I love you.

Yup, those three little crazy words. The ones that can make you happy, make you freak out, make you run for the hills, or make you feel safe and warm.

The ones that can cause you to make fun of someone for saying I love you after one month, but that you find yourself one day saying to someone after a month.

I always wondered about how the same word ‘love’ can be used for so many different things. How can one single word encompass all the subtleties of such a broad range of emotions… How we feel about coffee, how we feel about our parents, how we feel about Amelie Nothomb’s books, how we feel about the new Titanium song, and how we feel about the person we want to spend the rest of our lives with. One word? For all those things?

Makes me want to invent a hundred different words that would include the nuances of taste buds, lust, craziness, passion, preference…

Saying ‘I love you’ to my dog is easy. In romantic interactions, it’s complicated. Timing and even form plays in- isn’t it funny how saying or writing ‘love you’ or ‘love ya’ or ‘luv u’ is so much easier than ‘I love you’?

And it’s different in different languages too. For me saying ‘je t’aime’ is a lot lighter than ‘I love you’. I’ve been wondering why and I think it’s because the words for ‘like’ and ‘love’ are the same in French.

And as in English, the more letters you remove the lighter it becomes. ‘J’t’aime’, ‘je t’m’, and even ‘jtm’ :-)

I once heard that Spanish is the most honest language when it comes to love because ‘love’ is the same as ‘want’. ‘Te quiero’.  And maybe love is just that. Wanting something or someone.

The three words are intricate because the emotions they attempt to reflect are intricate. I wonder about them and question them because I also wonder about and question love.

I’m the girl who always made fun of the ‘invention’ of romantic love’, citing articles that proved its foundation in chemistry, mythology, biology and the urge to reproduce, media brainwashing and romantic-comedy ‘gavage’ (don’t know what the word is in English, but it is what they do to poor geese to make fois gras). And saying that if we look back some years or look far enough away from our little so-called globalized bubble with an anthropological lens, we’d see that romantic love is very much time- and culture-based.

And evolutionary studies have shown bizarre facts about attraction that are kind of sad to think about, including how men are attracted to women of a certain hip-to-waist ratio and symmetrical faces, all in the unconscious name of ensuring healthy offspring and strong DNA. In case you’re wondering, women were shown to partially base their attraction on a man’s height and income. Income because it represents the man’s ability to take care of his woman. In the stone age it would have been represented by a man’s ability to kill an animal with a club and drag it back home (that is, cave).

Scientists have even come up with mathematical formulas of facial beauty and created a computer software that can beautify people in pictures (have a look at whether you prefer the before or after pictures).

In the brain, being in love is akin to being crazy, quite literally (read more), and I used to tell my friends: those butterflies you’re feeling are chemicals designed to make you stay with a person long enough to get your ‘progeniture’ past infancy (according to the science, a maximum of 18 months to 2 years), thereafter to be replaced by either a boredom-induced breakup or attachment/habit/dependency.

Add to all this the fact that our views of what is beautiful and what is desirable are programed by how and where we grew up, it really gives the lie to all our conceptions of freely ‘choosing’ who we love.  And don’t get me started on men looking for their mothers and all that. At the height of my meditation-Buddhist-retreats phase, I even considered celibacy. ‘None of that syrupy fake opium love illusion for me thank you very much’ I thought. ‘I want to view the real meaning of life and tackle truth head on’.

But as I’ve grown older the truth-truth is that I have realized what love can be. Beyond any cynicism. And I don’t care what any of the studies show. You don’t fall in love with someone just because of hormones. You fall in love with them because you love all those little crazy things about them. Their smile, their ears, the way they make you laugh.

And I want to be in love. I want the butterflies even if they are chemicals.

Sometimes, after falling in love, if you’re lucky, you get to experience true love: The difficult process of truthfully knowing someone, with every single one of their flaws and the things that drive you up the wall, and staying through painful conversations and still ‘loving’ the person even when you hate them. It’s not easy, but it’s beautiful. And then, if you’re really really really lucky, you get to fall in love with them again and again.

So love. That word, that feeling. So what if it’s the same word for so many different things? Even Juliet said: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. So the name of love might not matter, and maybe its combined complexity and simplicity is its charm… Because in the end, isn’t the whole point that whatever it is alluding to is beyond words and names?

* Aside from all the linked articles, some interesting books on the science behind attraction and love are The Evolution Of Desire, by David Buss, and Romantic Passion: A Universal Experience? by William Jankowiak.

Great dates.

What’s a sign a date is going great? For me it means I don’t look at my phone once. It means laughing, lots and lots of laughing. Joking with the waiters. Wine glasses. Sharing dessert. Staying much longer than you had planned –  he picked you up at 9 for dinner and at 1am you’re still there, with the waiters now folding their arms staring at you because you’re the only customers left and they want to go home. They give you not-so-subtle hints, by constantly removing more and more items from your table. And even though you’ve worked as a waitress and know how annoying it is when you’re dying to leave and that couple in the corner just lingers on and on talking non-stop, despite all that, you barely notice their hints. A great date is above all, great conversation.

