Subtle kinds of love

Abstract pen illustration with rock-like and earthy patterns
Layla Chamberlain/Staff

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People tend to think of love as big romantic gestures. Whether this be a proposal or a gift of roses on Valentine’s Day or even a dance scene at the end of a rom-com, we tend to imagine love as dramatic, honorary and sometimes showy performance. Icons and images of love in popular culture are often glamorous, extravagant and picturesque. Many will remember Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey dancing to “The Time of My Life” in “Dirty Dancing” or Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” when they picture the heat and passion of romance.

While this kind of love does exist, it is a very stereotypical portrait and does not make space for the other ways of loving. 

To me, the ways that we fall in love with people, things, ideas or even ourselves is through the intimacy we build through moments in between romantic climaxes. These kinds of love don’t have a clear name or identity because they escape us all of the time. They are the little crannies and bits of our routines that are often banal and uninteresting, but their routine presence in our lives is what makes us nostalgic for them when they are gone. It’s like when you miss a friend that you haven’t seen in a long time the parts that you miss about them are the peculiarities of your friendship or of the person they are. These small details are less important to the general picture, but they are the ones that remain most impressionable to you and that fortify your love for them.

Because these subtle ways of loving do not have formal names or definitions, I will try to give them more contour and shape through the vehicle of poetry… 


These kinds of love are shadowless. They don’t ask for praise. They don’t brag about their achievements. They are simply beautiful in their humble texture and in their allusive appearances. 


These kinds of love are the routines of our everyday life that fade into the background, 

and give our homes color and depth,

and embrace us

in unsurprising ways. 


They are married to time, 

and wedded to nostalgia. 


These kinds of love are the impressions and memories that cling onto the walls around us. They are the dingy smell of their coat. They are the way sunshine creeps in your window on a late morning. They are the crooked tooth in their cheery grin. They are blooming clovers under your windowsill last week. 


They are the gray sound of a long-distance call. They are the way that you tell me your dreams in the morning before you wake up. 


These kinds of love happen around us all the time, and when we forget to see them, our vision begins to blur. And time passes by all the faster. 


They are the creakiness of your ceiling when you run out of thoughts. 

They are the hollowness of the air between this secret and me. 


These kinds of love aren’t always little gems. 


Sometimes these kinds of love are the ones we don’t want to love back. They are that stubborn habit that we want to change but can’t find the means to. They are thoughts we hide from ourselves. They are the feeling of holding yourself when you don’t want to. They are that nervous tic you thought you grew out of.


But even in our denial of their existence, 

learning to love them, 

is a courageous step of self-healing 

and self-loving. 


And even when we learn to love these kinds of love, we can fall back out of love with them, and feel betrayed and vulnerable. But love happens in rhythms, not directions. 


There are many permutations and iterations of love that exist all around us all of the time. These are the kinds of love that form our sense of home, whether that be within ourselves, with a partner, a friend, a relative, a place or even a state of mind.

In a culture so obsessed with lust, charisma, attraction and sex, we often forget to pay attention to these subtle ways of loving that drift between big romantic gestures and don’t have a showy performance or consume the stage. These gestures are intimate, gentle and phantomlike. And while they may seem boring or uninteresting, they still need to be cared for. For if you don’t, you’ll forget they ever existed at all.


Contact Layla Chamberlin at [email protected].

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