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The intimacy of gentleness

By Fran Beltran Published Nov 19, 2023 6:00 pm Updated Nov 20, 2023 8:52 am

I realize that I do not fall for fiery, explosive acts of passion—I fall for the casual intimacy of gentleness.

When I look back at every moment that’s captivated me, it’s always when my heart physically skips a beat at the utter tenderness of a moment, and never when it's pulsating erratically out of an intoxicating thrill.

The texture of my personality has always been bumpy and firm like paper-mâché, yet I find myself ready to crumble under the weight of romance just the same.

As I age, I realize that I no longer fall for the flashy, volatile displays of interest, but instead, the soft, earnest confessions of endearment.

I fall for the intimacy of gentleness—a hand on my back while crossing the road, the unspoken promise of “You’re safe with me” wafting in the air. Propping your head on top of mine as it lies gently in the crook of your neck under the gaze of cinema lights, a reminder that in this room filled with hundreds, there is only us.

Small circles traced idly on my forearm as I respond in kind against your palm like we’re spelling out secret confessions of fondness in our very own Morse code. Slipping my hand in yours with such delicate yet sure confidence, I am reassured I can say “we” without fear you’ll correct me.

In these moments of unbridled adoration, I feel safe and known—like you’ve taken a peek into the chaos of my mind and said, “Here, come rest with me.” When you spend as much time drowning in your thoughts as I do, it is refreshing to have someone calm your storms.

I always fall for these tiny gestures. You could fill my heart with these gentle grazes, and I will stay satiated for days.

It’s the way someone gently sweeps their thumb across your cheek while looking at you with such reverence that tells you they are not only here for the big moments, but the in-betweens too.

It’s the way they tuck a piece of hair behind your ear mid-conversation that tells you they will savor the seconds before and after any moment of impact because they cannot spare to let even a modicum of time pass without spending it in adoration of you.

It’s a slow and gentle back rub you give after a tiring day that promises, “You can disarm yourself to me, and I will be careful with you.”

It’s placing your hand over my head as we run in the rain in hopes of lessening the downpour on me, leaving both of us equally drenched nonetheless yet bubbling with a special kind of warmth inside.

It’s touching the side of their face in a moment of tender affection that says, “When this spark eventually burns out, I will meet you in the afterglow.”

It’s all so pure and innocent, yet it makes me blush so hard you might as well have said something obscene. It’s all so light and delicate but, god, am I crushed by the sheer weight of it all.

On days when my heart is weathered by the sharp, callousness of modern dating, I tell those close to me that I wish I, too, only loved for the thrill of it all—that I, too, could simply want without the need to hold. Everyone just wants fun these days anyway, right? But try as I might, I know that I will never be fulfilled if I feel anything less than irrevocably cherished.

As I write this, I understand now why I cannot bear to stay in situations where someone cannot give me the security of commitment—because for all my love for softness, it is such an act of hardened jadedness to tell me you cannot promise to be there when the euphoria ends. Whether it was born out of an aversion to responsibility or simple uncertainty about what they want in life, in that split second of hesitation, they were anything but gentle. I held out my hand to them, and in return, they washed their hands off of me.

At this moment, they are the antithesis of what it means to be careful with someone—they abandon the tender whisper of “Jump, I will not let you fall,” in favor of the ruthless hiss of “Jump, but I will not catch you.”

Not all may intend to hurt, but it is exactly this kind of fickleness that can corrupt even the most pure-hearted, pushing them to cynicism because you have finally given them a reason to be guarded.

And in a world full of hardened souls keeping everyone at arm’s length, is there anything softer than someone reaching for your hand, a silent declaration that they do not fear pulling you closer?