If I had ever thought of you, you would have been more gentle, more outgoing, more loving, more tolerant, more fun, more thoughtful, more cheerful, more dreamy, more resilient - more human. You would have dimples in your cheeks from laughing, you would have wrinkles in your arms from hugging so much, you would have shaggy hair from stretching so much - together. But since I never thought of you, since I never imagined you, the image you now present fulfills the purpose of not knowing who (you) are.
Prologue. Eugénio de Andrade (1923-2005) left us enough poems to help us understand the absurd dimension of our erratic and mortal of human beings. One of them, Adeus, published in his second book, Os Amantes Sem Dinheiro (1950), is of special importance when the subject in question is love. Or rather, the lack of love. “We have worn out the words on the street, my love, / and what remains is not enough / to keep the cold from four walls. / We spent everything but silence. [...] Sometimes you would say: your eyes are green fish. / And I believed you. / I believed, / because at your side / all things were possible. / But that was in the time of secrets, / in the time when your body was an aquarium, / in the time when my eyes / were really green fish. / Today they are merely my eyes." I came across Adeus in my teenage years. It was part of the Portuguese program somewhere in secondary school - how is it possible that we, pre-puberty teenagers, were able to grasp the dimension of Andrade's words? We were. Oh, we were ... What I didn't know, at the time, was that he would accompany me, up until now, that he would be my north and my south, my east and my west. At 39, Adeus remains the masterpiece for all that has to do with falling in love, falling out of love and everything in between. And that, in a way, is sad, melancholic, hopeful and heartbreaking.
First act. I really don’t feel like writing zero about love. I would rather write about seagulls. Or about heaters. About love, not so much. Since the world exists that people have been writing, debating, and opinionating about love and, so far, no one has ever found a fool-proof formula to get it right. The man, they say, has already been to the moon, but still hasn’t figured out what to do with love. Love bothers. Love hurts. Love strikes. Love fustigates. And thinking about it is tiresome. Because we are forced to think about it, even if we don't want to. Love is everywhere. After I-don't-know-how-many failed relationships that forced me to question, over and over again, my ability to love and be loved, love begins to resemble an urban myth. Something someone has seen, once, but can’t explain how, or what, it looks like. Because love takes every possible shape there is – and none at all. Love was supposed to have been that boyfriend I was super happy with for four years, such easy happiness, so simple, that there was no reason at all it should come to an end… except for the end of love – but if love comes to an end, how could it have been love? Love was supposed to have been Pedro, with whom I discovered Paraty and with whom, in less than a year, I have lived more adventures than some couples that will be together until death do them part. Love was supposed to have been the effing crazy American (I’m sorry, Scott) who I almost got married to, but I’m glad I didn’t because he didn’t know how to not be unfaithful – now, seven years later, he knows, and that gives me a certain reassurance because it means people can change. Love was supposed to have been Zé, that I met on our oldie Hi5, through some friends in common, my first blind date, and with whom I remained friends for life – and it was for the best. Love was supposed to have been Chico, that left in the middle of the night to buy cigarettes and never came back (he wasn’t out buying cigarettes, but it’s way funnier this way) because he didn’t have the guts to break up with me face to face, or, if we want to get down to the nitty-gritty details, it was because he couldn’t handle my personality, kind of crazy, eternally unsatisfied, and now that I look back I can almost understand him, I wouldn’t have stayed with me either – nor would I have stayed with him. Love wasn’t, and I can’t stress this enough, it wasn’t supposed to have been X, whose name isn’t even worthy of being pronounced, because of the absence of the vital organ, that pumps blood throughout our blood vessels, that organ we so often associate with love, the heart, makes him a ghost, a casting error, an apathetic creature that, hence, will never be able to feel love, no matter how many times he repeats the words “I love you”. There were some other flirts along the way, some ravaged passions, and tons of other things (the new generation would call them “flings”) that have nothing to do with this. And then there were the “bus loves”, those people that cross paths with us for a couple of seconds, and that we never see again, but with whom we feel inexplicable chemistry and connection. It’s not often that we remember what they look like, their physical traits, what counts is the impact we feel when we stumble across them – the draft that suddenly caresses our face, the smile we can’t control, the sparkle in our eyes we can’t explain – as if we knew them from somewhere else. As if they were another version of us. I have no doubt that I loved that boy with wild curly hair at the beginning of the year 2000 at Café Royale.
