Last Valentine's I wrote about breakups. It was about all the misshapen, tear-soaked hedonism you experience in the first year after a breakup, and it was easy to write because I’d been in character. Method writing, if you will. But then some of you said you liked it. Some of you even said it was relatable, which I guess was kind of sad. But this Valentine’s I’d like to try something different. And I hope that some of you will find it just as relatable, but for better reasons.
So here’s some stuff that happens when you fall in love.
The First Date
All dates start the same. You give your hair one last glance in the reflection of a perspex menu board, inhale, and step inside a bar. You’re nervous because you’re about to be judged. But then you’re also about to judge the shit out of someone, so it’s equal.
You see your date across the room. They’re sitting at the bar, fiddling with their phone, and not wearing a hat. So far so good. Then as you approach you do a kind of full body scan to see if they’re hot, while also trying to predict the future. Is this person smart? Optimistic? Funny? You imagine yourself squirting them in the face with a garden hose—would they laugh? And now they’re looking up as you approach and your eyes are meeting. Does this person have kind eyes? Blue eyes? Are they wearing so much mascara that your own eyes water? Do they have those really long eyelashes that remind you of woodland animals and posters of boy bands?
And now they’re standing to hug you and just before you lean in you glance down and wonder to yourself, would I?
Usually judging is disappointing, but this time it’s not. This time you sit down without wondering how you’ll leave, but instead you feel terrified that they might. And you’re terrified because your date is deeply, aggressively beautiful and you really, really, really don’t want to fuck this up.
So you start talking but it’s rough. You’re both talking over the top of each other and swerving between topics. No topic lasts more than 45 seconds. You find yourself saying something deep and meaningful just as the other person is asking, you got much on for the weekend? And then you’ll try to backtrack and tell them about your weekend—but they’ve committed to saying something deep and meaningful. It’s a total bloodbath, but it doesn’t matter because you’re both laughing riotously and bumping kneecaps. And you both know it’s on.
After drinks you get dinner. You can’t really taste anything so you don’t eat much but the bill somehow comes in at $470 and you don’t even care. You stumble outside and kiss furiously next to some bins until someone—not you—says they’d better go. And then you watch their cab pull away from the curb and recede into the distance before finally allowing yourself to burst into flames.
The Day After the First Date
You wake up feeling fantastic even though you drank 30 bottles of wine. You go to work and spend the whole morning looking at Instagram photos, then going through all of their Facebook photos, and then circling back to Instagram, and then you repeat this process until lunchtime. There are photos of parents, holidays, foods, sisters, friends, beaches, and millions of dogs. Millions and billions of photos of dogs, and oh boy, do you appreciate dogs. I just can’t believe this person has exes, you think_. Like, why would anyone ever break up with you?_ But then there they are, halfway down the Insta archive—the ex.
You look at the ex carefully. They’re wearing nice clothes. They don’t seem to have that blinking in photos problem that you do. In fact, they look… professional, which now feels like a reflection on the person you’re trying to date. Maybe they’re out of your league, you think. Maybe you’re kidding yourself.
But in the time it’s taken you to get halfway through Instagram, you’ve received three new texts. One of them is reference to a conversation you barely remember because you were looking at the way your date had an incredibly endearing dimple, but only on one side. The next text is a meme you don’t understand at all. The last is an invitation: “Look, I know I’m being ridiculous and optimistic” you read off the phone. “So seriously just say no, but maybe, possibly, maybe, perhaps, maybe you’d like to get dinner tonight?”
You wonder if this is what heroin feels like. And then you reply: “I’d love to.”
Seeing Their Place After the Second Date
The second date sees communication channels open up. You discover you like the same books. You do voices from the Mighty Boosh. You tell all your best embellished stories and they call bullshit, and you realise that they’re smarter than you and you feel intimidated and aroused. And then someone calls an Uber and you’re going to see their place.
In the spectrum of human emotion there is no better feeling than being impressed. And when you step inside the strange, unfamiliar-smelling home of someone you’re falling in love with, impressed hits you like a frozen ham.
Their home features layers of style and creativity and overall cleanliness you’d never imagined possible. Giant rainforest plants, the colour of limes. A wooden desk featuring some kind of arts and craft project, half-finished. A bed, nicely made. And then a song starts up and it’s the perfect song—instantly catchy but the right amount of obscure—and again you feel intimidated because even their music is cool. But there’s something else too, something that takes you a moment to place. What’s that smell? And you realise it’s a smell you’ve been smelling for two days but you’ve only just noticed. And it’s the smell of deodorant, laundry detergent, coffee grinds, and a person’s soul, all together, turned way up. And you stand there inhaling and exhaling and inhaling like an idiot.
And then you have awkward but spectacular unprotected sex because you both figure you’re about to date anyway.
The Weeks After
The first month of dating is the funniest you’ll ever be. Whatever you think, you say, and you say it with the kind of irreverent conviction that comes with knowing you’re saying it to your number one fan. You start doing funny voices together. You push each other over in long grass. You make funny faces and crack jokes about each other’s genitalia. You go to the park on Saturdays and criticise other couples because they not as unique and special as you are. And the cracks about the other couples are some of the funniest things you’ll ever hear.
The days move past like you’re on holiday. You go to more places, you eat more food, you drink more wine and far less beer. You go camping. You go driving. You take long walks together after work. You suddenly you feel like you’ve been together for a trillion years but it’s only been a month. And then one day...
You Realise it Actually Might Be Love
Of course, you’ll have been suspecting this for a while. But one day something happens which would have sent your ex bonkers, but leaves your new partner unperturbed. And as you watch this new person shrugging and smiling, you realise how you feel.
Like you’re late. Or the car breaks down. Or it rains. Or someone was cracking onto you at a dinner party. Or you forget to ask “how’d the meeting go?” Or you left in the morning without putting your plate in the dishwasher. Or you insist on talking about a topic they’re not comfortable discussing. Or you feel vulnerable when you’re supposed to be strong. Or any number of things that your ex would have faced with three days of frowning of determined silence. But that doesn’t happen. This new person just smiles and says, “Yeah it’s all good, I understand” and just like that, you’re in love.
You Say “I Love You”
You’ll raise this with your best friend a few days before: “I think I’m in love,” you’ll say, kind of running your words together because you’re embarrassed. “And I want to say it—but what if they don’t say it back?” And your best friend will tell you to stop being a baby and just go for it, which is what all best friends say about everything.
So you decide they’re right, and you’ll say it that night, and you practice a few versions in your head. You know what the thing about you is..? Look, I have to tell you something... Hey this might sound weird but.. And you’re still practicing that night over dinner when somehow you just slip the word love into a sentence that was meant to contain the word like.
The person across the table will smile. “I didn’t mean that!” you protest but they’re now grinning and you know the game is up. “Alright, fuck it,” you say. “I do love you.”
And it’s true.