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The Language of Love by Matilda Dods

WRITTEN BY: MATILDA DODS

PHOTOGRAPHY BY: DAN ROBERTS

STYLED BY: EMMA KALFUS

MODEL: CHIARA DORWARD @IMG

When I think about intimacy, I think of it in stages. Much like the six stages of grief, or AA, but way more fun. I think of early awkwardness, my first kiss. The first time I felt comfortable or confident enough with a partner to give them directions in bed. The first time a partner knew me well enough to not require instructions. When our physical intimacy becomes a second language. 

Then I think of the kinds of intimacies I have only observed, or read about. Getting married, having children, choosing curtains together and growing old. The languages of love that surpass a second language and become inherent in the relationship. Intimate fluency. 

When I think of the progression of intimacy I think of the shift between the early excitement and passion of everything being said, to the passion of everything being assumed. 

After two decades, I’m still yet to experience the latter of these intimacies. However, I can confidently say that I know the former… intimately. 

I have spent hours waiting by the phone, checking constantly for the only name I care about at one time or another to appear in neon on the screen. Waiting like a school child waits for the summer holidays, for the attention and adoration of whoever I have chosen to share myself with. 

The rush of falling for someone with total abandon is an incomparable high. First dates, first kisses, first night spent together. The innumerable firsts that offer countless waves of adrenaline crashing through adolescent bloodstreams. Everything must be said, and it must be said passionately and constantly, lest your new and slightly awkward tenth-grade boyfriend forget or question your lust and devotion.

There is a sweet and sticky awkwardness of falling in love that never truly leaves, even after the days of high school and asking your parents’ permission to go out with your boyfriend. Like an ice cream melting down your fingers, sugary trails to be licked off hands and wrists, leaving behind a sticky residue. This syrupy substance, while slightly uncomfortable only serves as a sweet reminder, long after the ice cream stick has been licked clean and discarded. 

 

Chiara Dorward @IMG photographed by Dan Roberts

Intimacy comes in the strangest of forms, in the gaps left between the shiny new relationship rom-com moments. The first time you pat your girlfriend’s back while she vomits, and keep her hydrated to get her through the ensuing hangover. It’s sharing the flu because you can’t stand to be apart for the few days it would take to pass. The snotty, blocked nose kisses before it does. 

But more than anything, to me, when falling in love – beautiful, awkward, clumsy love – the intimacy lies in the urgency with which we do it. 

It’s saying I love you 100 times a day. It’s constant brushes past and holding hands, physical reminders that even though you both know you’re going home together, you can’t stand to be apart beforehand. It’s saying I miss you when you come home from work, the constant verbal reminders of ‘I’m here, and I love you!!’. It’s the startlingly beautiful and delicate belief held within the early stages of intimacy that feels like no one else knows this kind of love. We’ve cracked the code. 

Next, while still swathed in the urgency of the honeymoon phase, come the quiet subtle hints of the assumed. The beginnings of habits that become rituals, that become the poles between which we centre ourselves. For me right now, it’s the safe assumption that my boyfriend and I, come Monday evening, will walk five minutes up the road to our favourite ramen restaurant and order the same thing that we ordered last week.. and the week before, and the same thing we will order next week too. It’s knowing each other’s coffee orders and sharing them by the window most mornings. It’s the subtle yet solid foundations that our fairly new, but very hopeful relationship is slowly being built upon. 

I don’t know yet, what it means to know a person inside out, to have them know me back to front. I only know this young, clumsy and deliberate love. Of still picking and choosing what we share and what we keep. Of toeing boundaries and the slow divulge of secrets. 

It is this intimacy of young-adult-fiction, a shadow of school girl optimism and first love adolescent adorations that follows us into adulthood and flares up like hormonal acne before a first date. 

If growing up and ‘grown-up’ relationships means leaving this sweet awkward blooming of intimacy behind, then I am not interested. Leave me pining by the phone and checking my hair in the mirror three times before going to dinner. The rest will come. The slow proliferation of human affinity will come. That one day everything will simply be assumed. That one day I will know someone inside out and that they will know me. But in the meantime, I will continue to lick melted ice cream from my fingertips and revel in the sweet sticky awkwardness that is falling in love.