thing you can do every day of your life that will always matter.

10. Create a New Language: Every day of your life, you try to find a different language to express what you feel for her, telling her without the words: You tell LB every time you make love in the afternoon, every time you hijack her Facebook account and stick garlic cloves in her lunch bag, every time the two of you walk around the streets of Japan in the winter and take your shoes off in Millenium Park and play with the dogs on the bed, every time you take a picnic together on a beach in Edgewater, every time you ride the El holding hands, every time you write her stories with emoji and hug her when she laughs, every time you spend hours and hours thinking about how to make her birthday stranger and sweeter, every time you watch Friday Night Lights and Breaking Bad together until you’re hungover, every time you write her a ballad on the piano and text her when she feels lonely, every single time you make green tea after dinner and dance with her in your underwear, you’re telling her everything you’ve ever felt for her in an instant, everything she’s ever wanted you to say since the beginning.

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Image credit: provided by author

Other articles by Jackson Bliss:

About Jackson Bliss

Jackson Bliss is the author of The Amnesia of Junebugs, The Ninjas of My Greater Self, Dream Pop Origami + Atlas of Tiny Desires. His essays + short stories have appeared in Tin House, Antioch Review, Kenyon Review, Fiction, Quarterly West, ZYZZYVA, Fiction International, Stand (UK), Huffington Post UK and African American Review, among others. You can find him at www.jacksonbliss.com and on Twitter.

Comments

  1. So sweet! I love this list! But, I disagree with one thing–I think when you love someone you tend to idealize them a little. After all, you can’t help it–you’re in love! 🙂

  2. November says:

    Ugh.
    Life is easier without relationships.
    I read all this stuff and feel depressed.
    The pain, struggle, and constant compromise/work is NOT worth it, imo.

  3. David Wise says:

    11. Find a hot wife.

  4. Reading this made me miss being in Love. I really miss being in Love with someone…..I feel a strange mix of melancholy and romantic engagement to your words. Beautiful conundrum….I guess it describes Love <3

  5. Heart-warming, real, and one of the most romantic pieces I’ve read recently. Well said!

  6. Love this article, it should be made into a curriculum for school children, our divorce rates would drop. This is the kind of intimate relationship that our souls long for and seek. Great article, thank you!

  7. Lovely article 🙂 Very well-written.

  8. Michael Vernon says:

    Awesome.

  9. Truly beautiful! I want to write and love as honestly as you….

  10. Beautiful reading the article was like hearing my husband speak.

  11. possibly the best article i’ve read on here.

  12. marry me then =)

  13. Word…!

  14. So much of this resonates. My husband and I will celebrate our 20th anniversary this February. We met in college and married 5 years later. We wed despite the rather strenuous objections of our respective families, both of whom apparently felt that our vastly different backgrounds and upbringings meant our marriage would last 6 months – if we were lucky. 20 years later, I can’t say it has always been easy; actually we’ve been through Hell and back more than once. We have survived multiple moves and job changes, physical and mental illness, unemployment and near-homelessness after the economy crashed, the deaths of loved ones and friends, and the heartbreak of learning we would never have children of our own. Even as I write this, my husband’s father is terminally ill, and instead of visiting his Dad on what will most likely be his final Christmas, we are stuck at home because my husband has a terrible case of the flu. 🙁

    Despite all of this and more, we are still together, stronger than ever, even as many other couples in our family and circle of friends who wed around the same time–couples who supposedly were better matches than we were–have gone through some ugly divorces. “That which does not kill you, makes you stronger,” someone once said, and that could be our mantra. That, or “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” We could each function just fine our our own–we have had to at times–but we don’t want to. We are better as a unit. Certainly there was (and is) lust, but we have also done without that lust for long periods of time, for physical and other reasons. The character of that part of our relationship has changed to something that is a deep comfort and a powerful reminder that we live, rather than the raw, x-rated, pornographic lust of our college days. And that is a great thing.

    We have a deep and abiding friendship, a language and culture of our own which has developed and evolved over the years. We “get” each other and we “ride or die” with each other, as the kiddies say. 😉 We tell each other “I Love You” so much other people give us crap about it. But we never take each other for granted. Never have, and hopefully, never will. I spent much of my youth believing that the “real me” was unwanted and unlovable. That a man loves and wants me in spite of my weirdness and faults–which are legion–is still amazing to me.

