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Relationships • Romanticism

Falling in Love with a Stranger

We shouldn’t do it, of course, but we do – despite all the warnings, if only in the deep privacy of our minds.

In the library or on the train, across the aisle in the supermarket or in the street on a snowy day, we catch sight of someone – it might only be from the back or the side, a very partial view – but we decide we have enough.

Blurry photo of a woman with a red umbrella glimpsed from the window of a taxi cab in New York in 1955.
 Saul Leiter, Red Umbrella, New York City, 1955

From a fragment, we hallucinate an entire person. We decide, on the basis of knowing precisely nothing, that we know someone deeply enough to have fallen profoundly in love and to want to spend the rest of our lives entwined with them. Our lack of knowledge becomes an invitation to poetry, to longing and to an expression of our deepest, most inchoate and – along the way – silliest wishes. 

We are certain that if we lay in their arms, we would have – finally – found someone who could understand, who could be sad in the way we are, and with whom there would be no discord or tetchiness. They would know us without our needing to speak; they would grasp our thoughts before we had formulated them. In fact, they aren’t a stranger at all; they’ve been with us from the very start. They may not have said a thing to us – we may just be finishing our veal cutlet in one corner of the restaurant and they what looks like rigatoni in another – but we’ve already grasped the fundamental truths of our union: this is our twin.

We are told incessantly – especially by very mature people – that we simply must not do this. It is adolescent, puerile, patronising and plain daft to develop crushes on strangers (especially at our advanced age). We’re not just embarrassing ourselves, we’re offending the basic facts of existence: people are abysmally complicated, disappointment is inevitable and perfect beings don’t exist. 

But can we really subsist with so much reality? Is there not a role for the occasional willing suspension of cold-eyed wisdom? Would we want to continue, if we had to give up trusting that lurking somewhere in the world’s railway stations, streets, cafes and libraries, there must be a superior elusive being ready to deliver us from our isolation and rescue us from our sorrows. 

We know deep down – of course – that crushes are a demented illusion, but it is not always entirely realistic and might not even be sane or mature to try to live as though we should never daydream.

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