I am walking along the river when I see them, sitting on a bench, side by side, a few feet away. She is turned toward the water, and he toward her, his arms wrapped around her, his face pressed to her cheek. They sit immobile, as if they have been clasped this way for a while, and I can’t help but note the quiet sturdiness of his embrace, the serenity of the half smile that plays about her lips.
I drink them in with sidling glances lest I appear a prying gawker until they are out of view. And something of them, the easy contentment, the unpeeled beauty of their absorption, stays with me.
I tuck the moment close, as I do all the others, savoring their soft brush of hopefulness, their fulgent promise — but mostly the simple pleasure of observing love unspooling itself before me.
The enchanted drawing close, the eyes that follow line and shape, the thoughtfulness of habit, the small ecstasies that pour themselves into a laugh, a grin, a shimmering joy — they become mini feasts, their moonstruck waft or quotidian flutter scenting the way forward, unknown though it may be.
Recently, it’s occurred to me that it’s been about 18 months since I’ve been on a date — my mysterious encounter with a stranger on a summer evening last year not included. It’s not something I dwell on. Most of the time, the absence of romance or partnership in my life barely registers though I carry the awareness of my singleness like a hazy flicker capable of flaming at any moment, in just the right circumstances.
But dating and finding love have not been the preoccupation it can be for many who feel a yearning emptiness in a seemingly paired-up world. Yet several times in recent conversations where friends have queried about my dating life, I’ve found myself acknowledging my singledom with a breezy acceptance, yes, but also a looking back: to the December more than a year and a half ago when I decided to give up online dating, wary of my own forced interest and the frittering away of time it had become; to the September a year before that when I walked away from a intoxicating romance amid too many rising red flags; and to the handful of men who’ve come and gone in between.
There’s still time for magic and happenstance, but come December I will have been single for four years. The number doesn’t phase me. Life is beautifully full, and while I can’t deny the occasional yearning, it is neither sharp nor woeful — more like a fleeting nod to what can, and will be, in a timing beyond my control.
In the meantime, I keep being drawn to the casual noticings of love, alive and well and all around me. And I lean into every one of those moments.
It could be as simple as the brush of one partner’s hand upon their beloved’s knee when I’m meeting with a couple whose wedding I’ll be performing, or the secret smile that flashes between them, the way a bride or groom’s eyes grow misty, a sonant warmth in the throat.
At their weddings, I’m attuned to their giddiness but also the small devotions — the hovering protective hand, the solicitous question, the seeking glance that wants only to know the other is OK.
Out and about in the day-to-day, I smile at the couples whose held hands also seem to be holding the ineffable, that nameless everything that keeps them bright explorers of each other’s worlds. I love the snippets of song that float by me sometimes when one is singing to the other or trying to get a laugh, the winged gladness that billows against their bodies.
When a friend calls to gush about her new beau, I fall into her rhapsody, encourage her to call anytime, to marvel, to lift him up, to celebrate the good that she’s found.
Another friend slips into a corner of the restaurant while we’re out to dinner and returns to our table, with cheeks flushed and star-blazing eyes as she shows me a photo on her phone. She, too, is in a new relationship and her headiness, after some painful disappointments and struggles, is beautiful to see. In the photo she shares, she is radiant, tucked under her guy’s arm while he dips his head toward hers.
I am deeply happy for her, happy for them all. Because this is the space I want to tend. The one that feels expansive, buoyant, grateful. Moments of loneliness or longing will come, bearing gifts of insight and awareness. But to remain fixated on the empty space beside me is to risk bitterness and miss out on all of life’s invitations to seize joy, to bask in countless moments of meaningful connection that nourish and fill the heart.
Earlier this year, an Ayurvedic astrologer affirmed what I already knew to be true about myself: I am not one to pursue a relationship simply for the sake of being in one. I want it to feel right, to be an unfolding that aligns with my values, an elevating fit for my life.
Until then, I choose love in the here and now — of family, of friends, of life. And I relish every opportunity to praise its many facets, transplendent and rich, and splayed in each ordinary day.