A Dozen Roses / by Michelle Cowan

I think many of us have pondered the notion of flowers as gifts. On some level, giving a flower says, “Here is a beautiful object. Now, you have to take care of it, but even if you do, it will still shrivel up and die. Oh, here’s a tiny packet of magic powder that will make it last a couple more days at least!” If this is a metaphor for love, who wants it?

Well, I’ve decided that maybe I do. Sure, eternal love is a nice thought, but until I reach that level with someone, I’m okay with a flower-like love—beautiful, fragrant, gentle, and when it fades, it fades. Put some effort and sparkle into it, and it might last a little longer.

I mean, I almost feel like a fraud telling someone I’ll love him or her forever. Is that possible? Can I really say that? The cynic in me emerges when I hear other couples exchange vows of unending love and rapture. It’s not that I don’t believe that they currently feel that way. I simple know the truth of what I’ve observed. Forever love is possible, but it’s certainly not the norm.

Throughout all aspects my life, the temporary nature of most things comforts me. In the midst of my eating disorder especially, every decision seemed so weighty, every feeling so insurmountable, every challenge so unending. Nowadays, I can face feelings and know that they will end. I may feel sad now, but I may not tomorrow—or even in as little as an hour. Feelings are fleeting.

Situations are temporary, too. A heinous roommate, a broken-down car, an electrical outage—they are all situations that can be moved out of or changed. Most illnesses even fall into this category. Most of the time, we just need to keep taking steps, any steps, and we will get out of the muck much faster than if we lay down and cry because our options appear nonexistent. (Of course, lying down and doing nothing can be entirely appropriate, but doing nothing can be considered a step in itself. Life is contradiction. Deal with it.)

Knowing that things will change and move with or without my effort takes a weight off of my shoulders. If I don’t like the bouquet life has given me, it will die pretty soon anyway. I can even throw it away before it dies if I want to! Sometimes, I have to wait for things to change on their own; other times, I can help speed the process. The bottom line is, I’m never stuck. Things are always moving, and there’s always an opportunity for growth and a place for newness to slip in.

Now that I’ve defended a cynical disbelief in eternal love, I’ll turn to the small percent of love that verges on deserving the adjective “forever.” It seems to me that the love that lasts a lifetime is really a series of different loves strung together and evolving in and out of one another. Other languages have dozens of words for love, an idea for which the English language is sadly lacking. Those other languages explicitly recognize what we all know: There are many different kinds of love.

And I need different kinds of love. I don’t always need the kind of love that gives me things all the time. Sometimes, I need a love that shows me how to deal with not having what I want. Sometimes, I need admirers; other times, I need peers or even pity. Sometimes, a mother love is best, then a father love, then a friend love, then a romantic love.

Of course, emotional love is important, but so is love that takes action and does things that say, “I love you.” Some kinds of love are less actionable but no less deep. Some loves baby us, and other loves tell us to buck up and move on. Some love accepts us exactly as we are, and another love might encourage us to change. All of these kinds of love, and more, cycle in upon each other and take turns.

There may be times in a relationship when two people treat each other more as friends, then more as lovers, then more as colleagues. The pros at this learn to integrate all kinds of love. They appreciate the diverse methods of love-showing instead of getting stuck in a single idea of love. And most importantly, I think, forever lovers remain open to the idea that love could change, and they embrace that change and love in whatever way they are capable of at the time.

No love is perfect, or maybe that means it’s all perfect.

Anyway, my final conclusion is that flowers are, in fact, an entirely appropriate representation of love. As if it even needed to be said…