valentine revisted

romance reconsidered

Editor’s note: One year ago, Gabrielle wrote a feature for the Valentine’s Day issue of our magazine on her experience with love (check out “Carefully” from February 12, 2014). One year later, she provides a follow-up article reconsidering and expanding upon her previous remarks, and detailing the way that new experiences have shaped her views.

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote an article for Post- about how I was not in love, and never had been. My heart proceeded carefully, I explained, for it was mine, and it was my only one.

Last year, a boy told me that he loved me and then took it back the next day, because he was frightened and small. In the darkest aches that retraction brought, I was grateful for the care I had taken to keep my heart sheltered. A bruised heart is not a broken one.

Last August, I carried my still-slightly-bruised heart to Ireland to begin a semester abroad. It was the right time to go, because at Brown I had become just a little bit lost, a little bit lonely. The ancient explorers called Ireland “the end of the world.” Funny, I guess, that I chose the end as the place to begin again.

To attempt to describe what my time in Ireland and abroad meant to me verges on impossible. I took pictures, and maybe I wrote down some feelings, but so much of what is indescribable exists in moments that I know I won’t ever get to relive, and it’s hard to describe the echoes of what I felt to someone who asks, with all good intentions, what was it like? It was like everything, and nothing. It was walking a rope bridge over the ocean, and it was failing to properly cook pasta in a kitchen we should’ve cleaned more. It was the ‘we’ who I danced in pubs with, cried in Nice with, and flew over mountains with. It was Paris, and Munich, and Prague, and it was the grocery store and the laundry room. It was like breaking open a heart that was bruised.

It’s the breaking open I can’t describe.

And then one day–maybe it was Ireland, maybe it was a heart so luminously happy–but one day I met a boy, and then another day I loved him. I didn’t notice the falling until I fell, if you would believe me. And there’s much that happened in between, but what’s important is that most of it was happiness. Last year a boy, with tall eyes and tenderness, told me he loved me and has told me every day since. He lives three thousand miles away, and some days it feels like more, but once I walked a rope bridge over an ocean and if I can’t explain how that felt I can’t explain why this ocean in between him and me is not what matters.

There are some who would say, or who have told me, that long distance is no way to love someone. But I travelled all the way to the end of the world, and if that’s where I fell in love, so be it. Love doesn’t thin out over distance if you don’t let it.

I’m not afraid of distance. I am, though, a different kind of lonely than I was before. But there are all kinds of lonely, and not all of them equal unhappiness. Before I went to Ireland, I was the solitary shade of lonely–in love, because I have been beyond privileged to have the friends and family that I do. But romantically, if you want to call it that, I was alone, and that often feels like a hard place to be, especially at Brown, where coupling up seems for everyone else inevitable. Yet being solitarily lonely, at least for me, meant that at the end of every day I returned home with someone I learned to be proud of. Not all the time, because it’s really, mysteriously hard to be satisfied with yourself all the time. But I know, in a confused, not-quite-yet-clear kind of way, that somehow, being a solitary type of lonely was important for me.

Now, my loneliness is different. Coming back to Brown from being abroad was difficult, terribly so, and it still is. I left behind someone I loved, physically, yes, and that makes it even harder, but I am also worried that I left behind a version of me that was happy just for the sake of happiness. I’m afraid I lost her, she who was happy in the earth, and in anonymity, and in the rawness of a country unspeakably old. I know that I am unimaginably lucky to have had the opportunity that I did, to travel the world and to be so ecstatic while doing so. It was a finite experience, and I know that too, but endings are difficult, no matter how they manifest themselves. My loneliness now is a grateful, sad, complicated shade, because I would never trade what I felt about Ireland, what I feel about my time there, what I feel about him, for the kind of nostalgic loneliness I feel now. It’s a loneliness of looking back, if that makes any sense. But that’s what most happy memories taste like.

Here’s what makes sense to me: When I was away, I changed, and part of that change was the breaking open of a careful, hurting heart. I was part of that, and he was part of that, and Ireland was part of that. I like to hope that what’s been opened won’t close up again.

Almost a year ago, I wrote an article saying that I wasn’t in love. In all honesty, I never believed that I would be. I was too careful, too quiet, too strange, or too much for someone else to love–that’s what I believed. I believed I was deserving of the idea of love, and over a period of solitary loneliness I really came to believe that, but there was always a fear that in the end, or on the next day, love would be recanted.

But if you would believe me, this clumsy girl who fell in love without experience or elegance, believe that I had a careful heart until I didn’t. I still have one heart, and it’s still mine, but it’s also his, and I carried this broken-open, in-love heart back over an ocean and it didn’t break apart. And I’ll carry this heart until I see him again, full of love, full of everything I can’t explain.