MY daughter wants to know how to tell if she’s fallen in love.
She’s 24. She never asked when she was 16, nor 20, nor even 23. I think that was because she reckoned she knew. Now she’s not so sure, so I’m flattered she’s asked me.
Unfortunately, I said, I only know how to tell when you’ve fallen out of love, and even that’s complicated.
For instance, if you want to poison their soup you might still be in love. But if you actually do poison their soup — and especially if you let them drink it, you’re probably not.
It’s not love if you don’t like their name. She’s met this bloke whose name is Will. She said she couldn’t love him if his name were Bill, which means she probably can’t love him anyway.
If it were love she’d suddenly realise what an elegant name Bill was. She’d find subtle nuances that made it special.
If it’s love it doesn’t matter if their name’s Fido. The first girl I fell in love with was Teresa Puddefoot. I was 14. It didn’t end because of her name, but because I couldn’t work out how to kiss her.
It’s not love if you don’t want to touch them all the time. Of course, it might not be love even if you do. It might just be sex. Or you might be some kind of weirdo. But in my experience physical contact and love go hand in hand.
My wife agrees. She says there’s not a day goes by when she doesn’t want to hit me. Of course, that might just be sex, too.
And it’s not love if you can’t handle them cutting their toenails on the bedroom floor.
Indeed, if there is a test of love at all, it’s probably that. You have to love someone to watch their toenails being cut. Unless it’s a chicken, or possibly a dog.
It’s a more significant test than being in the same room when they go to the lavatory; even though it’s almost always a very small room.
Mind you, this raises a whole new question – how do you know when they love you?
Because they wouldn’t cut their toenails in your presence, for a start.
They’d choose moments to go to the lavatory when you weren’t around. And if you were within earshot they’d wee down the side, so they didn’t sound like a horse.
Is this false modesty? Certainly not. I don’t mind if my wife does these things (she doesn’t) but that’s not the point. The point is: partners should care. That’s why my soup remains edible despite the very many good reasons for making it lethal.
None of this is much help to my daughter, though.
The only real answer I know is: if it’s love, you’ll recognise it when it hits you.
What she’s really asking is: should she risk making herself vulnerable?
And that’s one I do know the answer to. Yes. And yes again.
Love is risk. Almost by definition it’s unconditional. You have to jump in whether you can touch the bottom or not. You have to jump in not knowing whether you’ll be able to swim when you have; and not knowing whether there’s something with teeth lurking in the weed (there will be weed).
You can’t love someone on condition they love you back. You just do it.
And you mustn’t mistake it for a romantic movie with birdsong and flowers and soft focus. Love’s not happiness. It’s not pain either, mind you. It’s toenail clippings in the carpet. And soup that tastes… suspicious.
It’s stepping blindfold through a door when you don’t even know if the next room has a floor.