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(Drew Shannon for The Globe and Mail)
(Drew Shannon for The Globe and Mail)

My cautious heart has never been in love Add to ...

Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

This is not a sad story.

At some point in my life, during the consistent and consistently overwhelming occupation of growing up, I sat down with my opportunities, my talents and my truths, and thought that I was unhappy.

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For me, unhappiness took the form of loneliness, the kind where you practise holding your own hand.

You should know that I had, and have, family and friends to keep me company. But I watched people fall in love – in the movies, in books and in person – with a crooked combination of joy and jealousy in my heart.

Maybe that’s how everyone feels when anyone else is in love, but I didn’t realize that then, and so I assigned a void to the part of my life that I felt needed someone else to fill. I thought I needed someone to be in love with, and then, finally, I would be happy.

But once, and ever, there was a girl who liked a boy. For the sake of the story, although I’m not certain about this, we’ll say he liked her back. So, swiftly, this boy and this girl found each other because they liked each other. It was as simple as that. And for a glorious time his name was her incantation, his hands were rough and strong, and he was rough and strong, but gentle, because she would never have liked anyone who couldn’t be gentle.

She thought, sometimes, about how much she liked him, and wondered if she would one day be in love. If maybe she already was. But one day, and always, he stopped liking her back, or maybe he never liked her at all, and to leave her he lied to her in order not to hurt – himself or her I couldn’t tell you.

What he had meant to her unfolded in her heart like a paper crane, intricately and inevitably, and when she learned what he had done she cried for herself and not for him.

Whatever they had been in, a relationship or a moment together, it was over, and she knows now that she was never in love with him, because her heart folded itself back up, but along different lines.

So, no, I am not in love. I love, I am loving, I have loved; but “in” is a perilous word and this is a perilous world in which many things are breakable.

When I was a little girl learning to walk I never once fell down, because I only walked on my own once I was sure I would not fall. (So I’ve been told.) And I’ve never broken a bone, maybe because I have strong bones and I drank a lot of milk, but maybe too because I trod carefully, and ran away from things when I needed to. And I have yet to be in love. Unless you can be so for a minute, or four, or less than one, because sometimes I look at someone and I become full of whatever I imagine love to mean. But if I understand correctly, being in love is a lasting condition, not a moment pulled from time and dependent on ever-changing considerations. So if I were to be entirely truthful, I would say that it’s never happened to me. Which isn’t something to pity, or to envy, or to anything at all.

But wait, someone says to the girl. Were you in love when you, you know…? She knows, and no, she wasn’t. There are people in this world who need to be in love when they, you know, and there are others who don’t.

Do you ever regret it? She doesn’t believe in regrets, she says, but sometimes she thinks of the whole concept as a gift and she’s surprised she gave it away to someone she never thinks about any more. And then she changes her mind and decides that to think about “it” as a gift is archaic. Or she hurts in a low place in her body that she doesn’t think about any more. But it felt right, then and now, and isn’t that all that matters?

Maybe to be in love or not to be in love isn’t part of it at all. What does it make her that she doesn’t need to be in love to make love? Progressive, or loose, or pathetic or lesser? Maybe it makes her afraid. Maybe it doesn’t make her anything at all.

Like I said, this is not a sad story. It’s just mine.

No, I am not in love. I love, and I am loving, and I have loved: frantically, freely, terribly. But to be in love is not something that has happened to me yet. Maybe I have been too careful, or maybe I have tried too hard or not at all. But even though other things may not be, I believe that love, the in-love kind of love, is a gift, and I don’t think I’ve yet found someone who deserves that gift from me. It’s not the kind of thing I’m inclined to give away.

My heart may one day open for someone, and it will be wild and it will love. But it is mine, this heart, this in- or out-of-love heart, and for now it is folded up, carefully.

Gabrielle Hick lives in Toronto.

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