How Do You Know When You Love Someone?

by Dan Schryer

Is there a way to really know? At what point does time’s inevitable alchemy transform a stranger into something else, someone that envelopes the absolute center of your being, half of a whole that bears the shared weight of the world alongside you?

Is it a single moment, crystallized in hindsight and glazed in nostalgia? When the midday light caught their profile just so, or the staccato lilt of an unguarded peal of laughter? A sudden recognition, the way the deep pools of their eyes catch an untraceable glint, the all-encompassing sensation of fingers interlaced, two radiating heat signatures, intermingling, a perfect balance kept in stasis until withdrawn?

Do these things form the dramatic arc of an unwritten narrative? The assembly of a lifetime of anxious stares, uncomfortable silences made comfortable like the rough edges of stone smoothed over by a river’s unending flow, heart catching in your throat as you fall effortlessly into them, hoping that you’ll be caught, that you’ll be understood, that they’ll feel you and return again and again to trace your innermost topography. A shared story you tell yourselves, over and over, about the combining of disparate pieces into familiar shapes.

Or maybe there’s a simpler explanation, one more clinical, more rational. A chemical reaction in the brain, experiences and desires and expectations and fears, shrunk to impossible smallness and pressed onto our internal circuitry, electrical impulses racing along neural highways well over the speed limit.

But isn’t there beauty in this too? Are we not the sum of our material parts? We aren’t bristling hairs, straining tendons, twisting joints, vibrating chords, thrumming veins, but rather all these at once, a machine of magical locomotion and inscrutable meaning. Solar winds and charged particles combine into ionized chaos, rote phenomena thrust together by the indifferent will of nature, but is the Aurora Borealis itself not a sight to behold? Do these lights not dance and glow above our heads with unmistakable life, coloring invisible ribbons of ethereal beauty, tracing a waltz already written in the endless sky?

Or is it some fragile, temporary thing, blooming in the void left by biting frost and withering when the warmth has been fully wrung from the air? Is it meant to die a final death, preserved only in forgotten sensation like an itch on some phantom limb? Or is there some part that lives on, breathing deep and shallow beneath the ice, waiting for the first simmering scent of Spring on the once-frozen air?
How can you recognize those first snaking tendrils of deepening fondness, that first taste of potential passion made kinetic, the aqueous shift from infatuation into something more?

Is it possible to know when it happens, or only that it happened at all?

You can chat with Dan about love and other topics by emailing him at

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