Everyone feels the desire to love and to be loved (ogni persona avverte il desiderio di amare e di essere amata.) It is something I do not like to admit, preferring instead to pretend to be made of ice & metal, but it’s true.*
Whenever I heard this phrase in the past, I used to silently dry heave. Maybe because it sounds like something that Urban Outfitters would sell on a mug around Valentine’s Day. I had always associated it with romantic love, and so, instantly banished it from my mind as a thing for the soft-of-heart. However, the last few months in Rome have taught me a great deal about love.
Despite my admittedly ‘free’ behaviour romantically this year, it isn’t romantic love that has taken my brain by storm as much as what it is to love more generally. In Italian, one of the verbs, ‘to love’ is amare, as you will see in the title. As much as I want to understand the context in which real life Italians use the verb, and how to conjugate it across the tenses, and why it differs from piacere or volere, I also want to understand exactly what it means to me, personally. What does it mean to love someone? What does it mean to be loved?
I began thinking deeply about love after a hilarious, yet somewhat disturbing, conversation I had with a priest-friend. While discussing the possibility of swapping sleep patterns (I sleep like a log, he barely sleeps at all), he told me ‘tutto è possibile in amore‘ and I thought to myself, ‘Hold your god damn horses there, Father.’
Thinking he was also confused by the many different Italian verbs for love, I explained the difference between ti voglio bene and ti amo, like the do-gooder I am. However, he responded with ‘ma non è possibile essere innamorato con te?‘ Do-gooders be damned, I responded, as calmly as I could with ‘… No?’ to which he replied, ‘Ma come no?’ Having lost my shit, I decided my best approach would be to textually yell the truth: Perché tu non sai chi sono io!‘ After a long attempt on my behalf to extract further information on what in the living fuck was going through his head, and failing miserably, he left me with the response, ‘Amore è amore. Non è più possibile spiegare.’ I have promptly refused to engage with any further conversation, however, I must thank him through the medium of prayer, as for weeks now I cannot get it out of my head. Like the rebellious, head-strong person I am, all I want to do is explain it more, analyse it more, tear it open and look inside. It has looked a little something like this:
What kinds of love do I recognise? What kinds of love do I value? What kind of love do I give and what kind of love do I accept? Where does love grow from? Why do we love at all? What happens in the absence of love? Can you fall in love at first sight? Is there a love hierarchy? How does love shape the course of your life? How many ways can love shape the course of your life? Who has power in the love that shapes it? Do we give this power or do they take it? Is it a constant exchange? How does the power dynamic of love shift? With friends? With family? With partners? With age? With wealth? With infidelity? With new commitments? How does it look when I love someone? Do the people I love know I love them? What does love feel like to me? What does it feel like to love me? What does love do in the brain? What lengths have people gone to for love?
As you can imagine, I have found very few concrete answers to such philosophical questions on the point of loving and being loved. I think what my priest-friend has began in my head, albeit accidentally, is a life-long adventure to define further, understand more, per spiegare di più. However, what I can offer are some of the love-lessons I have learned while here in Rome, through platonic and romantic adventures, and from my nearest and dearest loved ones.
1. An act of love can come in many shapes and forms, often in ways you least expect
In the course of my time here in Rome, and especially at my language school, I have met some incredible people. People who have shown me unending kindness and who fill my heart on a daily basis. When I had Covid-19, they brought me my groceries and checked in everyday. When I was feeling low, an angel-friend brought me preserved spicy chillies to cheer me up. They sit now in my fridge, reminding me daily that wonderful people exist out there in the world.
Meaningful acts of love, for me at least, are rarely grand gestures paired with an immeasurable amount of roses. Often, it is the text to ensure I have made it home safe, the handwritten letter with life updates or receiving a joke link to an Irish rebel song as a ‘reminder of my roots’. The lovely Giulia added to this lesson, commenting that, because everyone’s definition of love is different, you have the opportunity to experience love from many different perspectives and in many different ways.
2. When someone is not right for you, whether as a friend or more, you often know from the off. Trust your gut.
Nobody puts it better than my dear friend Yu Jung. When I asked my friends to comment on love and it’s signification, she replied: ‘Depending on the love received, love has an expiration date and sometimes it becomes damaged or disappears.’ This ties nicely into the most difficult love lesson I have had to learn. Whether as a friend or as more, keeping someone around in your life who does not support you, nourish you or help you to grow, just because you love them, is not healthy.
