It's only in retrospect that I can say that I've been in love. In the aftermath of the whole affair, however, it certainly didn't feel that way. It also took me a long time to admit that it was love. I categorically denied it as such because it didn't work out. Shouldn't love, real love, work itself out? Shouldn't it last? Shouldn't it be something evident, tangible and worth fighting for? Surely there is a disco song about this.
I primarily did not consider it love because there was a communication issue from the start. He thought I wanted "more" when I invited him to meet up with me in Europe at the tail end of my stint there. Since we are both travelers, I offered to show him some of my favorite spots in a country where he didn't speak the language. But before I knew it, he presumed that I was trying to entrap him into a relationship when I was just really looking forward to having a good time. I told him this, but he refused to believe me. Then, I thought he wanted "more" when he made an 18 hour road trip "just to see me" in the exact place, one year to the day after we met. When he later said that he did this out of his desire to maintain our friendship, somehow I was less than willing to believe him.
It went on like this. We didn't love each other, but we talked like clockwork every week no matter where one of us was in the world. He surely didn't love me, but sent me gifts and cards, called me on my birthday and major holidays, and encouraged me spend time with his friends and family. I didn't love him, but I sent him books that made my heart sing. In my travels, I found a few small things that reminded me of him, and I passed them on accordingly. I never once gave this a second thought. He didn't love me, but he loved the books I gave him, and often thanked me for "giving him so much in his life". He also gave me books that held meaning for him. And music. And small things from his travels that he thought I should have, like a small seashell that he brought back from the deserts of Sub-Saharan Africa. In a state of non-love, we exchanged hand-written, non-love letters, posted to each other from obscure and remote corners of the world. Meanwhile, we both had a revolving door of non-significant others come through our lives, but, of course, we never talked about this out of fear of hurting the other's feelings, because, dare I say it again?-- this was not about love.
I thought about him the other day because I missed him in NYC over the holiday. We were in the same place at the same time, but we intentionally failed to connect. It was not that long ago when we would talk at least 2 times on a major holiday, once in the morning, and once at night. Now the calls, the cards, the non-love letters that always ended in "love always" have stopped. A sad, uncomfortable silence has lapsed between us. It's dreadful, and yet it's a room without a door. I'm not sure how we got there, but I don't think it can be undone. The silence ultimately worked better than the two of us not working.
And yet, I thought about him during my return flight home. Out of nowhere, tears began to sting my eyes at the memory of how hard I once allowed myself to cry over the confusion of him. I was thankful that the plane was dark and full of sleeping passengers.
He's the bar set for me for what it means to not be in love.
Two serious relationships, several more stamps in the passport, and year after the fact, I had to stop myself from crying in public.