Love is Walking into the Ocean
Love is like walking into the ocean, looking for a boat.
When you first experience love, it's joyous and it's thrilling. Your first crush. Your first time locking eyes with someone after avoiding glances. Love is playful, like a child's game. These are your earliest memories of love. It's like stepping into the ocean for the first time: the white-hot sun is high, the coarse sand warm on your feet, and the sudden chill of the sea rushing up against your ankles. Every moment is a thrill, always something new and exciting. You're testing the waters, and your curiosity is piqued.
You step deeper into the water. Now you're waist-deep. Maybe you're a teenager now. You've entertained a few crushes, talking about it in whispers and playing some of them out in secret. The emotions stirring within you...they feel stronger, like rehearsals for something about to hit the shore. A wave comes: you have your first boyfriend or girlfriend. It's still joyous, actually even more fun than before. Wave after wave, one fling after another. At this depth, you can hold yourself steady, losing yourself in the thrill of the surf. You're getting the hang of it, so you step in deeper. Now the water is chest-high, but you know how to balance yourself with the rush of the tide and how to jump at the crests of the water. The sun is still high.
Then, when you least expect it, an enormous wave crashes into your back and consumes you as it takes you under.
This wave is different. You're falling in love, and it's unlike anything you've experienced before. It envelopes you, like the sea coiling around your body as you get thrust into its depths. This kind of love catches you off guard. Your feet lose the ground. It's no longer just a wave, but a maelstrom, swirling with the rush of adoration, admiration, perhaps even obsession. It's the first time your sunbaked brow actually feels the cool of the ocean and the salt stings your virgin eyes. This is what the true sea feels like, you think. This is what real love feels like: it swallows you, until you find a way to break out to the surface again.
You survive, fazed, but still full of energy. You go deeper, out into the open ocean. The sun is setting. You're an adult now. Now it's just wave after heavy wave. You go on one date, and it's lame and unsatisfying. You go on another, and you get fooled and betrayed. You fall in love and go back into the depths again, but this time, you think you might drown. Your arms and legs feel weak, your nose and throat sore with salt. You gasp for a breath of air, escaping the clutches of the sea, just hoping it might stop. Wave after heavy wave. Over and over. The sun is gone. It's all just the same now. You tread deeper into the ocean, weak with cold.
Then it stops. You're so far out in the sea that the waters are calm. You've stopped trying to swim and now you're just...floating. What's the point, you think. You remember what it was like in beginning, when you were just off the shore, splashing in the sunlight. Why did I come out here, you ask yourself. It felt good then. You're just floating now...just trying to survive. Why does anyone do this?
This isn't the end of the story.
When I was younger, I didn't fully understand the toil of love. I think many of my single friends still don't. The moment conflict inevitably came my way in dating, I defected and moved on to the next candidate I was already considering. I had convinced myself that I was just hedging my bets by talking to more than one person at a time because I was never in a "real" relationship, never committing, when really I was shooting myself in the foot by playing it safe.
I think back to that time now and the people I know who still do this, and I don't feel shame, I feel pity. I don't think people who have this mindset are bad people. As has almost always been the case from my experience, people who might seem like bad people are usually just scared, insecure, or lost. What I realized when I was in this mindset was that I was just afraid of being hurt. I was afraid of being pulled under again. I had tried too many times to put myself out there, had too many dates not work out because of my naiveté, surfed too many tall waves, that it was better if I treated love shallowly and filled my time with frivolous dates that I could easily discard and forget. Because of this fear, I became part of a problem that convinced myself and others that it was okay to throw your broken bonds with people away. It quickly spiraled out of control. I became so fearful of having my heart broken and so accustomed to this fruitless cycle, I figured I should eventually give up dating altogether because I wasn't sure I could pull the pieces back together next time. I was floating. I was losing hope.
Then things changed. I'm currently in a long distance relationship with my boyfriend. I'm in New York City, and he's in Taipei. We're halfway across the world from each other, and we can't be much further apart. As any person that's been in one can tell you, relationships are hard. For many, long distance relationships feel even harder. It's only been a little over a year for my boyfriend and I, but with the distance, I joke to my friends that we're measuring our relationship in dog years. It takes work, it takes faith, and when you're separated by an ocean, it requires these things and countless others by orders of magnitude more.
One of the reasons I love my boyfriend so much - and the reason I'm telling this story - is that he works with me on this relationship. He understands the toil of love. He really does. He's willing to lean in, take this enormous risk of the heart with me, and toil. This is despite how much easier it would be to find someone else local, someone else he could spend more than a few months at a time with, and all with the click of an app. There are so many convenient reasons to give up, but he doesn't and he doesn't let me, even when I want to take the easy way out. We know what we signed up for, and we're going to do everything in our power to try and make this work. Against the odds. He saved me from giving up on love. He saved me from drowning.
When I think about this understanding about the toil of love, I think about this story I tell my friends when they're in despair. When they're tired, as I was, of the search. I tell them: love is walking into the ocean, looking for a boat. I tell them this story of the coming up to the shore, feeling the rush of your first waves, of feeling pulled under by surprise, of feeling exhausted, and finally...of floating. They're floating right now, just trying to survive. But the important thing to remember, the most important thing to remember, is that you have to go out into deep water to find a boat: they don't sit out on the beach.
You're trying to cross an ocean in love and you have to swim to open water first. There, out in the endless blue, is where you'll find your boat.