But how does genuine romantic love happen? That there is such a thing as ‘love at first sight’ few would be prepared to deny. It is certainly rare, probably very rare, but it does undoubtedly occur. While it would probably be true to say that the knowledge that this experience really was romantic love, and not one of its many imitations, does not come until very much later, yet the thing manifestly does happen to some people at least. In one sudden flash of first meeting, often indeed without any actual contact or communication, the knowledge is born that here at last is the real romance. And, as with physical birth, everything else in two lives is but the growth and development of one supreme moment.
Sometimes, on the other hand, and as if to balance love at first sight, love is of very gradual and almost imperceptible growth; while normal experience is perhaps something between these two extremes.
Such more normal and gradual falling in love, in a direction where perhaps we did not expect it, is delightfully described in the third and final verse of Rupert Brooke’s poem O Love, they said, is King of Kings:
And so I never feared to see
You wander down the street,
Or come across the fields to me
On ordinary feet;
For what they’d never told me of,
And what I never knew,
It was that all the time, my love,
Love would be merely you.
Another very fine description, the more important because it contains a phrase which is applicable to every kind of genuine falling in love, occurs in Pamela Hansford-Johnson’s novel An Impossible Marriage. Here she describes, as in the first person, that change of apprehension which made her look upon a very familiar person in an entirely new manner: ‘It was upon me suddenly in joy, bewilderment, and something like fear, when, after years of knowing, and of complex but unanalysed friendship, I had looked upon the object of it with new eyes.’
’Looked . . . with new eyes’; that is the core of the experience. This shifting apprehension, which may come at first sight, or may delay for the thousandth, is the real heart of what we mean by the phrase ‘falling in love.’ The question which we now have to ask is: what is it which is now seen which was not visible before? What is it that the lover sees which remains apparently quite invisible to everyone else?
William P. Wylie (from The Pattern of Love, 1958)
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