"Falling in love again
Never wanted to
What am I to do?
Can't help it"—Marlene Dietrich
Surely I'm a bit too old, and much too cynical for that high school, hearts-and-flowers crap. As a 43-year old man in a committed, if platonic relationship, there wasn't much room in my life for roses and white picket fences anyway.
Prospective lovers have always had to understand that they could have most of me, but my heart was never mine to give. "Friends with benefits," it is called. It worked really well for me for over a decade.
It was this dynamic that described my relationship with Necie. Some of the happiest moments in my life were spent with this big beautiful woman and her big beautiful heart. And the other benefits...I would never kiss and tell, but I will say that our time together was positively mind-blowing.
Our time as lovers ended without even one tear, and Necie and I have remained very good friends to this day.
"...let us live and love,
and think the rumours of hard old men
all together worth but one penny!
...Give me kisses: a thousand then a hundred
...Then, when we have made many thousands---
we'll wipe them out, lest we know,
or lest anyone evil can envy,
when they know how many kisses there were."—Catullus
The Romans called their god of infatuation and passion Amor, which means 'Love.' His name comes down to us in our word amorous.
Amor was the young son of the love goddess Venus and by most accounts, he wasn't always a nice kid. He was seen as something of a troublemaker and a trickster.
The poets had another, more telling, name for this scamp—they called him Cupid. The word cupidus or cupido is usually translated as 'desire.' but it carries with it the implication of a quenchless longing. This should tell you a little bit about how poets felt about the winged juvenile delinquent with the bow.
"And think not you can
Direct the course of love,
If it finds you worthy,
Directs your course."—Kahlil Gibran
Last fall, I found myself corresponding a lot with a female colleague. We've been friends for a couple of years and she was going through some stuff, I wanted to be there for her. We spent a lot of time together online.
I never even heard the bowstring snap or the whisper of the arrow as it parted the air. I felt it though.
That little winged jerk is hell of a good archer when he puts his heart into it.
"Find the person who will love you because of your differences and
not in spite of them and you have found a lover for life."—Leo Buscaglia
A wily old teacher at my high school once wrote a piece about falling in love. Dr. Latham was a fascinating old man, with an armload of diplomas, honours, and awards, yet he preferred to be called "Doctor Jack" by all of us kids, whom he warmly referred to as his "young friends."
In my senior year, I took a poetry course. Once, upon the absence of our teacher, we found ourselves in class with Dr. Jack.
"Now, my young friends..." the eminent old fellow began, with his odd southwestern accent which we could never quite pinpoint, "You may wonder why a science teacher is here to teach you about poetry. It may surprise a few of you to know that I once did have a poem published and reprinted several times."
He showed us an old magazine with his piece in it. It was fantastic, a free verse about the term "falling in love."
"I prefer," said Dr. Jack, "not to say that one has fallen in love. This rather evokes a fall into a quagmire from which we can not extricate ourselves." Yes, he really did talk like that. And, on him, it was charming—I suspect that from any lesser figure, it would have been intolerable. "I prefer instead to say that one has climbed up into love.
With this, Doctor Jack laced his his large hands together—his fingers and wrists bedecked in enough silver and turquoise to start an Arizona flea market. He beamed with a gentle smile and nodded his bald head, like some strange sort of desert Buddha.
"What's the matter with harmless?
Take a new step in an old direction,
If you think about tenderness
What's the matter with a hand-on-a-hand affection?
Do you dream about a new day?
You've gotta dream about something strong and simple,
'Each and every' is a kind thing to say,
What's the matter with harmless love?"—Ferron
And so it was that last October, that I found myself in an instant messenger program, typing to my colleague from a laptop as I was on vacation.
In a trance, I typed her name.
She typed mine.
Then I typed the three words I never thought I would, or could. "I love you." I hit return before I allowed myself to reconsider.
Her reply took only seconds, but it felt like hours. First, "Oh." Then, moments later. "I love you too."
"The heart has reasons that reason does not understand."—variously attributed to Jacques Benigne Bossuel or Blaise Pascal
Of course, in modern-day America, Cupid is largely tied to Valentine's Day. This holiday is based on a Roman fertility festival called Lupercalia, when young men and women would be paired off by a sort of lottery system. Now, the holiday is named for a Christian martyr and basically used as an excuse to sell as much chocolate, flowers, and lingerie as possible.
Cupid's favourite holiday is big business—Suzi, my best friend is a florist (when she's not illustrating books), and she tells me that some floral shops around here make at least a quarter of their annual income in the month of February. She's also got some great anecdotes about the customers that come along with the annual insanity that the week of Valentine's Day brings:
- There are apparently scores of clueless husbands and boyfriends who come in at 9:00 pm (that's 2100 to you Europe-y types!) on Valentine's day, hoping to find a last-minute bunch of flowers for their lady love. Sadly, all you are likely to find at that time are exhausted florists, distressed or left-over flowers, and a gigantic mess in the shop. Also...shouldn't you already be at dinner, for crying out loud?
- Some customers' bizarre demands seem to have come from another world. For example, she has been asked for flowers that will bloom at a specific time—or, if no such flowers are available, instructions as to how to make them bloom at a precise time.
- One ambitious fellow ordered a five hundred dollar arrangement for a woman he had never met! After selecting a very fancy hand-blown glass vase and a expensive ornaments, she carefully stocked it with the finest blooms the store had to offer. Gotta give the guy points for chutzpah!
- More than once, she's heard variations on this: "I want something really cheap. But it should look like it is expensive." One particularly memorable gentleman announced that he had to get a make-up gift for his girlfriend. He then, rather brusquely announced, "I spend money all the time. Just not on flowers." He pulled out a roll of $100 bills to illustrate his point, then insisted my friend construct the cheapest possible arrangement for him. Of course, he complained bitterly about the high price as he purchased it.
It was in that same high school poetry class, after being dumped by the girl of my dreams, that I wrote a limerick about Cupid. Of course, one thing that high school kids do is write lovesick poetry—this seems to be true the world over and has probably been so since the first proto humans developed language.
I thought it was clever because it used a non-rhyming word at the end of one of the lines, and because I used old-timey English and wrote about a serious subject—all very distinctly un-limerick-ish. I titled the thing Comme il Faut, which fit with the rhyme scheme, and means, approximately, "appropriate behaviour." In hindsight, that really doesn't make too much sense...it's also kind of pretentious.
Comme il Faut
O Cupid, prepare thou thy bow
To love once again I do vow,
Afresh I will start
Hold fast to my heart
As the winds of time swifly blow
I think the message here is clear: watch out what you ask from adolescent godlings with antique weaponry. Word.
"If you want a lover
I'll do anything you ask me to
And if you want another kind of love
I'll wear a mask for you
If you want a partner
Take my hand
Or if you want to strike me down in anger
Here I stand
I'm your man"—Leonard Cohen
I wanted to write poems or songs to my new love. Love should imbue us with the power to craft things of exceptional beauty, far beyond the abilities of other mortals. I wanted to make amazing works of art to express the feelings I was experiencing. I wanted to make a painting, to write a sonata, to scribe her name in the sky in letters a thousand feet tall.
I found myself writing our initials in the corners of my notebook like a lovesick teenager.
I guess this marvelous lady has shown me that I really am not quite so old or cynical after all...
"There is no instinct like that of the heart."—Lord Byron
Falling in Love Again by F. Hollander & S. Lerner
I'm Your Man by L. Cohen
Harmless Love by Ferron
Catullus 5 by Mortice
Valentine's Day by oenone