If you had to imagine love as a living, breathing creature, what would you pick?” asked Daniel Jones, editor of The New York Times Modern Love column in his new book, Love Illuminated. He went on to give a few suggestions: “A babyish-looking cupid? A furry animal with a heart-shaped face and pink ears? The Dalai Lama? Or something else altogether?

I repeated the question aloud, interrupting Melinda from whatever she was happily doing to ask her what animate thing she thought embodied the idea of love.

“A coral reef.”

I fell a little more in love with her. After fifteen years of love and friendship, I never would’ve guessed her answer.

Successtories_GreatbarrierreefMelinda explained that love was like a coral reef because it was massive and supported a huge variety of life. And even though death was a part of the reef’s cycle, it always kept growing. “Plus, coral reefs are a natural wonder. You can hear about how amazing they are a million times over; but until you actually see one, you can’t fathom how mind-blowing they really are.” She smiled at me with a top-that twinkle in her eye. “You?”

Uhh…?

Eventually, I responded, “Love to me is like skin. Skin is the largest organ in the human body. Skin is layered. It protects, as well as bares us. Skin holds us together. It’s our alert system. It’s what we touch.” I shrugged. “Skin is our essence, our uniqueness, our sensuality. We can’t hide it.” And skin, I wished I’d said at the time, was like love because it was constantly changing, revitalizing for the best state of being.

Since finishing Love Illuminated–a book as thought-provoking and broadening as the columns Daniel Jones gifts us with each week–I’ve been asking everyone I know what they imagine represents a living love. You?