Valentine’s Day is the mushy, sappy, high fructose corn syrup event of the year, and it’s just a little over a week away.
(As if you needed a reminder.)
Of all the events throughout the year, this one has a knack for driving everyone a little bit nuts – and I don’t just mean singles, I’m talking everyone. Regardless of whether you’re in a relationship or not, you may already feel a cloying nausea from all the pink and red hearts hanging in store windows, because I know that I do.
Ok – maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit. It’s not that big of a deal. We’re not all big giant suckers who feel the pressure to nest because some Hallmark holiday tells us to. But Valentine’s Day will probably cause you to think for a moment – to question where you are along the template life wants you to abide by.
Because we’re inundated with ideas about what love is supposed to be at every corner: we’re told what it’s meant to feel like and what it’s meant to look like from the outside. We are violated daily on Facebook by “Date Night!” posts, “private” messages written on public newsfeed walls between hubbies, and pictures of your “Bae” (I’m still not sure what a bae is…?). Then we swipe left, we swipe right, and we wipe back and forth (because you all know you Tindr on the toilet).
And then there’s love at first sight. You’ve heard of it, I’m assuming.
It used to be a question of belief: Do you believe in love at first sight? This concept is ripe with the idea that love can – in a moment – grab hold of you, captivate you, and sweep you off your feet. At a young age, the idea of love at first glimpse was fantastic and narrative, and often played a role in the stories that would grab hold of my imagination.
But later, at the age when I knew “everything,” I would scoff at love at first sight as a false, archaic idea that ended up causing disappointment and frustration because it was an impossible experience. I’d say things like, “I think love at first sight would be more accurately called lust at first sight,” brushing off the idea like it was a bunch of breadcrumbs on my pant leg.
But I have a new idea about love at first sight.
In her book Love 2.0, Barbara Fredrickson discusses the idea that yes, indeed, love at first sight is possible; however, it isn’t the sweeping off our feet into an abyss of emotion that we’ve come to believe it to be. Instead, love at first sight is an emotion that arrives in one second, but leaves in another.
Love is fleeting.
What I’m not saying is that the “fleeting” nature of love makes it any less significant. “Fleeting” is meant to explain that love isn’t the steady-state emotion reserved for your significant other that we’ve been raised to believe; it’s not an emotion that you arrive at and which you are “in” for a long period of time.
Instead, as Fredrickson puts it, “Love is that micro-moment of warmth and connection that you share with another living being” – where “another living being” could be absolutely anyone. It could be someone you’re in a relationship with, or it could be a stranger you bump into on the street.
As an example of one of these micro-moments, just the other day I was purchasing some stuff at the grocery store for my lunchtime salad, and the elderly woman in front of me on the conveyer belt made a comment about how healthy my purchase was, after which she said jokingly, “Don’t look at what I’m buying!” We both had a little laugh together, and in that moment a feeling of warmth and connection passed between us – if only for a few seconds.
We had just had our own little micro-moment of love for each other. It wasn’t a lesser version of the big Love, it was genuine love.
The beauty of understanding love as a micro-moment in time is that it removes the pressure we often place on ourselves to “fall in love” within a window of time, to be swept up in love for extended periods of time, and to “reserve” all of the love we have to give for our partners, family members, and close friends. Love is something that can happen at any moment, on any particular day, with a stranger you pass on the street, or the person you wake up beside every morning – who you can fall in love with over and over, every day, in a new way.
“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.”
– Ursula LeGuin