It is why I love what Yu Jung says: Depending on the love received. If the kind of ‘love’ you are receiving from your loved one is actually becoming harmful to your POV of others and of yourself, then perhaps that relationship is past its sell-by-date. When a relationship becomes damaged, and either side does not want to put in the work to repair it, holding on to it will only bring more agony in the long run. Cut your losses and trust your gut. Life is too short to spend time chasing after people who do not bring joy into your life. Especially when the world is full of people who will, if you give them the time.
3. Vulnerability is ugly, but necessary.
Over the past few weeks, the internet will NOT let go of the idea of ‘getting the ick.’ Everywhere I scroll, someone somewhere is giving out about some mundane thing someone did that gave them the ick. Some are admittedly hilarious, like getting the ick from how someone pronounces ‘schedule’ on a first date, but others are just full on toxic reasons to end important relationships. Discussing our mutual horror at ‘ick culture’, myself and Ale came to a conclusion about our own ick about The Ick.
So many of people’s ‘ick’ responses were to people revealing vulnerability and imperfection: dropping their phone in puddles, fumbling with their keys, stammering while ordering at the counter, getting nervous before an interview, etc. It got me thinking about how much of the discourse around ‘the ick’ is just people refusing to see their partners as flawed human beings, with the potential of ground-breaking self-humiliation as well as self-improvement and success.
Maybe I just feel particularly called-out as a INCREDIBLY clumsy person. But there is something insidious about ‘ick’ discussions that turns vulnerability into something of which others should be embarrassed. Considering ‘the ick’ is most predominantly spoken about in romantic relationships, too, it leads me to wonder why anyone would promote the notion that to be vulnerable and imperfect (i.e. human) is an unacceptable way to be in their relationship with you. To me, this is a massive red flag. Get the ick all you like, sis, I want something that will last. If how I tie my shoes is what gets you running, do me a solid & RUN.
4. Trust what you are shown.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I fancy someone, I do my very best to see them in the best possible light at all times. Even to my own detriment, where they are absolutely not the person that I had hoped. It usually takes a close friend to grab me by the face and yell ‘THIS PERSON IS A RAGING STRONZO/A/E.’ However, lately, I’ve been getting better at seeing people for how they behave, and not just what they say or intend to be, and MY GOD, how much easier life is. But it’s hard to know where’s the line.
Obviously, when you first start dating someone, you’re usually both on the fence about what to reveal, what to show, what to share. As you grow closer, share more experiences together, this becomes easier and you become more open about yourself. But this is also where, for me, the problems begin. In the past, I would happily ignore problematic behavioural patterns in favour of believing how they explained them away:
– Flaky and cold? Just busy (even beyond it making any sense: you just aren’t a priority)
– Overly-possessive and jealous? Just concerned for you (ABSOLUTELY NEVER AGAIN! RED FLAG x19378346)
– Exploitative and greedy? Just loves sharing (though they never pull their weight?)
You could say I was just a complete and utter fool and you’d be right. But honestly, dating is a complete minefield (stay tuned for my next post about my latest dates in Rome). But with the last couple of dates I’ve been on, I can quite happily say I trusted entirely what I was being shown and not what I was listening to. In sum:
– Absolute stronzo, probably one of the worst humans I’ve ever met. Despite how much they talked themselves up, they were, in reality, completely and utterly tragic.
– A total gem. Kind and gentle towards me and towards others. Generous but also not controlling about it. Green flags all around.
– Kind towards me but ultimately not very kind towards others. A big no from the judges.
This has become ultimately a great time-saving tool, and ties nicely into point numero uno. Trust your gut. If something is twisting you up about the way they behave themselves and their explanations just don’t sit right, you have every right to get up and go. Life is too short and there are so many people out there. Just try not to run away from someone on the basis of how they hold their phone, or the ratio of their ketchup:mayo mix. Please for the love of God, I can’t eyeroll anymore.
Ciara Aoife O’Síoráin (che desidera diventare una bella donna figa come gli Italiani)
* I had INTENDED to post this at Valentine’s Day, but then I had a week or two of some seriously wild drama. I cannot WAIT to tell you about it… After I block a couple of people… Talk to you soon!