Take That once asked, in their song of the same name: "What is Love?"
I don't claim to have the right answer. But if the last few months of my life have taught me anything, it's that love is one of the most powerful, primal emotions a human will ever feel. With it, it brings a myriad of other emotions to confuse and delight the brain. Without it, a person can feel lost, even when at home. Lonely, even when with friends.
In terms of romantic love, the emotional rollercoaster has even more dips and loops to endure. Life would be easier if love was simple. If we could say "I am in love with him" and KNOW he felt the same. If someone said "I love you" and we knew we could believe them. If we could be closer to someone than anyone else in the world and not be so utterly apart just days or weeks later, that we start to question whether they ever cared for us at all. Or if the line between friendship and romance was never blurred.
The end of love - in any form - throws up so many unanswered questions and barbed insults, it becomes a bizarre edition of The Weakest Link for broken hearts. "Has he just replaced me with her (or in some cases, them)?!" May be the unanswerable question. "Of course he has; you're ugly and fat and he never really cared about you anyway," is the barbed insult we can't help but direct at ourselves.
Because of course, when someone we love loves us, we are confident. We look in the mirror and see the beautiful/handsome/funny person that they tell us that they see. We think "yes, I am a great cook/amazing in bed/the best listener in the world," because we hear those things from someone we trust. Someone we think all of those same things about. Someone we want to love us, because we adore them.
So it only stands to reason that should that person reject us, push us away or replace us, we magnify our own feelings of rejection by taking negative comments they may have made about us and not only agreeing with them, but deliberately building on them. Or, when the person has never really made a convincing argument for your sudden and complete dismissal from their life, trying to work out what it is about you that is so fundamentally unloveable (even though the truth usually is that there's nothing unloveable about you at all). "It's because I do that thing he always nagged me to stop doing," or "what if it's because she thought I was crap in bed?!"
And of course, if you're the one doing the ditching, you suddenly view this person who changed your whole life in an entirely different light. Whether that's because you genuinely don't love them anymore, or because you've met someone else and decided not to bother with the old partner anymore, or because you're simply looking for an excuse to end things (for any number of reasons, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous). Suddenly, the person you called and talked to for hours and hours is being "too in my face and not giving me enough space." The person you had once been wanted to see as often as possible, who you hated to see walk out of the door, is suddenly "clingy" or "possessive" if he or she shows that they feel exactly the same. All those "funny" little habits that person had - the silly things you'd tease them for, just as much as you loved them for them - are suddenly annoying.
Then, when it's all over, neither the dumper nor the dump-ee emerges as a "winner." Unless someone is completely devoid of all human emotion, or is burying their head so firmly in the sand that they truly believe they can let go without having to feel any pain whatsoever (regardless of whether they pushed the person away or whether they themselves were pushed), there will be suffering on both sides. Guilt is the primary feeling. "Should I have fought harder to keep us together?" Or "Did I do something to make them not love me anymore?!" Then loss and anger, confusion... With all of these horrendous, painful emotions swirling through every break-up like a hurricane of misery, it's a wonder anyone ever enters into a relationship, such is the risk.
In the aftermath of any kind of break-up, some people jump into bed with another man or woman as quickly as they can, thinking they can somehow replace the person they lost or pushed away. Others try to find answers at the bottom of a bottle. You might take it out on yourself, be it physically or emotionally.
But what astounds me most about love, is that no matter how much it breaks our hearts and leaves us feeling sick, under-confident and angry, it rarely leads to us giving up forever.
Time apart can lead someone to look back on the person they lost and, someday, to remember their good points. What silly things you shared together, the memories you created and the chemistry that you once had. Of course in other cases, time apart causes someone to suppress every positive thought they ever had of the man or woman who was once the very centre of their world. An olive branch may be offered and ignored, causing a barely healed wound to open up again.
But either way, some day we find ourselves ready to try again. I'm not talking about shagging around with random people. I mean to try a relationship with one person. One, special person who we feel ready to open up to. To share that closeness with again. And unless we close ourselves off and refuse to learn, or refuse to take our fair share of the blame for the downfall of our last relationship, we will hopefully avoid repeating the same mistakes again.
Love has a strange way of bringing us full circle. And even a broken heart will - I hope - not prevent us from going forward and finding someone to share our lives with.
Whatever love really is - a best friend, a lover, someone we're closer to than anyone else in the world - I know I don't want to stop learning more about it. You can bury your head in the sand, you can suppress your feelings and make out as though you never cared for someone, or replace something real with something frivolous. You can weep and wail and declare yourself to be unloveable. You can tell youself you'll never love again.
But almost all of us will.
Because, as Take That sang, we all want to learn what love really is:
If love is truth, then let it break my heart.
If love is fear, lead me to the dark.
If love is a game, I'm playing all my cards.
What is love?