Is a slow burn the best way to fall in love?


On being a more patient dater.

I’m in isolation at a beach rental in Sorrento, sitting beside a standing fan in lieu of my boyfriend. I understand this is an extremely privileged position to be on hiatus in, but I miss his company after only a few days of separation. He has coronavirus back at home, and I’m here being a little hermit (while on holiday-ish) for the week. 

My wanting to know his day-by-day play-by-play is a weird new feeling – a visceral nosiness verging on obsession, completely foreign to me only four or so months ago before we met. I just audibly laughed at a photo of a giant inflatable pool now claiming the surface area of his entire front driveway, with an iPad perched at its side to display one of life’s greatest miseries: the cricket. 

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My time in enforced solitude is as bliss as it really can be. I’m so far just sunning myself, eating, priming myself for season two of Cheer, soft-launching work for the year, and catching up on a chunky reading pile. And waiting to see him again.

The common denominator for the books I’m reading is love and all kinds of it. There’s Stanley Tucci’s Taste, Trent Dalton’s latest success Love Stories, and I recently closed the final chapter of Natasha Lunn’s Conversations on Love. What struck me in Lunn’s collection of essays with acclaimed writers and journalists weighing in on the big and vast beast that is love, was a particular passage by the author herself on the pace at which we develop feelings for someone.

“I used to envy people who fell in love at first sight, because Dan and I didn’t. We took a couple of months – at least – to get to know each other, and a couple more after that to commit to a relationship,” writes Lunn. 

“We were both guarded. We both held back. Perhaps we were both a little afraid, too. For all those reasons, the early months of dating felt like trying to blow up a balloon that wouldn’t inflate, and our love story bears little resemblance to the ones I grew up idealising, where attraction was instant and urgent.” 

Lunn goes on to unravel the idea of really, truly knowing a person – for their good, their bad, their unexpected bits – as a whole, rather than a ‘fantasy’ version of who they are. She calls this kind of love quiet and sturdy. She continues, “It did, however, turn out to be my most romantic relationship: a slow-burn love story, no less poignant for its undramatic beginnings on a dating app.” And that word poignant is perfect. It’s not exhilarating or dramatic or reminiscent of fireworks, but it’s something longer-lasting than that. 

Maybe it’s the pandemic or heartaches or just growing my brain a little more towards its fully developed state, but if you asked me a year or two ago, “What kind of love do you wish for?”, I would’ve wanted something poetic and important, grandiose and gorgeous and grizzly, all at the same time. That’s probably the writer and the stereotypical Nicholas Sparks breed of romantic in me. I would have been tremendously unrealistic, dreaming up an elusive impossibility of a partner that didn’t exist. 

Even reading Trent Dalton’s Love Stories, in which he sits at the side of a road in Brisbane asking strangers to tell him what they know about romance, relationships and the real thing, there are so many snippets of fate and tragedy and real tear-jerking tales that never started with a like on Hinge. 

I think it’s only taken me until the last 12 months, through learning the hard way (my favourite way), that true love doesn’t have to be perfectly scripted with a wild story arch and melancholy and fighting for someone. Sometimes, the most profound relationships are the quiet, unfailing, resilient ones that we often take for granted because of their matter-of-factness, their being-always-around-ness, and their simplicity. 

I just want to get coffee and go on day trips to wineries and peruse furniture and hang out with friends and cook meals with a partner. Of course, occasionally, we’ll do far more adventurous and miraculous things, but it’s the small stuff that brings the greatest joy for the most part. 

Without romanticising my life, I can see three great human loves that I have at this exact moment in time. There is the one I feel for my mother, who has always been there and always will be there for as long as she can. There is that I have for my greatest friendships – one in particular that started 12-ish years ago and stumps me every time I try to put it in a neat string of words. Then, there is this brand new love: the warm and increasing swell of care and appreciation I feel for someone who just entered the scene, and who I hope won’t exit for a really long time. 

The thing tying all of these loves together is time, mutual understanding and patience. I have a flair for the dramatics, but there’s no need for that in the context of real love. That kind of romance can’t be manifested overnight or via the most expensive champagne in the world.

It’s through 5am forehead kisses before leaving for work, leftovers for dinner when you’re tired, the gradual reduction of wearing any makeup when you see them (as silly as that sounds), or a sacrificed RAT when you’ve been to 500 chemists this morning. It’s toothpaste on your toothbrush before you even enter the bathroom, and phone calls, and stupid daily updates, and consistency.

My point is, if you’re looking to find love of any kind, patience is important. Knowing someone for who they are is important. You’re going to unearth all different versions of that person, too, so it might take some time before you’re truly set on them being someone that’s right for you. But gradually, date by date, week by week, sleepover by sleepover, month by month, hard chat by hard chat, you’ll come to a gradual realisation of who they are and who you are around them. 

We’re always looking for instant gratification on dating apps, or from across the bar, or being seated next to a potential paramour at a dinner party, but something I’ve only realised so recently is the integral consideration of time. Understanding someone takes more than a first date (with some exceptions), or a few static conversations over text. You might scratch the surface of what they do, what condiments they put in the fucking fridge, or their star sign, but you’re going to need to stick around for longer to get to the good bits, or the deal-breaking bits. 

I’m with someone now who feels like a completely different person from when I first met them. Both iterations made me smile and laugh and feel at ease, but they’re still different versions. It’s the most complex and sometimes confronting and beautiful process, learning about someone so intimately, but I assure you that it is a process of time. While many of us want many things in life here and now with urgent immediacy, let’s ensure finding love remains one of the precious processes we take slowly, deliberately, and patiently.

This article was originally published on January 12, 2022.

Genevieve Phelan is Fashion Journal’s Lifestyle & Careers Columnist. Her writing fuses introspection with investigation, calling on her own personal anecdotes and the advice of admired experts in the realms of intimacy, money, friendship, careers and love. You can find her here and here.

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