Second act. Except that love had nothing to do with this at all. I’ve witnessed more than 20 weddings throughout my adult life, I’ve seen more brides walking down the aisle that I ever thought was possible (isn’t that a movie thing?) and, in the end, love, the way I’ve lived it, was nothing of the sort. I heard the magic words, “I love you so much”, addressed to me, repeated to exhaustion. “I love you so much” as if that would fix everything. Disclaimer: No, you don’t. You really don’t. Love is not that heat you feel between your legs, nor that itch that only goes away with the touch of someone’s hips. For it to be the real thing, love has to be much more than that. It takes time. It demands respect. It can’t be resumed to a swipe on a summer’s night or a drunk winter afternoon – it can, but it needs to go beyond that. Those who throw themselves at love as they would towards a drug have already lost the race to the vice of addiction, to error, to what I like to call “a random fling you should be ashamed of”. Love, the real deal, has to be more. It doesn’t comply with “I don’t feel like it now.” It can’t say “Sorry, I’m out.” It’s not about “I think the timing is wrong.” It’s not saying, “You’re overreacting, everything is a huge drama to you”, followed by the classic door slam and deafening silence that shatters everything for days on end. If you follow that road, shit will hit the fan. And that’s fine if you’re both on board with that. The thing is, in the majority of times, you’re not. The majority of times, one of you speaks with the heart, and the other with lust. And love, as we’ve been taught, is a universal language. It’s not. Now, it’s not. It’s a peculiar, particular dialect. Of habits. Of little annoying behaviors. Of lies. “I’m not ready for a serious relationship” is as good as “It’s not you” or “I’ve some serious emotional baggage.” Courtrooms have seen cleverer excuses. Love? That’s not love, that’s being fucking afraid. Love is something else. We’ll never know it if we don’t give it all we’ve got. Ha yes, but for that to be possible, men (and “men” this should be read as “human beings”) would have to believe there would be no collateral damages. And there are. Loads of them. The obvious reaction? The end.
Third act. “I love you” is the silliest, lightest thing one can say. And the most urgent. And the most serious. He says: “I love you so much.” And she retorts: “Me too.” It only hurts the first time, afterwards, it’s no different from reciting a prayer or a mantra. And they’ll continue with this for months, years, on end. It’s like a broken record no one’s thought of turning off because the sound it emits has blended into the cracks in the walls. I believe there must be an infinite number of “little loves” in this world, affairs between people that can’t even stand each other but that nonetheless continue to repeat the “I love you so much”, followed by the unbearable “Me too” as if the only path to redemption of our souls is to stay attached to someone we can’t bear to look at. I’ve done it myself. Those who believe the “And they lived happily ever after” and Cinderella tales will have to forgive me. My perspective on love might be a little bit more cynical – but not necessarily less romantic – than the one society has forced on us. I believe in a love that doesn’t exist. There you have it, I wrote it. I believe love is the sum of two individuals that get together because they add “something” to one another. It can be anything. In an ideal world, it would be a mixture of peace, excitement, passion, discovery, silence, friendship, magic dust, and understanding. Only this ideal world doesn’t exist, or we wouldn’t call it ideal. I still believe in love, otherwise, there would be no point in continuing to breathe. It so happens that I’ve reached an age where there’s no point in sugar-coating it when it comes to coups de foudre or prince charming’s. I’m the only one that can save myself and, more importantly, it’s having the certainty that I must be fulfilled with myself first in order to ever be fulfilled with someone else. What does that mean? That the saying “Better alone than in bad company” is perfectly adequate for my current state. And that’s a screwed-up balance to keep because even without wishing to, we cling to habits that leave us a little bit more perplexed, more pensive, more cautious, more demanding. Moral of the story: at 39 years old, who has the patience to go around looking for their soulmate?
Epilogue. Many people. Dating apps are crowded, filled with spinsters and bachelors like me – we shouldn’t be afraid to own it, they’re only words. A while ago I tried to adapt to, let’s call it, this new way of “communicating”, and I installed Tinder. It lasted a week. I was constantly “liking” the wrong people – the “right” and “left” logistics were still new to me. After that, someone suggested Bumble, where women have the power to initiate the conversation. Not bad. I’ve spoken to one person. It’s almost pre-historical to admit this. The laws that dictate this universe say we should keep a series of possibilities on stand-by, set up a few dates, and then choose the ones we’re actually interested in. My grandmother would find the whole thing dreadful, I don’t think it’s that cool either. The idea of being someone’s third or fourth option, or of “being tested”, as a friend of mine put it, is creepy. To sum it up, it went nowhere. Real life’s mind games are enough for me. I forgot all about Bumble the same way I forgot about the newsletters I signed, believing the promise of improbable discounts on pieces I would never, ever afford. Back to the basics, then. It’s the end of 2020. If everything goes well, in a year I’ll be entering my 40’s. I have spent a big part of the last decade alone. Alone, but never lonely. I’d rather believe that, instead of furiously rambling around the ether in search of something I don’t even know what it is, someone will look at me one day and tell me my eyes are like green fishes. Because when the right person comes, everything is possible. And my eyes will no longer be just my eyes, dark, black, like everyone else’s, they’ll turn into real green fishes.
Translated from the original article from Vogue Portugal's Love issue, published in December 2020.