    Thank you for writing this.

  15. Nathalie Schoenauer says:

    I read this website more than I use Google and this piece just became my new favourite. You must have written it with such a full and enlightened heart. To me, it feels like a validation of the relationship which has given my boyfriend and I nothing but pure bliss. Not because we just fell into our emotions, or that it’s the first major relationship for both of us, or that either of us are perfect in any way. It’s because we hold each other through constant evolution but let go enough to grow as individuals. It’s because we say I Love You as quiet affirmations to ourselves and each other. And it’s because every obstacle, challenge, and road block that comes our way makes us feel younger and stronger and thoroughly fulfilled. Like you said: because, because, because.

    Thank you a thousand times for putting into words the exact feeling I get whenever he is in my arms or in my thoughts. The balance, the joy, and the wonder of it all makes me want to burst into tears and laughter at the same time – it is my favourite recipe for life.

    I wish you both an endless adventure. May you continue to lead by example and share the beauty of a well earned love.

  16. I didn’t cry. Are you disappointed Jackson? I think you and your wife made a wise decision to wait. I’m glad you are in love the way you are. It is great! I also will leave you with this. Truly, you don’t need to be nervous to have kids. If you are truly there for her when she needs you and she is there for you when you need her, that is really all you need. Communicate as much as you can and always, always be present when they need you. This spoken by someone married for 15 years. He didn’t help me when I asked for it (more than once) and as a result I was living in a marriage alone. So, I divorced and I’m now dating a wonderful, wonderful man, who would never even dream of leaving me hanging when I needed him. 😉

    Thanks for the read! God Bless.
    Ame

  17. What moves me most in your piece is the (apparent) fusion of passion and intention on both your parts.

    Very nice indeed.

  18. This brought me to tears for two reasons: First, the beauty and power of your emotions and second: your ease and ability in expressing them. May you grow very old together.

    • Jackson Bliss says:

      Violet,

      Thanks so much. Your kind words mean a lot. I even showed them to LB last night. That was incredibly sweet of you. Be well + thanks again.

      Peace, Blessings,

      -j1b

  19. I cannot appreciate this enough! Its the quirky little things that too make my heart flutter and mainly because they have so much meaning to you and you know no one else in the world sees them like you do. Thank you for sharing your most precious thoughts. Enjoy your journey together.

  20. This is so incredibly good. For a moment I allowed myself to believe that love could be replenished and last forever.

    “Because, Because, Because.” Just like reading your heart its rights. Lol.

    • Don,

      I appreciate you saying that. And, interestingly enough, I think you might have your finger on the secret of being/staying in love. If we think of love as an original project, then of course that will die with time because it’ll be impossible to match the energy + intensity of that initial moment. But if we conceive of love as something that we replenish/recreate with the same person all the time, there will always be room for new love, new languages to express that love, new reasons for “because.” Anyway, I appreciate you sharing your feelings. More than anything, I’m just happy to know that my writing can touch people like it touched you. Be well.

      Peace, Blessings,

      -j1b

  21. Brought tears to my eyes. I wish I could have this on a reel playing over and over again in my mind. I’m in a long-distance relationship and am getting ready to go back to school and leave my boyfriend. Every moment is precious when you are with the person you love, especially when you can’t be together all the time. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

    • Parker,

      Thank you so much. I really appreciate that. I feel the same way. And long distance relationships are tough, but when you love someone as much as you do, you’ll figure out a way to make it work. If it’s just temporary, it can be done. I wish you two tons of luck.

      Peace, Blessings,

      -j1b

    • Same here. Tears…

  22. ::swoons and falls down::

  23. I’ve been married to my one and only wife for nineteen years, we’re still in love, and I say you get it, Mr. Bliss. Carry on.

  24. Jennifer Bent says:

    Clearly, you don’t yet have children.

    • Jennifer (or is it James?),

      You’re right about not having kids, but that was a decision that my wife + I made intentionally. We hope to have kids someday in the future. At the same time, we consciously choose to wait for a number of reasons, one of which was for us. And while I’m sure that having a kid would change our relationship, I reject your cynical suggestion that being parents = the death of romantic love. I know the romance will have to be compartmentalized at times. I know that we’ll have to negotiate endlessly + switch things around. But we already do that + I think we’ll figure it out along the way. Having a kid shouldn’t screw up a good relationship because if it’s good, it should be able to deal with challenges. Either way, your statement says more about you than it does about me. And I’m crazy in love with my wife. What’s the problem with that exactly? That it doesn’t “count” because we don’t have kids? As if, dude.

