The thing about love

Truth be told, I'm a romantic, so if you don't believe in all that mushy stuff and would rather attend Dan Savage's 10th Annual Valentine's Smash Bash at Neumo's, stop here. Otherwise, consider this one reflection on the current state of love, circa 2007.

Watching tulip bulbs begin their ascent on Capitol Hill, I'm feeling whimsical, distracted and a bit lusty. Maybe I'm afflicted with spring fever, which arrives earlier in this part of the country.

While my boyfriend Ter and I have been together for more than three years, we've never needed to hide that we might find another person attractive. That kind of honesty, in our opinion, enhances the relationship.

Admittedly, a time or two it's caused a problem but we talk it out and understand why after the conversation. And still we are able to revel whenever we spot a hunky "surfer boy" crossing the street or in the grocery store aisle, and excitedly tell the other about the sighting.

This weekend Ter attended a conference in Oakland, leaving me here in Seattle to enjoy some alone time. Like most non-cohabiting couples we spend weekends together, but several times a year find ourselves apart. Time away from each other provides an opportunity to reflect and consider how the relationship has grown and changed, or hasn't.

Saturday afternoon a friend and I caught Peter O'Toole's Oscar-nominated performance in "Venus." The film, an inter-generational love story, explores the blossoming relationship between an elderly actor and his old friend's grand-niece, newly arrived in London to stay with him and escape her mother.

The movie challenged my perceptions and reminded me about the different kinds of love there are. Younger men often get trapped in the physical aspects of love: the bravado and machismo of it all, the hot sex and notches on the bedpost. O'Toole's Maurice is a sprite, amorous old soul. He discovers inspiration in Jessie, the young woman who stirs his passion with her toughness and vulnerability.

She pushes him to see the entirety of her, and by so doing reveals her broken heart. He soon begins to recognize his own impermanence, and how little he knows of himself in the golden stretch of his life. The touch of her hand, the smell of her neck, the brush of a wave of her hair ignite a genuine and lasting intimacy.

We left the theater to the strains of Corinne Bailey Rae's fluid, jazzy "Put Your Records On," and into the mid-afternoon sunshine.

Strolling 15th Avenue after the show, I called Ter at the conference and left a voicemail to let him know I was thinking of him. We've had fights over my absent-mindedness, or neglect, in failing to call when I'm out of town. He wants to know I'm all right, and staying in touch offers that reassurance. Thanks to an adolescence lived with an overeager mom, too much contact often feels smothering to me, which is why I'm not always good in this area. But we talk about it and make it work.

Earlier that day my friend Warner announced he married his boyfriend last week in Canada. And at dinner the night before I learned from another pal he and a woman friend had conceived and were expecting twins in July. They planned to move into a house together and share parenting duties. My own whimsy, mixed with happiness and excitement for my friends, radiated into the urban oasis.

Ambling solo through Cal Anderson Park after a trip to the post office, I watched couples holding hands, people walking their dogs, women and men alone, and together in same sex and opposite sex pairings. Some met my eyes and smiled. Synchronicity appeared everywhere.

That's why I dig Capitol Hill. Even though I'm a man who loves my boyfriend, and appreciates other men, gayness isn't my entirety. Experiencing "Venus" brought to mind my cousin Rebecca's visit in stormy December. The joy I experienced spending time with her left a permanent imprint on my heart. During a shopping trip to Take Two, the retro clothing store on 15th, I watched as she tried on various dresses and modeled them for me outside the changing room. Twenty-seven and tall, she radiated beauty. Each dress adorned her. She bought a more conservative black and white one, but the one in chartreuse (who can wear that color and carry it off?) looked so stunning against her pale, blond good looks. I made a mental note.

After Christmas I visited the shop and discovered the dress on sale. Excited I snapped it up and mailed it back to the Midwest in a big Barney's giftbox. All I could remember is the pleasure I experienced when she first emerged with it on. When it arrived in Cleveland, Rebecca called, ecstatic. "Beautiful," she exclaimed. "It's so beautiful."

So that's the thing about love. It comes in many shapes and sizes, and can often surprise us when we allow it in. It spans relationships and generations. Love can hurt like hell, and challenge us in ways we thought we weren't ready for. And in the same breath call out better angels lurking inside us-kindness, compassion, and generosity we didn't even know existed.

Jack Hilovsky's column appears in the second issue of each month. He can be reached at editor

[[In-content Ad]]