By Emily Erickson
For the past few days, I’ve been binge-listening to the Modern Love podcast produced by The New York Times. Based on submissions from the popular print column, the podcast is dedicated to people reading personal essays on the topic of love. Contrary to what I expected before tuning in, these love stories are really just life stories, highlighting our profound capacity as people to find meaning in and seek closeness with others.
Listening to stories of life and love in all of their forms has prompted me to reflect on the many types of love I’ve witnessed throughout my life.
As a child of divorce, I grew up in a home surrounded by tumultuous love. Tumultuous love is the kind of love that changes, not just from year to year — or even day to day — but from conversation to conversation and intention to intention. In this love, interactions are laced with the weight of all their predecessors; gas-soaked fuses yearning for the spark of conflict to set them ablaze. Times of calm prickle with the anticipation of their inevitable end, and kind gentleness seeps through in rare, sincere apologies or the echoes of sweet, former companionship.
In growing older and becoming aware that different iterations of love existed outside the walls in which I lived, I witnessed another version of partnership: convenience love. Convenience love is the kind of love that stays together because the alternative is difficult to reconcile. It manifests as separate lives lived in parallel, separate bedrooms and conversations reduced to the logistics of who’s paying the phone bill and when the dog was last fed. Convenience love is dictated by the fear of being alone or facing a world in which the rhythms of a partner can’t be anticipated without the exertion of thought and consideration.
Convenience love is close in appearance to another kind of love, but the difference in the details is vast. This love is companionable love, born from the most intimate version of familiarity and comfort. It’s the kind of love that is displayed in small gestures, like a partner putting out the cream when their mate reaches for the coffee pot or pulling out a chair as reflexively as reaching for their own seat. It’s when the small of the other person’s back is an extension of an outstretched hand and a newspaper left out to the exact page their partner reads first. Long silences linger, not from all the things being left unsaid, but for all the things they both know to be irrevocably true.
Companionable and convenience loves are usually the product of shared moments and passing years, all compiling into life-long partnerships. But new partnerships take a different shape, with blind love characterized by its novel intensity. Blind love is a culmination of all the hope, desire and romantic expectation held by one person, promptly and unthinkingly projected onto another. It’s a fierce recognition of all that is good in someone, and a blind disregard for their emerging flaws.
Blind love is rapacious curiosity and incessant pining for the feelings of one person to be shared by another. It’s a love of conviction, of an awkward exploration through the ordinary — made extraordinary — by the presence of another.
Sturdier than blind love, and born out of intentionality rather than time, is reflective love. Reflective love is the kindness and care a person prioritizes in themselves, reflected onto the people around them. It’s an understanding that a cup continuously refilled is easier shared than a cup left depleted by the expecting mouths of others. Reflective love is to be found in a person who understands their own experiences better by understanding the experiences of their partner. It manifests when needs aren’t anticipated but are communicated, and the love, confidence and security each partner has in themselves is reflected back onto the person with whom they’re sharing their life.
Love, in all of its infinite iterations, couldn’t possibly be captured within the confines of a single column. It’s a side effect of being a person navigating the world alongside other people — a beautiful throughline that connects us, ignites us, blinds us and teaches more about ourselves and each other the more we engage in it.
Emily Erickson is a freelance writer and bartender originally from Wisconsin, with a degree in sociology and an affinity for playing in the mountains.
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