Have you ever had one of those day-time coffee or lunch dates (which is usually what I propose when I don’t really want it to be a date) but that turn out to be so much fun that you decide to go for a walk after, and then coffee in a different place, and then maybe even catch an afternoon movie? The non-date that turns into a date.

Last Saturday I had a lovely non-date with a good friend. Yes, I think you can have lovely kinda romantic ‘dates’ with a friend. We met for ‘coffee’ in the city center. He and I always joke that ‘having a coffee’ is like a concept, it often doesn’t mean coffee (can be a tea, a beer, a juice) but you always refer to it as coffee. In that spirit, we decided when we got there that today ice-cream would be our coffee. Ice-cream in the winter is fun. So I have banana and coffee-flavored ice-cream (does that make it coffee?) and he has a hot chocolate. We talk and talk and talk and laugh so loud  that the other tables turn to stare. They’re just jealous because they’re sitting there in total silence with nothing to say to each other. Is that inevitable when you’ve been with someone a long time? I like to hope not (to be discussed in another post).

Anyway, so after our ice-cream, I’m saying bye and tell him I need to exchange a dress at Zara for a friend. He says yalla, I’ll go with you. I’m meant to just get the money back for my friend, but while we’re there, I ‘bump into’ some pretty shiny shoes. So my male friend and I spend an hour trying on shoes, me doing the trying, and him carrying the boxes and asking for different sizes, and generally feeling out of place but having fun. After the shoes, I say I have to go to the supermarket to buy groceries for a dinner I’m having that night for my Spanish class. Again he says yalla, I’ll go with you. I’m super happy for the company, and he pushes the cart and I walk in front picking out things. The man at the cheese counter thinks we’re a married couple as does the man at the bakery stand. We get into the act and pretend to be complaining about each other. Having a blast even at a supermarket is a sign of a great date.

Another thing is the balance of power. Do you want a guy to decide most things on the date, or do you want to be in control? I think I’m very complicated on this issue. I like a guy to pick the place and make a reservation, because in the rest of my life I’m always organizing things, and checking up on details etc. So it annoys me if I have to plan the specifics of a date. But it’s cute when a guy asks something simple beforehand like: “do you like Indian?” That amount of thinking I can do. On the other hand, I tend to love to mastermind the ordering once we’re there. I love to try different things and I love to share food. I’ll usually leave the wine choice up to him, although inside I’ll be boiling to have a look and a say. It (perhaps wrongly) bothers me if a guy orders very expensive wine on a first date. And I never know what to say about it. I think it’s because if it doesn’t work out I feel guilty about him having spent a fortune on wine. Is that weird?

Ok so those are some of my thoughts on what makes a great date. I wish I knew whether anyone has gotten annoyed when I’ve wanted to decide what to order for both of us, whether it pressured someone to have to make the date plans. I wonder what men look for as signs a date is going ok. So… I’d love to hear from you reading this (male or female): what makes a great date?

Ayo, technology…

It used to be that you’d meet a guy, say through friends, he’d like you, ask for your number, and then you’d wait. He’d hopefully call, take you to dinner, then maybe a movie, then dinner again, and you’d smoothly transition into dating, getting to know each other little by little. Kissing and sex would happen somewhere in there too. Some of the fun parts would be discovering common interests, friends, and past experiences.

Now things are changing. And I don’t mean like: Oh guys are assholes now, or anything like that. Not true. Guys are as lovely and as awful as they always were, thank God. But technology is changing the initial phase of dating. You meet a guy, you like each other, you simultaneously add each other on facebook, bbm, what’s app, google talk, skype, msn (does anyone still use msn?!), email, and maybe even follow each on twitter. So before you even have an actual proper date, you’ve seen a hundred pictures of him and know who all his friends are. It’s WEIRD. You’ve seen his bad hair days, you’ve seen him at the beach, you know his taste in music, movies, his date of birth, his hobbies, where he studied, where he works… You get the picture. These are the things that are supposed to populate all those first candle-lit conversations and walks. You might even find pictures of his ex-girlfriends on his profile, which you shouldn’t be seeing in the first week of knowing him- if ever.

No more waiting for an sms or a call. ‘Will he call?’ Nope. Now he can just say ‘hey’ on any of your chat outlets, at any hour. He doesn’t need to have anything to say, or even try to make plans to see you. ‘Hey’. So maybe you date, but you likely have never heard his voice on the phone, and never gotten an sms from him. ‘What’s the difference between an IM and an sms?’ you ask. Big difference. In an sms, he actually has to think of what to write. And sometimes the sms’s are sweet and you save them and re-read them (yes we are girls). An sms actually has to be coherent, with an end and a beginning (at least in the beginning- later in a relationship an sms can simply say ‘tree’, make perfect sense, and give you a warm fuzzy feeling). Phone calls also require an effort at logic. Whereas a chat conversation has no beginning (except for the aforementioned ‘hey’) and no end. It just goes on and on, over days and weeks, with no real greetings or goodbyes, just a word inserted here and there. It take guts to call a girl, to figure out what to say or what to write in an sms… Most of that is gone.

