I began to learn about love in dancing school, at age 11 remember thinking on the first day I was going to fall madly in love with one of the boys and spend the next years of my life kissing and waltzing.
During class,however,I sat among the girls,waiting for a boy to ask me to dance. To my complete shock, I was consistently one of the last to be asked. At first I thought the boys had made a terrible mistake. I was so funny and pretty, and I could beat everyone I knew at tennis and climb trees faster than a cat. Why didn't they dash toward me?
Yet class after class, I watched boys dressed in blue blazers and gray pants head toward girls in flowered shifts whose perfect ponytails swung back and forth like metronomes. They fell easily into step with one another in a way that was completely mysterious to me. I came to believe that love belonged only to those who glided, who never shimmied up trees or even really touched the ground.
By the time I was 13,I knew how to subtly tilt my head and make my tears fall back into ray eyes, instead of down my cheeks, when no one asked me to dance. I also discovered the “powder room”, which became my softly lit, reliable retreat. Whenever I started to cry, I'd excuse myself and run in there.
I finally stopped crying when I met Matt, who was quiet and hung out on the edges of the room. When we danced for the first time,be wouldn't even look at me in the eyes. But he was cute, and he told great stories. We became good buddies, dancing every dance together until the end of school.
I learned from him my most important early lesson about romance: that the potential for love exists in comers, in the most unlikely as well as the most obvious places.
For years my love life continued to be one long tragic-comic novel. In college I fell in love with a tall English major who rode a motorcycle. He stood me up on our sixth date--an afternoon of sky diving. I jumped out of the plane alone and Landed in a parking lot.
In my mid-20s I moved to New York City where love is as hard to find as a legal parking spot. My first Valentine's Day there, I went on a date to a crowed bar on the Upper West Side. Halfway through dinner, my date excused himself and never returned.
At the time I lived with a beautiful roommate. Flowers piled up at our door like snowdrifts, and the light on the answering machine always blinked in a panicky way, overloaded with messages from her admirers. Limousines purred outside, with dates waiting for her behind tinted windows.
In my mind, love was something behind a tinted window, part apparition, part shadow, definitely unreachable. Whenever I spotted happy-looking couples, I'd wonder where they found love, and want to follow them home for the answer.
After a few years in the city I got my dream job--writing about weddings for a magazine called 7 Days. I had to find interesting engaged couples and write up their love stories. I got to ask total strangers the things I'd always wanted to know.
I found out at least one sure answer to the question "How do you know it's love?" You know when the everyday things surrounding you--the leaves, the shade of light in the sky, a bowl of strawberries--suddenly shimmer with a kind of unreality.
You know when the tiny details about another person, ones that are insignificant to most people, seem fascinating and incredible to you. One groom told me he loved everything about his future wife, from her handwriting to the way she scratched on their apartment door like a cat when she came home. One bride said she fell in love with her fiance because "one night, a moth was flying around a light bulb, and he caught it and let it out the window. I said, 'That's it. He's the guy.'"
You also know it's love when you can't stop talking to each other. Almost every couple I've ever interviewed said that on their first or second date, they talked for hours and hours. For some, falling in love is like walking into a soundproof confessional booth, a place where you can tell all.
Finding love can be like discovering a gilded ballroom on the other side of your dingy apartment, and at the same time like finding a pair of great old blue jeans that are exactly your size and seem as if you've worn them forever. I can't tell you how many women have told me they knew they were in love because they forgot to wear makeup around their boyfriend. Or because they felt at ease hanging around him in flannel pajamas. There's some modern truth to Cinderella's tale--it's love when you're incredibly comfortable, when the shoe fits perfectly.
Finally, I think you're in love if you can make each other laugh at the very worst times--when the IRS is auditing you or when you are driving a convertible in a rainstorm or when your hair is turning gray. As someone once told me, 90 percent of being in love is making each other's life funnier and easier, all the way to the deathbed.
Seven years ago I started writing about love and weddings for The New York Times in a column called "Vows". And now that I have been on this beat for so long, a strange thing has happened: I'm considered an expert on love. The truth is, love is still mostly a mystery to me. The only thing I can confidently say is this: Love is as plentiful as oxygen. You don't have to be thin, naturally blond, super-successful, socially connected, knowledgeable about politics or even particularly charming to find it.
I've interviewed many people who were down on their luck in every way--a ballerina with chronic back problems, a physicist who had been on 112 (he counted) disastrous blind dates, a clarinet player who was a single dad and could barely pay the rent. But love, when they found it, brought humor, candlelight, home-cooked meals, fun, adventure, poetry and long conversations into their lives.
When people ask me where to find love, I tell a story about one of my first job interviews. It was with an editor at a famous literary magazine. I had no experience or skills, and he didn't for one second consider hiring me. But he gave me some advice I will never forget. He said, "Go out into the world. Work hard and concentrate on what you love to do, writing. If you become good, we will find you. "
That's why I always tell people looking for love to wait for that "I won the lottery" feeling--wait, wait, wait! Don't read articles about how to trap, seduce or hypnotize a mate. Don't worry about your lipstick or your height, because it's not going to matter. Just live your life well, take care of yourself, and don't mope too much. Love will find you.
Eventually it even found me. At 28, I met my husband in a stationery store. I was buying a typewriter ribbon, and he was looking at Filofaxes. I remember that his eyes perfectly matched his faded jeans. He remembers that my sneakers were full of sand. He still talks about those sneakers and how they evoked his childhood--bonfires by the ocean, driving on the sand in an old jeep--all those things that he cherished.
How did I know that it was true love? Our first real date lasted for nine hours; we just couldn't stop talking. I had never been able to dance in my life, but I could dance with him, perfectly in step. I have learned that it's love when you finally stop tripping over your toes.
A year after we met, we married.
I have come to cherish writing the "Vows" column. With each story I hear, I have proof that love, optimism, guts, grace, perfect partners and good luck do, in fact, exist. Love, in my opinion, is not a fantasy, not the stuff of romance novels or fairy tales. It's as gritty and real as the subway, it comes around just as regularly, and as long as you can stick it out on the platform, you won't miss it.