I once interviewed a man who told me that just like he couldn’t describe a beautiful painting before he saw it, he couldn’t describe his perfect mate until he met her. I couldn’t tell if he was romantic or just cheesy, but it stuck with me: How can you feel something for someone you haven’t even met?
In the last few years, though, I’ve discovered what it’s like to love people I haven’t met. Deeply.
We know about unrequited love. Great poets, pop stars and playwrights have penned famous works about this.
We know about lost love, and the aching feeling of grief after a loved one has left us, physically or emotionally.
We even know about lazy love, the understanding that we’re in a relationship with someone who isn’t driving the relationship forward.
All of these versions of love make us miss someone we know, but don’t really have.
But what do we make of the love we feel for someone we’ve never even met or seen?
I first realized I had this version of unmet love in the fall of 2013. After an appointment where I saw my baby’s heartbeat for the first time on an ultrasound, I returned to the office a week later and was told the heart stopped. My heart sank.
I could no longer feel my feet in the cold stirrups. I stared at the sky mural on the ceiling as the doctor’s assistant politely asked me to put my pants back on when I was ready. I stumbled to find my underwear and don’t remember how I got home.
Until then, I didn’t even know if I wanted to be a mother; but when the baby was growing inside of me, I knew without a doubt that I loved this being. I felt its growing heart attach to mine, and I knew I was meant to be her mom. (It was a girl, I later found out.) I couldn’t wait to meet our child. Knowing her wasn’t a prerequisite to loving.
READ: My Mom Lost Two Babies Before I Was Born. Sometimes I Felt Like I Was Living for All Three of Us
Over a dozen fertility treatments and dozens of embryos later, I still pine for someone I’ve never met.
I’ve mothered my unborn child — worrying about it, celebrating it, amazed by it and in love with it. I’ve taken hundreds (and hundreds) of injections in my belly and backside over the last six years thinking, “Kid, you’re going to hear this story one day. Just try to complain! Do you know what I did for you to get here?”
I think about how one day my child and I will laugh about that time I had to do fertility shots in an airplane bathroom (so wobbly, I almost stabbed myself in the eye!), or the time I got to know my husband’s co-worker better as he injected needles in my body while my husband was at a bar mitzvah in Toronto. “Mazel Tov!” I exclaimed after he pulled out each syringe. (Turns out, I find it helpful to diffuse awkward situations with even more awkward humor.)
I’ll tell my kid about the time the women in the bar on the Lower East Side banged on the bathroom door to ask what was taking me so long, and I responded, “I’m doing shots. Not the fun kind!” And, I’ll talk about how I once had to present a ‘Meet the One’ dating workshop to 300 women at Lord & Taylor the day after I miscarried. I stood next to the publisher of Allure Magazine smiling for the event photographer, and feeling like I was going to pass out. (When I look at pictures from that day I see how sad I look.) This happened many years into unsuccessful fertility treatments. I really thought I’d meet this one.
I’ll make sure to mention how I never left home for a doctor’s appointment without my oversized sunglasses in my bag, so I could wear them on the subway ride home when I had to cry. I’ll be honest about the fact that this happened a lot before we met.
I love a person I haven’t met yet. I don’t need to describe the picture, as the man I interviewed did, to know how I feel about it.
When you’re pregnant-ish, you can’t always explain or even place this love; but it’s there for all the women and men I’ve spoken to who ache to meet their child.
People who want babies but can’t easily get pregnant put their bodies and bank accounts through a lot to get there. Americans undergoing fertility treatments spend an average of $20,000 on invasive procedures. Whether or not they are using their own eggs or sperm, relying on a surrogate, or waiting on a list as hopeful adoptive parents, they are investing in a person and a relationship because of love.
This love is one that hurts you in the present but may reward you in the future — a joy that that will come to life when the baby does.
But unmet love isn’t just about yearning for someone to show up. There’s another type of this love that I’ve experienced. This version is connected to a person from the past that you never knew, but whose presence is very much with you.
You may have heard you resemble or act like this person. You may be blood-related and they may have died before you were born; or maybe you’ve heard about sacrifices this person made to help your family, and you by proxy, to the place you are at today.
Maybe you’re the child or grandchild of an immigrant, and find yourself awestruck when you think about the journey that your ancestors took and the sacrifices they made to get here. Isn’t it expected that we may feel a deep gratitude and even love for these people?
‘I’ve mothered my unborn child — worrying about it, celebrating it, amazed by it and in love with it.’
One of the most heartwrenching love stories I’ve ever heard features my great-grandparents, whom I never met. My dad, a Holocaust survivor from Budapest, had a grandfather who very much loved his wife, who was diabetic. When they were taken in their 50s on a forced march (sometimes called a “death march”) and were ordered to walk through arduous conditions from morning to night, my dad’s grandmother couldn’t continue without her insulin. Of course, this wasn’t permitted as Jews captured were hardly given food or water, let alone medication.
The story goes that when my great-grandmother collapsed and was shot dead, my great-grandfather jumped in front of a train. He couldn’t bear to live without her.
Two summers ago on a family trip to Budapest, my late 87-year-old cousin Gabi showed me the outside of the apartment where my grandfather once lived, and where his parents lived before they were taken away. It was visually unimpressive but extraordinary to me.
I was fixated on the yellow building, their street-facing window, the small balcony and the large tree in front. It struck me that these were literally my roots. It’s the spot where my family’s story changed. It’s the reason I have only a handful of relatives on my father’s side.
I sometimes catch myself staring at the photos of a large number of my dad’s family members who were killed and feeling both angry and full of love. They feel like an intrinsic part of me, and I miss them and the opportunities that were taken away when they were.
I can’t neatly place these deep feelings but they certainly feel like love.
But since when are great love stories linear?
READ: I Shared Our Pregnancy News Early. Now That I Had Miscarried, I Hardly Knew What To Say
Last Valentine’s Day, a national publication called me with a “simple question” that was actually the most complicated:
“What is love?”
I’ve learned that love is a feeling – not a thought. We may not know why it’s there, but we know when it’s there. The very act of questioning what love is somehow diminishes it.
Love makes all the sense in the world and no sense at all. It’s easy and organic, and also complicated. It empowers you to feel like the best version of yourself, even as it holds space for self-doubt. It’s comforting and uncomfortable. It’s vulnerable.
This version of unmet love that I’ve experienced — it’s real.
I now know that just because I haven’t met someone from the past or future, the vulnerability and closeness I feel with them inspire the deepest feelings of connection and meaning that I have ever experienced.
It must be love.
Andrea Syrtash is the author of “He’s Just Not Your Type (And That’s a Good Thing),” “Cheat On Your Husband (With Your Husband)” and “It’s Okay to Sleep with Him on the First Date: And Every Other Rule of Dating, Debunked.” She’s written for many outlets including Glamour, Oprah and MSN; and regularly weighs in with her relationship advice on television and radio shows across the country. Andrea’s the co-host of “Life Story Project,” formerly on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, and is currently on this season of “Irreconcilable Differences” on the Reelz Channel. Most recently, Andrea launched pregnantish, the first media site to help singles, couples and LGBT people navigate the personal and practical side of infertility.