There are moments when we look at the one we love, but we cannot really see them. We become overwhelmed by everything that composes them: the quiet moments that have passed between us, the cries of ecstasy, the tears that only we saw. It is as though they are less a person and more an amalgam of everything they have done, everything they mean to you. And when you look at them, across a table or while they’re still asleep, there is so very much there to see.
There is a sense that, after a certain point, every shared glance and whispered conversation consists merely of the few tiny droplets that we can gather from the river of meaning that flows between us. There is so much to say, so much to know, and so little time to do it all in. Words become insufficient; physical appearance becomes secondary. That face — the one that is filled with the laugh lines and dimples you feel you have almost carved yourself — is simply the packaging for everything that exists which you cannot describe.
And the more that person becomes a construct of your shared life, the more you need to focus on individual things to allow your brain to process the enormous emotional undertaking. To simply look at them and think, “I love this person. They are beautiful.” is both insufficient and impossible. No — you must deconstruct them and pull them into little pieces that you can understand, one at a time.
Their hands — the soft, delicate, warm extremities that can at once make me feel so beautiful, so desired, so safe — they are perfect.
Their eyes — the way they look at me, that unbearable look that asks of me so many promises I suddenly want to make — they are stunning.
Their laugh — that honest, loud, infectious bellow that fills the room, never more so than when a joke is just between the two of us, bringing us to tears alone in bed — it is happiness embodied.
To look at them head-on and try to take in everything that we feel at once would be like looking into an eclipse. It’s simply too much, overwhelming, almost painful in its directness. So we must, then, take little bits and pieces of them as we go and give them each their own quiet moment of appreciation. We must spend a half-hour absent-mindedly stroking their hair. We must marvel at the way they throw their head back in unashamed laughter when something is really funny. We must make love with the lights on, watching every crinkle of their face as it plays out against the movement of our bodies. We must love the real, the ugly ripples and dimples that form on human skin under the unforgiving glow of cheap household lights. We must love it because at some point we stopped preferring form over function and got to know each tiny cog in the machine, each tendon and follicle that deserves its own attention.
Perhaps we will never define love, because it is far too big a term with far too many moving components to be nailed down to a single word. But if we take things individually — if we let ourselves feel the way their arm snakes behind our backs while walking, the way a palm cups a chin for a kiss, the way lips feel when buried in the crook of a neck, then maybe we can grasp what it is about this person that makes us feel so exquisitely alive. Surely they are just flesh and bone like every other lanky animal running to catch the train, but somewhere between that spot on the small of their back and that dimple that only fully forms on one side, they became what it means to be happy.