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Love is a peculiar thing. So many people want it, so many people crave it, so many write about it and sing about it and commodify it—and yet it remains elusive, hard to find while also seemingly everywhere. There is the love between mother and child, between pet and owner, between partners, between friends. Each type of love is different, and even within its differences, there are constant mutations and evolutions. Love on Monday may be different than love on Tuesday. Love may vanish only to appear magically with a certain look or a specific phrase, with a particular gift or simply a gesture. It can also disappear as suddenly as it emerged. Or it can last years beyond its expiration date, an inexplicable hold between two people who cannot pull away from each other.

One of the most fascinating aspects of love to me, beyond all of those above, is the terror that may come along with it, like so much excess baggage. Why would something that brings us so much pleasure also provide so much fear? When someone gives us a gift, tangible or otherwise, our stomachs rarely recoil with panic at the thought of that gift being taken away again. We appreciate the gift for what it is, we consume it (if it is that kind of gift), and if, one day, we lose it, or it is stolen, or we lend it to someone who neglects to return it, we mourn its loss, but we don’t live in fear of that loss until that separation happens.

And yet love appears to come with a footnote: “Be mindful, imminent loss is not only possible but likely.”

So as much as we crave the endorphins and the hormones and the rush and the butterflies, sometimes the first thing love makes us do is run as quickly as possible in the opposite direction. As wonderful and delightful and magical as love can be, safety may seem like the preferred recourse.

How perverse. How foolish. How incomprehensible. And yet so totally natural.

Because love is unlike any kind of gift, tangible or otherwise. Love grips us by the balls, as they say, and holds us hostage. Love makes us her bitch. And we know that, once we succumb to her whims, that there is no getting out. Not until she is ready for us to be let go.

And then, like former hostages, we may return to reality, dazed, shell-shocked, uncertain what to do with this newfound freedom, riddled with a Stockholm Syndrome that leaves us tied to our hostage taker, debating whether we had it better before or now. Even worse, heartbreak can hurt like a motherfucker.

So when confronted with love, we hesitate, because we know that if we jump in there will probably be a serious case of the bends as we adjust to a depth that always comes too fast, the inevitable nausea of vulnerability, and the potential clenching across the chest of emotions that seem too large for the physical space of your body but yet get lodged behind the ribcage and can’t quite get out.

It may be hard enough to find someone worthy of love—and then, like a numbers game, the odds of finding someone who loves you back can feel both random and impossible—but then once those two magical elements coincide, the universe still has her last laugh.

“It’s love you want?” she asks. “Sure. And here’s your chaser of fear.”

So not only do you have to persevere against the numbers game to find that certain someone, but you have to persevere against what happens when you “win.” Because sometimes, even that victory can come with baggage of its own. And sometimes, the bigger the love, the more terrifying the thought of its loss.

And the bigger the love, the more naked we are in front of it.