In the beginning there was only man. But then God made woman.
So that Adam might learn something.
I spent the majority of my teens traveling, making friends, and reading books. But in the last two years before turning twenty, I was blessed with three romantic encounters that changed my life for the better.
From one boy to the next, here are the lessons I’ve learned.
Getting on the Plane
Spotting me by the elevator, a friend asked why I was leaving prom so early.
My response: “I gotta see about a girl.”
That I had quoted the movie Good Will Hunting to justify why I was catching a flight from New York City to Los Angeles — to pursue someone that I had never actually met before — says a lot about me at eighteen. I was a walking catalog of clichés and epigrams, none of which I had yet earned the right to.
Standing in line at the gate to have my boarding pass scanned, I sandwiched my thumb between the pages of William Zinsser’s guide to writing nonfiction. As he remarks,
“Getting on the plane has taken me to unusual stories all over the world and all over America, and it still does. That isn’t to say I’m not nervous when I leave for the airport; I always am — that’s part of the deal. [But] if a subject interests you, go after it… It’s not going to come looking for you.”¹
That day I grasped the true meaning of confidence.
Without a doubt, most of my readers have heard from women that this is the ‘key to success.’ However, it is an unfortunate misconception that this necessitates fearlessness or arrogance — both, by the way, are the fast track to being rejected. Instead, confidence has nothing to do with certainty and everything to do with adopting a forthright attitude toward the unknown.
There was no telling what lay waiting for me when I landed.
But if you want what you’ve never had, then you have to go where you’ve never been, or to do what you’ve never done, in order to get it.
For this, you must be willing to play the fool: that is what you are whenever you try something new.
To reference my past, this has meant struggling to sing with an acoustic guitar, giving a speech in front of her family, or being toppled by the ocean surf because I’m a “city kid” who knows nothing about the beach. And believe me when I say that I am terrible at ice-skating.
But the boy who occasionally embarrasses himself, which is to be vulnerable if only for the possibility that he might know love, is redeemed.
In short, get on the plane.
Home Is Where the Heart Is
As a young person, one’s attention is always directed toward the future. Everything is about growth. The idea of ‘living in the present’ occurs only as an afterthought during moments of excitement.
Heir to this mindset is the tendency to ignore what is right in front of you. And sometimes where you aim to be is actually where you are now.
In the Summer of 2019, I had established a casual rapport with a girl living in my neighborhood. Most of our time was spent laughing and listening to music. Yet, owing to my previously described trip across the country, our relationship lacked the fantasy ‘highs’ that had become my ideal. And so, I wasn’t always appreciative.
But on our last night together, I had an experience that shattered my egotism.
Speaking at dinner, I was touched by the tone of endearment in her mother’s voice. Never before had I felt so comfortable at a stranger’s house. It dawned on me that the sense of belonging, of ‘feeling at home,’ was what I felt when I looked at her daughter. And as the saying goes,
“Home is where the heart is.”²
Moments like these try to tell us something, or say something we have previously missed.³
We must understand that reality is far more than what it appears to be on the surface. Because on occasions of stillness we become aware of life’s hidden depths. And in a flash of spiritual sensitiveness, an affection that was formerly thought to be arbitrary is revealed as providence.
The following morning I left to begin college. A distance of 2,477 miles spelled the end of what I wish to have known earlier. Nonetheless, I am grateful to have realized at all.
In love and romance, pay attention.
Love in Action vs. Love in Dreams
As we grow older it becomes necessary to distinguish between eros (lust) and love.
Bear with me as I explain.
Eros is the sexual passion that arises within a person. It cannot be summoned or deliberately maintained. Hence, relationships entirely dependent on eros are quick to begin and quick to end, for they are only accidental.
Whereas eros is a feeling, love is a “state.” To reference Aristotle,
“[Reciprocal love] requires decision, and decision comes from a state; and good people wish good to the beloved for his [or her] own sake in accord with their state, not their feeling.”⁴
Don’t be discouraged by his tricky phrasing.
Understand that to love is a continual decision. Decision requires rationality, and rationality requires maturity.
Therefore, the precondition for a loving romantic relationship is maturity (amidst an erotic passion).
The question for me at nineteen years old was: In practice, what does it mean to love someone?
As I found out, it isn’t easy. The Russian author Dostoevsky did well to warn his readers,
“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.”⁵
Because it’s not about the grand romantic gestures. Real love has everything to do with a person’s ability to sacrifice consciously and consistently, in small, selfless, and unnoticed ways.⁶
During my first committed relationship, to love meant never failing to walk her home. It meant standing for an hour in line to get chocolate from a British candy store simply because I had mentioned the place on our first date. It meant scouring New York City for a pumpkin on Halloween and then carrying it thirty blocks in the rain. It meant truly listening to her problems without making any mention of my own. And for when things got tough between us, it meant carrying around the Prayer of Saint Francis in my back pocket:
“Grant that I may not so much seek to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.”⁷
And, as is the inevitability of so many relationships, it meant bearing her decision to end things.
I was heartbroken. But walking home on that cold November night I could sense that something was different from my past farewells.
This time, there was nothing to regret.
And so, I had received an answer to my earlier question: If you love consciously, then no matter what happens, the relationship is worthwhile.
Better still, if Saint Paul is correct to say that lovers might make one another holy,⁸ then the benefits are further reaching than they might seem.
Love gradually perfects the individuals through their partnership. In this way, all love is a metamorphosis.
Before you go…
Years from now I am sure to stumble upon at least one of these girls, albeit women by then. At that time, it will be nice to learn in what way we had factored into each other’s outcomes.
In life, love, and romance, those we have the pleasure of encountering lead us further down the path.
And so, let this be my final advice: Love as deeply and as often as you can.
Previously published on medium
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