June 18, 2002

I don't normally believe in romantic fantasies. Oh, there was a time when I did. There was a very long time. Let's call it birth to 30. I was one of those closet romantics.

My mom used to call me prickly pear because I was the opposite of warm and fuzzy. I wasn't affectionate, didn't show emotions, and generally stayed in my room a lot. But when I was in my room, I was watching romantic movies, reading the occasional romance novel in between the science fiction I allowed the world to see me read (did I mention I was a nerd?), and dreaming of my future husband. I had a million crushes. I thought I'd get married at 19. I shudder now at the very thought.

I don't blame the disappearance of these notions on my subsequent relationships. I've made notoriously bad choices when it comes to men, I admit. It was probably my schoolgirl ideas more than anything that made me make those choices. It wasn't the men who failed me. It was my romantic illusions. Who could possibly measure up to Clark Gable, Nicolas Cage, Cary Grant, Harrison Ford, Kevin Costner, Jimmy Stewart...? Not to mention my unhealthy obsession with Shakespeare. I mean, when Romeo's my ideal, what can Joe Everyman do to impress me?

Somewhere in the middle of my last relationship, the longest lasting one--weighing in at 5 years, I think the romantic illusions went poof like the bunny in the hat.

I've been single for almost two years, it'll be two in September I think. And I have yet to meet a man who interests me enough to date. Either the quality of men is declining or my willingness to take a romantic leap is disintegrating. I think it's the latter.

I was reading a column the other day about love at first sight by Martha Brockenbrough. I love her. Anyway, she was answering a questioner who'd asked if it exists, love at first sight. Apparently 66 percent of people in a British study do believe. Alone, that statistic is fascinating. In this modern world, where divorce is manic, where only the rarest of couples has a traditional courtship, where people have "starter marriages", 2/3 of people believe in the most mythical form of love.

She goes on to say that love at first sight, in her opinion and in the opinion of most experts, does not exist. Rather the sensation is infatuation at first sight, or lust. It's all about physical markers, she says, a certain look or build, hair or eye color. Or we're attracted to those who look like us. Or it's pheromones. Or seratonin.

Ultimately she says there's no such thing as love at first sight because:

"You can tell you're feeling love, Schwartz says, when you communicate well, understand the world together, tolerate each other's flaws, and create a unique connection--something you just don't feel with anyone else.
This isn't something that can happen in five minutes..."

The question is, does love at first sight really not exist, is it just a romantic fantasy, hormones gone nuts? Or have the people who claim it isn't real just never experienced it? I've always said I'll believe in God if he/she will show up and say hi. Maybe these people need to feel love at first sight to have a little faith in it.

My romantic ideals have left the building, but here's a shocker: I believe in love at first sight. Even now. Even when I look at my friends' relationships and marriages with a sense of bewilderment. Even when I stretch happily in a bed I have all to myself. Even when I suspect I turn a blind eye to romantic possibilities as I continue on alone. I still believe. Frankly, I believe in love at first sight more strongly than I believe in love that lasts forever. Forever is a long time.

I believe in love at first sight because I felt it myself. I was 25 and travelling in Europe (I wouldn't be surprised if most cases of LAFS happened while travelling in Europe). I was walking with a friend in Lisbon past the Tower of Belem and I saw the most beautiful man I'd ever seen. I couldn't stop looking at him. He didn't appear to be staring at me but as we walked my head turned further and further around until I had to stop walking to keep looking. I felt it. I felt it down to my toes.

My friend helped me have the courage to meet him. He was a German playwright. We went out one night and talked for 6 hours. Then he had to finish a play he was working on and I had to start the trip back to London for my flight home. I never doubted for a moment that I loved him. I still do, really. I never felt that strongly, knew so absolutely that I was in love, as I did then. The only time I think of marriage without being horrified or petrified is when I think of him. I would have married him in a second. I could be posting this from Germany right now. Of course, it might have ended up a starter marriage...

Regardless, it wasn't his physical markers that drew me in. Yes, he was beautiful. But he was blond, tall, and solid like an Iowa farmboy. My first boyfriend was black and thin and just a little taller than me. Another was older with a brown ponytail and a mustache. Another was built like a little Sicilian bulldog. I could go on, but I won't. Suffice to say, I have no "type". My taste is un-pin-downable. None of them looked like me. I can't say about the pheromones or seratonin, but I have my doubts.

I've been in love in relationships in which we didn't communicate well, we had different understandings of the world, we drove each other crazy with our flaws, and while we had a unique connection, I'm not convinced it was a good one. In fact, that describes most of my relationships.

I don't think you can break love down into practical issues. The practical aspects of love that Martha talks about might explain a healthy relationship or marriage. But they don't explain love. Even my newly unromantic self can see that clearly.

There really is no explaining love. Which I suppose is why I don't completely rule it out as a possibility. It's one of those things that sneaks up on you. You're walking along looking at a tower in a bay and bang, it hits you. You're emailing someone in Yahoo Personals and bang, it hits you. You're dancing in a club and bang, it hits you. It's like a car crash. You can be as defensive as possible, but you take your eyes off the road for one second...

I'm participating in the 24 Hour Blogathon for charity on July 27/28th. I'll be updating my site every 30 minutes for 24 hours. I'll be loopy from sleep deprivation and heavily caffeinated. But I hope to make a lot of money for Global Fund for Women which supports women's human rights organizations around the world. Please sponsor me by clicking the Blogathon button to the left and filling out the form. Thanks.

Posted by Alyssa at June 18, 2002 11:20 PM

Alyssa rules! :-)

Posted by: Martha Brockenbrough on October 11, 2002 09:57 PM

Oh my god, Martha Brockenbrough knows everything about everything and she thinks I rule! *Alyssa being star struck* I'm all aflutter! Thanks for reading!

Posted by: alyssa on October 12, 2002 12:12 AM

Dear Alyssa:

The masculine and feminine of the Homo Sapien are truly exclusive creatures - this point is driven into my mortal cortex by your ramblings. Partaking of your thoughts is indeed fun and reminescent of my little daughter's delights, but I indentify with none of them. I was searching for info on Martha after reading her expose on animal intelligence, and I came upon your site; rather than grading as I should, I read your stuff for about fifteen minutes. It was an intimate look at an alien. You're delighted with shoes... HUH? You write an essay about love at first sight, a subject that only comes up for me if I am teaching Romeo and Juliet. Most of all, I cannot identify with your tone - there is a dreamy, romantic quality to your expression even when you are being cynical about lasting relationships; you may not perceive quality, but as someone who has taught literture and philosophy for almost two decades I see it distinctly. I am rereading Gone With The Wind, and the contrast with the dead-white-guy I just finished rereading, Frank Herbert, is earth moving; not in the obvious subject matter, but in the prima facie attitudes of the authors. Noticing the vast gap between the genders makes me feel so very, very alone, and I like the sensation.


Posted by: SL Shoemaker on April 2, 2003 01:31 PM
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