The English language is an amazing thing. It's malleable, and adaptable; it grows and changes and, magpie-like, picks up words and phrases from other tongues. We are a country forged by invasion. We speak words every day that we inherited by Romans and Saxons and Vikings. We are influenced by Greek and French and German. And yet, we only have one word for love.
On Wednesday, I looked around a university to find out if I wanted to go there. It was St Andrews, a pretty university in a pretty village on the pretty coast of Scotland. It wasn't so pretty when I was there. It was raining so hard the drops bounced off the ground, forming a grey mist for several feet around. I knew all about the course and I had looked up the different halls of residence. But I had to visit.
It's like online dating. You might be the perfect match on paper, but you have to meet in person, to find out for sure. To see if you click.
St Andrews and I didn't click.
On my third date with The Boy, on his birthday, we were sat in a bakery in London, on barstools, eating cake with shiny metal forks. I sighed, and told him all about the fact I was torn between two universities. It had been a long time since he was in my position. I don't know if he ever felt that indecision. I just wanted to talk through my feelings, and had arbitrarily decided he was going to listen to me.
One university was a more logical choice than the other. It was a case of practicalities, I supposed.
He looked at me over his carrot cake (all our conversations seem to happen over food) and said, "Don't make a logical decision. Base it on your feelings. Go with your gut."
I had assumed, therefore, that I would fall in love with one or other university. Naively, I had thought that when I found the place I wanted to go, I would just know. I would become enamoured with the campus, the town, the dorms. The very feel of the place. I would leave, and know in my bones I wanted to go there.
York was... nice. I could imagine myself there. St Andrews was also nice. But neither one made my heart pound and flutter. Neither one gave me that swelling in my chest, or the sensation of my blood skipping in my veins, that made me think "...oh. I want to come and study here." Neither town felt like home; they felt like places I was passing through.
And so, with no emotional component to make me select one place over the other, York seemed more sensible. It is closer home, closer to a big city, and with better travel links should I wish to escape the campus for the weekend. I don't love it, but I feel that maybe I will come to. Love at first sight is all well and good, but it's got a limited scope. I think I prefer the love that grows and develops, which falls for flaws as well as the pretty veneer over them.
I firmly believe you can fall in love with things other than people. Love is a word with many sub-categories. Saying "I love you" to my friends is different to saying it to my grandad, or my paramour, or my cat. When we talk about "love letters", we think of notes written in copperplate to a husband, a girlfriend, a romantic partner who makes your lungs feel squeezed and gasping for air.
I think we need to write love letters to everything and everyone we hold dear. I need to write love letters to my friends, to my family, to individual aspects of life that makes it worth holding onto.
If I could, I'd write a love letter to a place. I'd write it to Bawdsey, a village in Suffolk, a place which smells how I imagine 1955 would smell. I would pen the letter on a rock from the shore; write it with a stick of chalk; fashion an envelope from the leaves in the graveyard where my paternal family are buried; post it out to the slate grey sea and watch it wash up on some other beach, in some other town that smells like another time.
Perhaps one day I will want to write a love letter to York, to its castles and history and cobbled streets. Perhaps one day, I will want to write a love letter to The Boy (because it's so much easier to communicate when there's a piece of paper to act as a barrier between you. And a text just wouldn't be the same. It's all very well having the versatility of English, but that counts for nothing when a smile can wipe your mind blank. I can't imagine heaving my heart into my mouth; I'd rather keep it in my fingertips.)
The way I see it, we all cultivate our own language. It's a personal amalgamation of slang and phrases and injokes and gestures and expressions that is so uniquiely us. It bends according to how others speak, what we read and what we hear. It's our own little take on English. And in my take on English, love still means many things. I love home. I love my laptop. I even love you, dear reader. I think I mean love most when I write it down, because letters on a page are a solid record. They are there long after the whispered Iloveyous have evaporated into the air. I want love to exist than more than just a memory: I need the proof.