I think I was ten or eleven when my cousin Eric broke up with his long-term girlfriend Dana. I loved Dana. She was willowy thin with poofy permed hair and a thick Tennessee accent. When we visited, she talked to my sister and me like we were her friends, though I must’ve been, at most, half her age at the time.
I remember standing in my parents’ bathroom while my mom was doing her makeup one morning, trying to understand why Eric and Dana were splitting up. “Sometimes,” my mom said, “people just fall out of love.”
I was familiar with the fickle politics of elementary school romance (when Colby dumped me because I wouldn’t kiss him behind the lockers, I’d ripped his school photo into tiny pieces and deposited them into a friend’s open palm to give back to him) but I’d never imagined an adult could love someone one day and then not love her a week or a month later. I’d had friends whose parents had gotten divorced, but I assumed it was because someone had done something wrong. Someone had had an affair, or started drinking too much, or fallen in love with his wife’s sister. Divorce, I thought, was directly linked to depravity. Obviously I watched too much television.
“You and Dad wouldn’t fall out of love, though,” I’d said to my mom. It was something in between a declaration and a question.
“We could,” she’d said. “You never know.”
At the time, I was pretty uncomfortable with this idea, which is probably indicative of how sheltered and easy my childhood was. I struggled to imagine ever not loving any of the people I loved.
As an adult looking back on this moment, and as someone who thinks often of what it means to love or not love someone (and of those gray areas in between), I’m really interested in the metaphor: falling out of love. It has the same kind of helpless passivity as its progenitor (falling in love), but I’m not quite convinced that these are opposite processes. Continue reading