What is Love? The Right Person or the Right Time?

Love and Sex

What is Love? The Right Person or the Right Time?

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

My girlfriend of nearly three years told me yesterday that she has started studying for the GRE and wants to study in the US. She’s incredibly smart and has a history of acing tests, and I’m pretty certain she’ll get wherever she wants to. We then decided to end the relationship when she leaves the country. It makes little sense to spend the prime of our lives in different time zones, where human contact is replaced by Skype, and we have to add mods like The Kissenger to our fucking phones. Long-distance (mostly) is wasteful, breeds contempt, and makes enemies out of lovers.

As we set an expiration date for our love, the injustice of it all left me in a place of self-pity with a brooding facial expression. She could have been the one. Hell, she was almost the one, and now, as our lives take us to different places in different time zones, does it mean she isn’t? Does it mean that another woman out there, someone with whom I may never experience that perfect synchronicity but who is, at that point in her life, looking for the same things as I am, become the one? Is love then even a person or is it just a time in life?    

The idea of a relationship as timing first came to me via the best romantic film ever made, Definitely, Maybe. The film argues that love is not about finding the right person, “the one”, but love is what happens when you reach a place in life when you’re ready to commit to someone. Then the next person, if they’re ready too, becomes the one. The specificity of the timing of our great loves then, is the most definitive metric of whether it works long-term or not, regardless of the significance of the person.

Young people like me, then, the great thinkers of things, singers of songs, with our idea of specialness, are fucking up every day.

We have our first, crazy non-serious love, then graduate to a semi-serious place, and then finally arrive at serious-serious. Whoever we are with at the time of serious-serious is the one you end up with, regardless of the kind of romance related with them, purely based on a bundle of characteristics. It’s a more efficient way of looking at romance, especially better than all of us holding a checklist of traits we think the one should possess and going from door to door looking for them. That’s a pretty weird dance of soulmate musical chairs, where no one wants to sit to win. For love, I’ve always thought, is not life, but a propellant of happiness in it.

The sitcom How I Met Your Mother stumbled upon this idea in the most romantic way possible: Throughout his 20s and 30s, Ted Mosby kept looking for a girl who played bass, would laugh at his jokes, carry his yellow umbrella, and thought his poop smelled like lavender. He eventually found her, she died, and he then ended up with Robin. In the construct of the show then, who is the one? The one, who he pined for all his life, or the one with whom he finally got with because the timing was right?

Young people like me, then, the great thinkers of things, singers of songs, with our idea of specialness, are fucking up every day, priming ourselves for pain, like lambs to a special slaughterhouse for the stupid.

By the time I’m left wrecked by my foolhardiness next year, when she’s just a brew of memory and forgetfulness, I’ll be 27 – a writer of words on the internet in an industry focused on lower attention spans and video advertising money. I’ll be a sad sack of shit, probably writing a book on feeling empty, driving the clown car of sadness formerly known as my heart. I can’t imagine who will want that. But time, not romance, tells us that perhaps no one will, perhaps someone. Definitely someone. Definitely? Maybe.

And then this feeling will pass and perhaps a new certainty with another person will be born. For me and maybe for her, wherever she will be. It’s a terrifying thought, but then at the end of the day, we’re ghosts driving a meat-coated skeleton made of stardust, riding a rock hurtling through space. What do I, and you, my lover girl, have to fear?