Knowing When You're Really In Love


October 15, 1990|By ALICE STEINBACH


You don't stop to think about it, you just hurl yourself into the maelstrom, hell-bent for emotion, all or nothing at all, a soul seeking out its soulmate, not doubting for a second that this is IT, the big one, the love of your life, the love that will stand the test of time.

Teen-age love -- and you know this is true -- is something you never forget. The memory of that heart-stopping, blood-

pounding, breath-taking, mind-boggling, all-consuming, obsessive emotion lives on in the submerged teen-ager who resides within every adult.

Once, long ago in the 10th grade, I was in love that way with Corky Lyon. I knew it on our third date when we went to the rock quarry to swim and he told me -- while we were slow-dancing in our bathing suits to the sounds of "Stardust" -- that I had a terrific personality. Then he pushed my hair back from my face and, because I moved my head suddenly, he missed my mouth and kissed me on the side of my neck.

The next day in my friend Carolyn's club basement, I lit up a Pall Mall Extra Long cigarette and told my three closest girlfriends about the dance, the kiss and what Corky said to me. "He kissed me on the mouth and told me he has loved me secretly for years," I sighed, recalling the moment exactly as I remembered it, "and that he never loved Peggy Bowen the way he loves me." Reliving the moment with my girlfriends took about two hours and 20 cigarettes.

That was the day I discovered talking about love was almost as good as feeling it. And re-inventing it, polishing it, making it more perfect each time you talked about it was a major factor in deepening the bonds of your already depth-defying love with The Other.

Of course, that's one of the main reasons why we all remember teen-age love so vividly: It had less to do with reality than fantasy. And because adolescent love is so idealized and untouched by the complexities and doubts that accompany love at a later age, it remains undiluted in our memory.

But alas. After adolescent love comes The Fall from Grace. Romantically speaking. After that brief time of complete and unswerving belief that the one you love is the one you'll always love, comes the Age of Doubt. In a complete turnabout we begin questioning everything we feel about The Other until, finally, we collapse paralyzed by fear and indecision.

It is to this question which today's column addresses itself: How do you know if you're in love? What are the sure-fire signs that it's love and not, say, an incipient case of viral pneumonia?

I floated those questions by a number of friends, colleagues and lovers. (Not my lovers but lovers of somebody else.)

"Well, the first thing is windows," responded one divorced male colleague. "I begin looking out of them. I am not much for such activity ordinarily. Second is a sort of melancholy about not being where the other person is. And that comes over me a lot when standing by windows. The third thing is the phone. I tend to call a lot to ask how are you, what have you been doing?"

And from an unmarried, female friend (who asked to be described as "looking a decade younger than her years") comes this answer: "You know you're in love when you find a need to speak his name to strangers. As in, 'My friend Joe says . . . You know, my friend Joe was saying just the other day . . .' When I'm in love I find I need to mention his name over and over to anyone who will listen."

But another friend, one who thinks she may be falling in love, puts a different spin on the telltale love signs: "I know it's the real thing when I'm sick with the flu and I let him take care of me. Or to be more precise, let him see me. Because it's extremely difficult to look good when you're suffering."

A soon-to-be-bride in her 30s, an artist who ended two previous wedding engage-ments, had no trouble locating the differences between her past relationships and the current one: "He's the only person who ever made me know how much I was loved. There is no guessing about how he feels, because he is one of the few people I've ever met who is not afraid to say it."

Another person not afraid to say what he felt was writer E. B. White. In a letter to his wife, one in which he expressed his realization that she was at the center of his life, he wrote:

"I don't know whether you know just what I mean or whether you experience, ever, the same feeling; but what I mean is, that being with you is like walking on a very clear morning -- definitely the sensation of belonging there."

Translated into teenspeak, that means: I love you like crazy.

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