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What is love? (Baby don't hurt me.) It's pretty likely that everyone is going to experience something akin to love at some point in their life. And maybe the fact that I have to use some awkward, twattish, old-school word like "akin" speaks to the confusing nature of the subject. There's a fine line between love and infatuation, or lust, or a half chub you get whilst daydreaming about Scarlett Johansson. And for all the poems and novels and movies and songs on the subject, there's a surprising lack of information on what to do with the damn emotion once you have it, short of tweeting to a celebrity about how you want them to murder your vagina (or mangina, depending on context), or how to deal with it when things go wonky on you. So why not give that a spin?

4
When It Ends

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According to made-up statistics, 2 out of every 1 marriages end in divorce. Cosmically, the moment that you find happiness forces at least four other life forms into misery, and it's apparently unstoppable. Why so unhappy, everyone everywhere? It's hard to say. But all of the info on divorce kind of deals with the aftermath, and if After M*A*S*H taught us nothing, it's that what happens after is terrible in every way and doesn't leave anyone satisfied.

The lead up to this unhappiness is rarely discussed, and probably the reason for this is twofold -- habit and fear. If you love someone enough to commit to them, by and large that required an investment of time on your part. Maybe you met and got married on the same day, and that's awesomely irresponsible of you, but most people take it a little slower, and that slowness is what bends your brain over and asks it to drop trou while it reaches for something across the counter. You're used to this other person and, worse (in this situation), you're used to being in love with them. And that means it's going to be really hard to admit -- not just to yourself, but to them -- when you realize you don't love them anymore. Habit and fear, holding hands and dancing on your feelings, probably while laughing and smoking smooth unfiltered cigarettes.

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Welcome to Flavor Country, bitch!

There's the sappy side to falling out of love that bands like Air Supply might sing about, but the hard-hitting, kick-in-the-ass reality of it is the momentous awful awkwardness you'll feel when you finally bite the bullet and realize you need to do something about it. No one ever stops being in love, goes to their significant other with a handshake and a goodbye fruit basket, and just moves on. No, instead we opt to start staying out later, drinking, watching movies until 4 a.m. to avoid bed, not making eye contact, having affairs, and muttering hateful things like some latter-day Sideshow Bob with a faceful of rake.

Not many people know that I was once arguably in love, and now, in retrospect, I will never be sure if it was love or desperation. But whatever emotion it was, I rode it into the ground like the world's most unloved horse and left it there to rot. What is clear is that the relationship lasted so much longer than it should have that, in the end, I literally faked insanity to get out of it. I want you to appreciate that for a moment, because it's not even a joke. I pretended my brain had broken so that I could get out of being with someone. I had no other ideas at all, and the best thing I could come up with was a fractured psyche. For what it's worth, it actually worked, but that doesn't change the fact that it never should have gotten that bad. If mental illness is your ace in the hole, you have failed miserably at whatever it is you're doing. That's the sort of thing murderers do at their trials, for God's sake.

If I could impart any knowledge to you based on my own experiences, it's that you should probably bite the bullet as soon as it becomes obvious to you that your relationship is over, rather than let it fester like some kind of terrible sore that will bubble over with animosity and insanity lies.

3
When It's One-Way

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Unreciprocated love is the saddest thing in the world, and that includes NBC's prime time lineup. Meeting someone who you really enjoy, spending time with them, and sharing whatever it is you share (for me it's usually an Orange Julius and a mutual love of Police Academy films) is exhilarating and makes you feel alive. And then you go to a Greek restaurant and you're having souvlaki and a beer and you start into the awkward territory of talking about your feelings, and the next thing you know, she bolts. So you go to her house the next day and she tells you to go away and the next time she speaks to you it's three years later and she lives in another country. You stud, you.

Your story may not be as dramatically sad as making a woman flip out and literally move to another continent, but the general idea is the same -- you love someone who doesn't love you back, and it feels like a never-ending knee to the groin. Like a deep, slow grind, the kind the Earth experiences where tectonic plates meet, just crunching and munching away at your sack and its precious contents in a continuous stream of emotional agony.

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"Gah, my balls and emotions!"

If my knowledge of rom coms is anything to go by, and it's not because I think the last time I saw one of those was the mid-'90s, friends would advise that you move on and find someone new, and, of course, you would be Tom Hanks, and eventually you'd not jump into the volcano and everything would be OK and you'd just wind up in love. In the real world, however, sometimes people just never love you because probably they're bad in the soul or secret communists. Or maybe shit just happens. There are 7 billion people on Earth, you can't expect everyone to want to cuddle with you.

Whatever the reason for it, being alone in love is a shitty and confusing place to be. As lame as the advice to get over it is, it's also kind of all you have to rely on because anything else is pretty much the territory of crazy obsessive stalkers and the full-on insane. The moment you start thinking of ways to make someone love you is probably the moment you should stop burning your genitals with that cigarette butt and take up a hobby to stop you from being asinine.

