Thursday, July 5, 2012

Are We Fools in Love If We Think It'll Last Forever?

Let's talk about love.

I'll never forget what the late Barry White once said to me when we were talking about it (he was still alive at the time, of course). It was 1995, and I was interviewing the disco-soul legend for People magazine, when he made one of the most unexpected revelations of my career. As it turned out, the maestro behind such romantic classics as "You're the First, the Last, My Everything," "Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up" and "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe," the icon whose then-current album was called The Icon Is Love, had a completely non-idealistic view of love.

"Relationships don't always work out," he told me. "Sometimes love doesn't last forever, and you can't expect it to. But just because you break up with someone doesn't mean your entire relationship was a failure. What you had, you had."

At the time, I was 25, and in love (or something like it) with my second boyfriend. I wasn't under any illusion that he and I were going to last forever, though. I was far too young for that. But I was old enough to know that most romances have an expiration date, one that's usually sooner rather than later. I agreed with White that just because a couple breaks up doesn't mean the entire relationship is a failure. Some things, most things, simply were not meant to be... forever.

Five years later, I found myself hoping that Paolo and I would be an exception. We met in the summer of 2000 when he was on holiday in New York City, visiting from Milan. I was at Bowery Bar with my friend Cara, and Paolo and I stumbled onto each other while she was distracted, practicing her French on some beautiful stranger. It was lust at first sight, though over the next week of being nearly inseparable, it crossed over into something more.

"You're going to make me fall in love with you," I remember him saying one night while we were standing on the corner of Avenue A and 7th Street in the East Village. I pinched myself to make sure it wasn't all some silly romantic dream. After he went back to Milan a few days later, we stayed in touch, by email and by phone. About two months later, I took a plunge that I never expected to take. I went to visit him in Italy. Traveling to a different country, or continent, was something I'd only done once before on account of a guy, and that 1996 trip to Amsterdam had turned out to be one of the biggest blunders of my 20s.

Yet there I was, in Italy, all because of a guy.

I spent some time in London and Rome first, under the pretense that my trip wasn't all about Paolo. But I knew very well that it was, and when I landed in Milan and saw him waiting for me at the airport, I suspected that he did, too. Although I showed up in the throes of a nasty cold that kept me mostly down for the first day or two, it was probably one of the best holidays I'd ever had -- until my final night in town.

Over the course of a week and a half, Paolo and I somehow managed to keep our interaction fairly light, but on the final night we finally broached matters of the heart. The conversation turned to love, which was completely his doing. We weren't specifically talking about us, though in a roundabout way I suspected that we were. Paolo talked about what he considered to be the temporal nature of love. "It doesn't last forever," he mused. "I don't believe it can."

Having had no evidence to the contrary that I could pull from my personal experience, part of me agreed, but a larger part was crushed, partly for me, partly for him. I couldn't believe he was so jaded at 25!

I had no intention of leaving behind my journalism career in New York City to move to Italy (I didn't need the Sex and the City Paris finale, airing this week on Bangkok's Sony Channel, but still three years away at the time, to show me the dangers of taking such a dramatic leap of faith), and I knew he wasn't about to resign from his post as a junior designer for Versace to set up house with me on West 34th Street. Still, I harbored this fantasy that somehow love would win out over the considerations of timing, location, and jobs, and we might somehow end up living happily ever after in the same city.

But Paolo and I were not only living on different continents, but in different romances, too. Mine was an epic drama, The English Patient without the tragic final act, his was a brief guest arc on Sex and the City. I left Milan and went back to my city with no illusions about what our future would be.

Paolo and I saw each other a few times in the years that followed, most recently in 2008 when he came to Buenos Aires on holiday. Over dinner one Friday night, when the subject once again turned to love, and he revealed that his views on it hadn't budged a centimetre, I didn't even flinch.

Years of romantic entanglements, some of which failed, some of which just ran their course, had taught me a valuable lesson while setting me on the path to being the hopeless romantic that I am today -- a "hopeless romantic" in both the clichéd and literal sense: I'm a romantic who's more or less given up hope of ever stumbling across "The One." I haven't traveled farther than a taxi ride for a guy in nearly 10 years, and at this point, I doubt that I'd go much farther for one.

That said, I still believe in miracles. They happen, and when they do, I proceed with caution, never forgetting the words of Barry White, of Paolo, of a former colleague who once said, "It will last for as long as it's supposed to last," to another co-worker who was worried about the long-term potential of her current relationship.

Can love last forever? The next time I fall in love (and although it couldn't be farther off my radar at the moment, I know there will be a next time -- eventually), I won't ask questions that no one can answer, nor will I stick an open-ended expiration date on it. I'm not nearly as fatalistic as Paolo when it comes to love, and I hope I never will be: If you go into something expecting it not to last, it probably won't.

The best that you can do, when you fall in love, is to proceed without expectations, good or bad. Don't expect it to last forever, and don't expect it not to, but be open to either outcome. And enjoy. You won't know if it lasts until the end of time until the end of time anyway, so why worry about it now?

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