Last Glance
The Evolution of Romance
February, 2008 - Issue #40
When is love really love?

That's a question we start asking as soon as we're old enough to pull petals off daisies.

He loves me; he loves me not... She loves me; she loves me not...

Those first attempts to discern love are unreliable, of course. Through time,
millions of flowers have given their all in vain. Michelle McLenahan, for example, never did love me, no matter how often the African daisies in my parents' yard insisted she did.

Beth Reuben, who gave me my first
romantic kiss in fifth grade - a peck on the cheek on Valentine's Day - told me she loved me. She even said so in a card she gave me on my birthday a few months later. But it's been 27 years since I've heard from her, so I guess that wasn't love either.

Is it possible to love temporarily? Not
according to my definition of love. Love endures.

William Shakespeare captured this
notion perfectly in his 116th sonnet. "Love alters not with (Time's) brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom," he writes.

Melodramatic? Sentimental? Too
idealistic? I don't think so, and I don't think you think so, either. At one time or another, we all believed in a love like that. Otherwise, we'd never get married. Who willingly weaves his or her life together with another without at least hoping love will last?

I experienced proof of such a love the other day. I was shopping for a new pair of pants with my wife, Debbie, when I decided it was time to face the truth. The moment came in the form of a question.

"What size of pants do you need?" Debbie asked. I paused. I've been a 32 waist since college but something funny happened when I turned 40 over the summer. My pants started to shrink. Oh, I could still wear them. I could even tuck in a shirt if I was willing to put up with the pinching.

I was tired of pretending.

"I need a 33," I said.

Debbie smiled and put her hand on my shoulder. "It's OK, sweetie," she said. "We all go through it. I'm proud that you're willing to accept it." I didn't share her sense of pride, but at least I could look forward to sitting down comfortably with my pants still buttoned. We find consolation in the strangest places.

Mostly, though, I was grateful for
Debbie's encouragement. She didn't direct me to the diet books and she didn't steer me toward the fitness isle. She helped me find the right size and tossed them into the cart, leaving what was left of my ego intact.

It wasn't intact long, though. That night I decided to try the pants on. I was ready for my consolation. But the pants didn't fit.

"Deb, can you check the label? I think we grabbed the wrong size out of habit." But there was no mistake. Mere hours after swallowing my pride and accepting (if not embracing) a 33-inch waist, I absorbed the day's second blow. "You need a 34," Debbie said. I offered no reply. What could I say, anyway - that the label was incorrect? That the pants must have been cut a little thin?

In all earnestness, this wasn't the first hint I'd received that I was no longer in the flower of my youth. In the months since my 40th, I'd thrown out my back, twisted my ankle and suffered aches and pains just from moving a piece of furniture to the other side of the room.

I'd sat down for a cut with a (mostly) full head of brown hair and left with a new coat of gray. I'd become forgetful. I'd discovered that damp weather made my joints hurt. I'd become even less patient with the skateboarders at
Granary Square and called the
Sheriff when a neighbor's outdoor party
stretched beyond midnight.

I had arrived at middle age. Or maybe I'm ripping right past it. It's hard to tell. Now, the vows I took 14 years ago did include the word "better or worse," so I suppose there's comfort in that.

But since when has that stopped anyone from "falling out of love?" Since when has that stopped someone from telling a spouse, "Hey, I still love you. I'm just not in love with you anymore."

The "anymore" implies impermanence, and I've never been comfortable with a definition of love that puts up with the temporary. Then again, I'm no longer comfortable in 32-inch pants and I'm willing to bend on that one, right?

Thankfully, Debbie is willing to bend along with me. I came home a few days later to find a new pair of 34-inch pants sitting on the bed. I was happy to discover they were on the baggy side. I can grow into them, or even out of them, I suppose. Maybe next time I'll go for pants with an elastic waist - something that can bend and flex along with me as I change... just like real love.
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