"Tra-la, it's May, the lusty month of May! That darling month when everyone throws self-control away."
Lerner and Loewe were right. May is the time for infatuation--that early stage of attraction when we're carried away by extravagant passion and do foolish things. Eventually we recover--sometimes by falling out of infatuation, sometimes by falling into love. In either case, judgment returns to our spinning brains. But during the crazy days when desire is fresh, otherwise sane people behave in bizarre ways.
Why do we act so moonstruck? Because infatuation is itself a fantasy. When we're in love, we understand the person we are devoted to. We know his strengths and weaknesses. He knows ours. But infatuation is built on blindness, a purposeful blurring of the distinctions between real and unreal. Even the most outlandish actions become possible.
Being apart is especially difficult for the enraptured. We identify with Dorothy Parker's soliloquy that begins, "Please, God, let him telephone me now." My friend Pamela strokes her Touchtone, to hearten and rally it. "I don't feel absurd doing this when I'm crazed with infatuation," she reports. "But when I'm not, I admit it never occurs to me to fondle the phone."
Eleanor used to call her boyfriend when she knew he wasn't home. She liked to hold the receiver to her ear and know that the phone was ringing in his apartment, through his plants, his CDs, his shoes. Bats in her Alexander Graham Bellfry, if you ask me.
Many women send letters to the beloved. "It's as if the act of writing links me with the man I want," says Kay. Although women write fewer love letters than in past centuries (Juliette Drouet sent 17,000 to dear Victor Hugo), we certainly write more than men. Consequently, a missive from a man is regarded as extraordinary. "If my love sends me a fax or even a silly card with a chimpanzee on it," reveals Emily, "I press it like a rare flower."
The smitten find ways to be together while apart. "When the bell strikes midnight," Madame Bovary commanded her lover, "think of me." A sardonic friend suggests the modern equivalent might be, "I'll watch 'Cheers' tonight, and you watch too." Often, the person caught up in infatuation wants something more corporeal. A lock of hair. His photograph. Or just some item belonging to him.
"I still have the handkerchief a new love offered when I spilled Baskin Robbins' Praline Dream on my skirt," Jane reports. "I kept it partly because it was tangible proof that he was chivalrous, but mostly because it was his." I cherish a candy kiss a man gave me after we had argued. I covet chocolate. Most lasts about two minutes in my presence. In desperate moments I'm not above devouring stale Cocoa Puffs. Yet the silver kiss remains.
Many infatuates crave more intimate icons. At a party, a friend swiped a loofah from the bathroom of a man on whom she was keen--though he was barely aware of her existence. She told me she hadn't planned to steal it (and don't ask me how she managed to cram it into her purse), but she was suddenly overcome with the desire to possess something that had touched his skin. Although a relationship turned out to be one of those lovely things that never happened, she still has the loofah. "I use it too," she says. "Very erotic."
What might seem anaphrodisiacal, even disgusting, to some is held dear by the infatuated. This is certainly true for the passionate heroine of Margaret Drabble's novel "The Realms of Gold." When her lover gets new false teeth, she keeps the old set.
We're whirled into folly when we fall for someone. We walk on air, and the air is like wine (it's OK to mix metaphors if you're infatuated). Sometimes, we smother the object with our raptures or frighten him with our crazy notions. But it hardly matters. Star-spangled desire is better than possession. So go ahead, eat the insane root that takes the reason prisoner. Center your thoughts on him, his ways, his words. Be as flaky as pie crust. Count his freckles. Keep his teeth. But remember that these dizzy feelings are transitory and illusory. Love is the oasis. Infatuation is a mirage.