      Peace,

      -j1b

  25. So much of this still rings true after a decade for us. Alas however the familiar issue of no sex has played its part and this is an incredible strain…

    • Chaz,

      I’m happy to hear the love’s still there. I hope there’s a way for you two to restore your love sexually. Best of luck + thanks for dropping a note.

      Peace, Blessings,

      -j1b

  26. Oh my, I am in tears. How lovely to be loved this way.

    • Jackson Bliss says:

      Des, thank you. There’s nothing more flattering than to know that your own writing can move someone that way. And by the way, I’m sure you will meet the right person someday if you haven’t already. It’s just a question of intersection and being in the right place in your life. Good luck.

      Peace, Blessings,

      -j1b

  27. This is one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I’ve read in a while. Thank you, Jackson. You’ve captured something in words so well that it’s rendered me speechless.

    • Jackson Bliss says:

      Vironika,

      Thank you so much. That means a lot to me. I’m really happy that my lyrical essay could touch you like that. As a writer, I couldn’t ask for anything more. Be well + thanks again.

      Peace, Blessings,

      -j1b

  28. Love is there all the time. Life gets in the way. We all know that. In the beginning its lust. I have been deeply in love four times, each time, thunderstruck at first meeting. It did not grow over time. A few when I was very young. Being in love at first is, as I said lust. You are unable to function. (read any number of the endless poems about this, a few hundred plays and movies as well) then you mellow. The sex may slow down, the kids may show up, you age. You feel that you are missing something. If you are lucky you are truly in love and to maintain that, to keep it fresh, I believe that the advice, “slow the fuck down” is the best. I have found that taking the time to think about not having her, not every being able to touch her or be touched, even missing the rough times, makes you “see” what you have. Is it love? Comfort? Deep need? I have had my heart broken delicately delicately, like a ballet dancer tossing a grenade, I have been left, I have been lucky enough to find new love. Relationships are a job. One I am happy to be able to have. When I hear a couple say, ” He’s so perfect”, my bullshit alarm goes off. No one is perfect. We are all flawed, but if you have someone you want to hold on to. At any age, yeah, slow the fuck down, look at your partner, imagine that space without them, if it doesn’t pain you to imagine that loss, you are not in love, move on. But if you feel a hole open up in your soul (not a god soul a love soul) then pay more attention. Tell your partner what you are feeling, tell them in words, gesture, a note, a touch… love is at those guys said, all we need.

  29. KeLee Marie says:

    Joy….it is realistic, my dear….but first you must find the proper person. It will happen when you least expect it..usually does 😉

  30. Is this even realistic? Sounds like very fantasy-generated wishful thinking. Do these kind of people even exist?

    • Randomizer says:

      If people can live lives of faith guided by belief in a corporeal sky boss, surely you can have faith that this exists and can for you.

      • Jackson Bliss says:

        Joy,

        This is exactly how my marriage is, so by definition it can’t be a fantasy. It was just a question of finding the right person. I was 33 when I met LB. Sometimes, it takes a little while to meet the right person.

        Peace, Blessings,

        -j1b

        • James Becker says:

          Statistics show that the later in life you meet your spouse, the less likely your marriage is to last. I always inferred that the less likely it was to be able to fall deeply in love with someone. As someone who has already been in love multiple times, I sometimes wonder if my time is up. Good to know that you found something that special at 33.

    • Yes, this kind of person does exist. Yes, this is real. This article describes our relationship so well. It took me 50 years to find her. I am more in love than I have EVER been in my life.

  31. Now, THAT, is how you write a love story. Or a marriage counseling book. Or a recipe that can work no matter what the ingredients are. ~ Jackie Devine

  32. This is so beautiful.

  33. Erika Bliss says:

    My Valentines Day gift came early this year. I loved you then, I love you now and I’ll love tomorrow and every day after that.

Trackbacks

  1. […] piece was originally published in The Good Men […]

  2. […] was hard not to be entranced by Jackson Bliss’ exquisite, lyrical essay How To Stay In Love. I smiled stupidly as I read his piece for the first time, feeling a delicious recognition, and […]

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