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2
When It's Too Much

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Being socially retarded is interesting insofar as you get to learn fun new things that other people are never aware of because they never engage in the same sort of retardation you engage in because obviously they'd never think of such dumb things. But you would, ya weirdo.

I can't say for sure that most people will experience this or if it's just reserved for a special subset of people, but there's definitely something to be said for being too open and too much into other people. Your friends probably never want to think you'll show up in their room at midnight smiling with a human-skin suit on. But if you decide to open up and express a real joy at being with others, especially those you're not in a cult or regularly having nude hot tub fun with, you'll slowly begin to realize that you're creeping the shit out of everyone. No one likes a guy who tells them he loves them unless it's in the confines of a serious buddy-cop moment, a death scene, or a drunken, shame-filled blather session.

Most of you probably agree that there's no good reason to express love for your friends out of the blue, because who does that? Especially if it's two straight dudes, because we still live in a society where that's considered weird and, let's be honest, sometimes it is weird. Most times. We're not Eloi here, no need to go around holding hands and smelling snapdragons.

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"Your skin is so soft."

If you foolishly decide that you need to let your group of friends know how you feel about them in just totally unbridled, heart-on-your-sleeve terms, I invite you to not be surprised if they react in the same way people react when they see an animal dying on the side of the road. There's an underlying sense of compassion, but mostly revulsion-based fear, and you can be damn sure no one wants to poke you.

Every relationship has boundaries, and it's best to learn what those are before making a ginormous fool of yourself. But on the other hand, there's something to be said for at least having a willingness to be that guy or girl who doesn't let fear castrate them and just say what you feel when you feel it, unrestrained, unbidden, and unfiltered. I tried it once. It didn't work out. I'm not bitter, though. Not at all. Be my friend?

1
When It Never Existed

When is love not love? I bet some asshole of a poem or Bon Jovi song contains that line, and whatever line follows it is so sappy and douchey that for me to write it here would make you literally shit saccharine kittens onto your sofa and/or computer chair and that, my friend, would probably tear your perineum. That said, the question is valid when you're dealing with something that, when analyzed, couldn't be less like love if it came with a flesh-rending chainsaw and was directed by Tyler Perry, which is to say something no one may ever love.

This differs from unrequited love in that, with unrequited love, at least the sane sort, one of you still has real feelings. In this situation, no one really gives a flying fuck about anyone else. This is your Tyler Durden/Marla Singer Fight Club relationship based on things like mutual disgust, antagonism, the desire to use or be used, and exploitation. Magical, right? Probably lust plays a big part in this, too. It's arguably where society constructed the idea of friends with benefits, a social contract that allows for us to be OK using each other for fun without actually giving much of a damn about the other person. Like, sure, if I see you on fire, I'll toss a jug of water on you and dial 911, but like ... I'm probably too busy to visit you in the hospital because I just got Injustice for Xbox and it's really taking up a lot of my time.

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"I'll do my duty to that booty when you're out of ICU."

Some people call these kinds of relationships toxic, but that always makes me think of that Britney Spears song and is therefore a bad use of language. And they don't need to be as bad as all that anyway; it's not like you need to be slapping each other while you mainline household cleaners and have butter-lubed sex in an alley to really hit home the notion that you don't really care about each other. A lot of times it's a much more mild form of exploitation, a kind of parasitic relationship where you get something (usually sex) and never seek to actively harm or degrade the other person, unless they're into that. A good way to tell if that's the kind of relationship you have, however, is to ponder how likely it is that you'd introduce that person to friends, or just go to see a movie with them. Because you so wouldn't. Unless it's like a weird moviesploitation friend, like someone who owns a theater and that's actually how you use them because they keep inviting you to see new releases. That would be kind of awesome. If anyone wants to be my movie friend and pay for me to see movies, send me a message.

What makes this particular scenario awful? If it ever changes in any way at all. And it will. If you have a hump buddy who is cool with being a hump buddy and never even makes the slightest hint that they want the nature of that relationship to change, hold on to them like grim death for as long as you're both mutually satisfied because you just found a sexual unicorn. For everyone else in the history of ever, this breaks down when one of you and your breezy, disinterested ways finally get on the other's nerves and they want to talk about feelings or do yoga together or some godawful thing that you never signed up for and you, emotionally uninvested as you are, will say something less than compassionate, like "Can't we just do it in the butt?" and that'll be the end of that right there. If you have any humanity installed and you start to realize you're playing with someone else's feelings, you'll start getting that dull ache in your guts that says it's time to move on or forever face sitcom-style hijinks and/or emotional trauma.

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