Instead you get to see that he’s online (a green dot on gchat or facebook) and wonder why he isn’t talking to you. Bbm is even worse. You can’t sign out.

You also somehow know each other too much thanks to all this tech, without actually knowing each other at all. You feel this false familiarity and closeness because you’ve bbm’ed all day and stalked each other’s facebook profiles, and just ‘get’ each other sooo much. But then you see each other and you think; is that what he looks like? See, fb pictures aren’t the real thing, and regardless whether they’re better or worse than real life, they don’t have anything to do with the breathing, flesh and blood being that’s suddenly in front of you. You liked his style on facebook, but do you like the feel and smell of his skin?

It feels awkward when you’re face to face with someone whom you’ve previously been chatting with. On your devices you both had so much to say and both felt so funny, witty and daring, with sexy IM flirting, saying racy things you probably wouldn’t dare say in person. And suddenly he’s there, it’s clumsy, no one has anything to say, and it feels strange when your arm accidentally touches his.

Ayo, I’m tired of using technologyyy, why don’t ya sit down on top of me?
(50 Cent and Justin Timberlake)

Don’t tell me I’m beautiful.

Quote

Well the title of this post might be slightly misleading. I think all of us girls like to feel, and be told, that we’re beautiful. Sometimes it feels sincere, and takes you aback, sometimes you know he’s just peddling a line he knows girls like to hear. When your gay friend tells you you’re beautiful, you know he means it.

But we don’t just wanna be perceived as beautiful. And a guy telling you you’re beautiful is not an indicator that he has actually paid attention or noticed any of the things that make you you. ‘You’re beautiful’ is like a joker card: use wherever whenever with whomever.

When someone tells you that your facial expressions are like cartoons, you know he’s looking. Or when someone says: ‘You’re about as quirky as they come- hold on to that’, you know he’s noticed your idiosyncrasies. My ex used to tell me that the way I described things made them ‘3D’. The men who’ve told me these things will know who they are, and will know their compliments rocked. And my favorite is for a guy to tell me, or make me feel, that I’m funny.

We want men to see us, beyond our pretty faces, no matter how beautiful these might be, hehe.

I got an email recently from a male friend, an email that was the best compliment I ever received. This is a guy who sees me, utterly and completely. I will share some of the email here, with his consent, translated from french. The fact that he shared it with me at all, expecting nothing in return, is a gift. He wrote about me in the third person:

… She’s so hesitant about everything that it drives me crazy, she walks around with a big exclamation mark on top of her head, she parks in the middle of the road to save a dog, gets drunk after a single glass of wine, thinks scars are sexy, and could win a world championship of sms-typing speed. A girl whose favorite movie is ‘As good as it gets’, who is passionate about books but doesn’t read as many, who doesn’t like shopping, who has a smile… A smile where her eyes shine too, a smile that makes me happy… Yesterday I even clumsily poured her a glass of water, just to see her smile…

So guys, next time you want to pay a girl a compliment, LOOK at her first, and be a bit creative.

At least the illusion of it.

For some reason, I’m incapable of kissing on the first date. Usually not on the second or third either. And I definitely can’t kiss someone I just met at a bar. I actually find this to be a rather boring feature about myself. And it’s not because I want to be a ‘good’ girl. It’s not because I want to play hard to get, or appear a certain way. I couldn’t care less about those things.

The thing is, I like a kiss to feel a certain way. This might make me a romantic, or a kid, or warrant a: ‘you’re such a girl!’. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I want to be in a ‘relationship’ before I kiss someone, nor is it that I want us to be hopelessly in love. It’s just that I want that feeling. I want my heart to pound even though I know it’s only hormones and chemicals. I want to loose my breath and feel weak in the knees just for a quick moment, even though if we were to get into a discussion you’d find that I probably don’t believe in love. I want even the hand-holding to feel special, discovering each other’s fingers, skin, and how they fit. And you can infer that all these things apply to sex as well.

Let’s think about that first kiss for a moment. Yeah you never get the first kiss back, bla bla bla. Scratch all that.  You can have plenty of amazing kisses with the same person, even for years and years. But back to the kissing a new date or stranger. If you’re hanging out with people you just met and one of them is drinking a bottle of water and you’re thirsty, would you just drink out of theirs? I’m not germaphobe or anything, but I prefer to know people a bit before I share bodily secretions with them. With my close friends, we share water bottles all the time. So I’m not gonna just suck face with some guy I just met who has smoky breath and sweaty palms (no offense to anyone). I have to feel I know the guy at least a bit, have a modicum of respect for him, and find him reasonably intelligent and interesting.

So it’s not love I need, but it is an illusion of something that looks a bit like a cousin of love. When I kiss someone, I want to feel we are both really enjoying it and kinda forgetting everything around us. When we stop kissing, I like to feel a bit surprised that there are still people around us, a bit like when you walk out of an early movie screening and are surprised it’s still daylight. Most of all, I just can’t look langouresement (no word in English good enough for this) into someone’s eyes and see nothing there.