By guest contributor Alexis Stanford
We laughed. The sun set gloriously while we worked our way well into our second bottle of wine. While we sipped from our solo cups one of them told me about her experience on Our Time, the dating site for the “mature adult”. Her dryly humorous telling of how she, a multiple degree holding, more than financially stable, 5’8” woman attracted invariably the 5’2” man with the household income of $25,000 had me close to tears. We passed around the chenin blanc and I relayed to them how underwhelmed I’d become with men on Bumble and Tinder who are looking for someone to “ travel and go to the gym with but also chill and drink their favorite draft beer with all while playing with their new dog.” Our laughter peeled off the balcony of the bed and breakfast that had many years ago played host to summer camp experiences where I, and 12 or so other girls in two straight lines, laughed at our own stories. The house had watched us walk proudly out the back gate with our sunflower yellow bathing caps and beach towels ready to take on the world. Now, with almost 40 years between us, I a 26 year old single woman traveling for a weekend away with her mom, and these two best friends, one divorced and one never married, found that all it takes is a chance encounter, open heart, good (but cheap) glass (or two) of wine, and love as a discussion topic, to forge a bond that is as refreshing as brisk ocean breeze. The house was once again home to the familiar and the new, and I could feel it laughing with us.
As we laughed I realized that there is a good chance I will never really figure it out. I like rules – a lot – and always have it in the back of my mind that if I can just figure out what the rules around a circumstance are I can win the game, gaining the control and comfort that comes with a predictable outcome. But there aren’t any rules for love. Atleast not for finding it, losing it, forging it, breaking or mending it. We are all looking for it, but we don’t always find it where we think we will, and we haven’t always found it where we think we have. No matter our age, background, ethnicity, experiences, career paths, achievements or failures, aspirations or hopes, no matter what our story is, our story is almost never the one we would have predicted or written for ourselves. But our stories all share themes and threads that weave us together in a tapestry far bigger than we can imagine. And though these themes and threads are not rules, they do give me a thing or two to twirl between my fingers as I go along thinking, feeling, and living in this world. I lay them out now, next to my solo cup, and ponder what I see. What I see is this…
1.) Love is not for the risk averse
I hate risk as much as I love rules. For most of the past 26 years I thought that there was a road map to the love of my life. That straying from the road would lead to landmines set to destroy my heart, reputation, and overarching chance of ever encountering that love. That staying on the road would lead to picture book romance, white picket fences and messy minivans, and the kind of happiness that only Nicholas Sparks himself could dream of. But at some point during this year – still unboyfriended, unkissed, and barely dated – I began to question whether there was a roadmap, or whether there was even a road at all. Maybe finding love is more like hacking through a jungle in the congo with nothing but a machete and a tour guide who doesn’t speak your language. Maybe it’s like ice skating on a lake, which may not be completely frozen, out in the middle of nowhere with no one to pull you out if you fall through. Maybe love is far more like the 7 ½ hours that comprise the middle of the Lord of the Rings movies than the first or last half hour. In other words, if you want love, in any of its shapes or forms you may just need to be willing to risk something. Maybe you need to be willing to risk everything. If love is what we hope it is, then it’s probably worth it.
2.) True love is not something you can fall into – at least not if you plan to survive it.
No more than one simply falls into the Amazon or the Arctic Tundra. Don’t get me wrong, those places are thrilling, full of wonderfully exotic creatures and experiences, and a semi-trailer full of amazing instagram pics. But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna go to either of those places without thinking through what equipment, time commitments, and preparations are required to prevent the journey from killing me. The kind of love that lasts, the kind that lives through barren deserts and floods, is a love that is chosen not stumbled upon. People who fall, trip, or throw themselves recklessly into love often walk away scathed unnecessarily, and some don’t walk away at all. At least not in the emotional sense. Love, of any kind, is not something to blindly stumble into, but conscientiously walk towards.
Looking for love – or looking to be found by love – is a choice too. Whether I gained it from the true love waits movement, a few well-intentioned sermons or sister in Christ, or simply my own delusional interpretation of “the Lord giving me the desires of my heart”, I’ve realized that I had a theology that says “sit with your hands open and stare at the sky and wait for God to toss prince charming into your arms.” I realize now that theology like that is both preposterous and unbiblical. He who finds a wife finds a good thing, but I am no longer in the business of playing hide and seek, shoving myself into the darkest recesses of every social circle in the world while I twiddle my thumbs eagerly and “wait”. If you are doing that I encourage you – stop it. Humans in general often have a hard enough time finding things even when they are right in front of their faces (where are my car keys again?). Let’s not make something that is already hard into mission impossible.
3.) That said true love isn’t a destination you can plan to arrive at on a specific date, in a specific way, with a specific person.
Falling in love is ridiculous but doing a choreographed, Balanchine-esque, pas de duex into it is equally ridiculous and unachievable. When love arrives, or when you arrive at love, you shouldn’t be found butt naked and clueless, but there is a very good chance you won’t be found in Oscar De La Renta either. I would think of of love like the unexpected friend of a friend who pops by because they remembered you lived in the neighborhood. When you answer the door you may still have your bonnet on but there is a good chance that before you answered you put on your bra.
There is a very good chance that being swept off your feet requires a little bit of lifting on one hand and a little bit of jumping on the other. A whole lot of work and a little bit of magic. I haven’t found the kind of love that comes in a romantic relationship yet, but the other kinds – the love relationships I have with my family, friends, sisters, community – those loves all require me to tend them and nurture them. Thankfully, they also tend to give me grace and bloom even when I don’t expect them to or haven’t quite given them what I think they need. When I am less equipped than I thought is exactly when they give me more than I would ever think possible.
4.) Love is itself to us far before we become it to one another
I have heard 1 Corinthians 13 quoted at multiple weddings. I have also heard multiple preachers remark on how often that passage is used out of context. We talk about how we need to grow more in the areas of patience, kindness, self control, or truthfulness all so that we can “be more loving.” I’m convinced that in the end we treat love more like a thing to be discussed, taken, earned, or well executed, then communed in and enjoyed. It’s like having your friends Jill, Kate, and Mary over for dinner and then spending the entire evening talking with Jill and Kate and completely ignoring Mary. Telling Jill and Kate about how wonderful Mary is, or how funny Mary is, or that one time Mary did, or how much you want to be like Mary, yet never even looking at Mary or really acknowledging her presence. Forget letting Mary actually speak; you all are too busy not even remembering that she is there.
Love is here. Love is present. Love sees us in our pain and sits with us in our suffering. Love paints the sky with sunrises and soaks the parched earth with rain. Love laughs with us and smiles at us when we, like young babes, learn how to pick ourselves up and begin to toddle through the world. Love is all of itself to us everyday. And Love gives itself to us when we are the impatient, rude, self centered, resentful, quickly offended, entitled, lying, hopeless, unbelieving creatures that we were born into being. And it is Love itself that changes us; we do not so much learn to love as Love makes us become more than ourselves. Love plants itself in our grave, tends itself in us, and blossoms forth to makes us new.
As my new friends and I laughed together on the back porch of that B&B, Love laughed with us. I know that Love will cry with us too. Love will hope with us, believe with us, grieve with us, and live with us. Hopefully, when the time comes, Love will bring us together again to share more stories. Stories with both unexpected and gloriously good endings. Here’s to hoping that there is a good Chardonnay for us to drink when it does.
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Alexis Stanford is a 26 year old disciple of Christ who is still trying to understand the traffic patterns that define Northern Virginia. She loves cooking, music, reading, the four kiddos she hangs out with because her job is awesome, and Jesus. If anyone asks, she is easily bribed with dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s