The magic of first love, wrote Benjamin Disraeli, is our ignorance that it can ever end. But in Washington, a city of shifting fortunes and many sudden endings, love often has a less illusioned quality - though it is by no means no less magical. It still vivifies and enhances and embitters and enhants. A strange sorcerer.

Herewith are several tales of Washington love and its loss and profit. The names and certain identifying details of the principals have been altered to maintain their privacy. Cheryl

"There was this congressman I dated," says Cheryl, a 28-year-old career woman in broadcasting. "I met him at a party - a book party. And he drove a Porsche - I don't know why I always like these guys who drive Porsche.

Well, we went out to dinner four or five times, and once he kissed me as we were walking down a street in Georgetown and I thought that was just the most romantic thing. I mean I'd heard about these congressmen, but that's the closest ever got together. Then we had another date and he invited me down to the Capitol Hill dining room, but of course I'm a vegetarian, which means I couldn't eat anything. Then he took me to the floor of the gallery, and I thought that was really far-out.

"Well, then he went back to his constituents, but he sent me a postcard every day. So, when he returned, I sent him one long-stemmed red rose saying, 'Welcome Back!.'"

"He called to thank me a week later.

"And then I never heard from him again.

"A lot of guys have never called back for reasons I can't fathom."

Judy Bachrah Georgetown Reruns

Chris didn't exactly come to Washington looking for love. It was more like running away from it - in the form of his wife, a biologist who gave up her microbes for life on a Minnesota farm. When Chris finally realized that he couldn't stand the provinces, that his career as an advertising copywriter meant more to him than the house cat and organic broccoli, he came here. To a 30K job, no less.

Chris is 29 and very good-looking. Tall. Thin. Blond. Used to play bass in a rock 'n' roll band. Worked for a while as a publicist for a record company, which is how he wound up in the ad business. He's clever. Once wrote a head for a movie projector ad that read: "Conscientious Projection." Got his degree from Dartmouth in philsophy. Still reads Kant.

He settled into Georgetown, managed to keep the BMW in the garage most of the time because he could walk to the office. Georgetownitis set in soon. Clyde's. Nathan's. The Foundry. Charing Cross. Pretty soon he started thinking he had already seen this movie.

It hadn't been like this in Minnesota, Chris says. (Maybe that's because he was married then.) It hadn't been like this in New York. It had been like this in Los Angeles - and it sent him first to the shrink and, second, packing.

So Chris started seeing a shrink again - once a week. And it's the same complaint. "Too many women," he says. "They're nice girls. Good-looking. Good jobs. Great dressers. But so desperate. What an incredible hustle. You talk with some women from an account, and the second thing she says is, 'How about a drink?' You sit in a bar, and the woman on the next stool says, 'Can I buy you a drink? The come-ons are unbelievable: 'I've got a wonderful stereo at home where the music isn't so loud.' 'I've got some incredible coke back at my place.' Can it just be that there are so many single women here?"

Too many mornings of waking up and forgetting the name of the person he was in bed with. So he swore off, gave up sex. And then the new line became: "What's the matter? Don't I turn you on? Are you a fag?"

Chris is now seeing the shrink twice a week. He's also telling women that he meets that he's married.

Tom Zito Love From Afar

When she came around Dupont Circle, Melanie looked up with apprehension as she approached the Euram building. "Suppose he isn't there?" she thought. "Suppose he doesn't come to the window?"

Each day for six months, ever since she'd left her secretarial job at the World Bank and decided to become a photographer, she's waved at the most handsome, curly haired man she'd ever seen.

She had been on her way to meet a client at the Mayflower Hotel when she'd first seen him, standing in blue jeans and work shirt at the window looking into the park. She had stared until, invisible chemistry, he's looked down at her. He smiled and waved. She waved back, doing a little pantomime "And-away-we-go" exist around the corner.

Every day as she went downtown they'dwave at one another. She would ask, in mime, how he was feeling. He would act back, that he was tired, sleepy, had too much work, had a headache from drinking too much the night before.

Now as she approached the building, she felt her stomach rise up under her rib cage. Her palms were sweaty. She wondered, for the first time, how she looked in the tailored blue suite with vest and the high-heeled boots she'd bought on Saturday. Today, she knew his name. She and Carl Conyers had met at Marion's party Saturday night and now there was something entirely different between them.

They had talked but a moment. He had a date. He'd merely said, "So you're the woman I've been waving at for six months. Do you have a name to go with the pretty face?" Not an especially good line, but Melanie had told him about herself and he had told her about consulting and working in politics for Kennedy and McGovern. That was all. She had arrived late, and Carl and his date left shortly after their meeting.

Melanie was right on the spot where she'd first seen Carl. She didn't know whether to look up or not. It would be different now, since she knew his name. She looked up to the third floor window.

He wasn't there. Melanie began to panic. She couldn't stand under the window forever.

Then he was there on the street, pantomiming a "hello." She waved back. He pointed at his watch, became a clock with his arms straight up at 12 o'clock, made like he was holding a fork. She nodded an agreement to lunch. He pointed to where he was standing smile, waved and went back into the building.

Melanie strolled around the corner, a smile on her face and lightness under her feet.

Karen De Witt An Eventful Dig

Her birthday present had been so spectacular. C.R. had really outdone himself, having her portrait painted secretly, the artist sketching her from behind the hedges as had her morning walk in the rose garden - that she hardly expected much for Valentine's Day. Oh, perhaps a little token. Something silly like a heart-shaped minaudiere. C.R. was very good at remembering. All the Van Rensselaers were. They prided themselves on being imaginative about giving. And they did a lot of it.

She had breakfast in bed, taken her tea and a croissant leisurely while she flipped through her leatherbound copy of Yeats which she kept by her bedside. Soon it was time for a swim. On went her swimsuit and her little terry wrap and out she went, giving the servants last-minute instructions for luncheon.

Just a cold lobster salad, mayonnaise, a simple dry white wine, a lemon sorbet. Perfect. C.R. would be pleased and so would hes parents who had driven down from Newport to Middleburg.

After her swim, she changed into white pants and a jersey and settled on the terrace for Bloody Bull's with C.R. and his parents.

Still no mention of Valentine's Day. A flicker of disappointment clouded her thoughts briefly and she managed a tiny pout for C.R. but she was soon distracted. Luncheon was served on the terrace overlooking the garden, a nice breeze was playing with the awning and she felt rather content.

As she was finishing her sorbet the butler appeared with a large silver tray. On the tray was a child's plastic bucket. It was filled with sand and a little metal shovel stuck out of it.

"What on earth is this, Williams?" she asked of the butler, slightly annoyed.

C.R. sat back and sipped smugly at his wine.

"Dig," he commanded.

"But darling," she protested.

"Dig," he repeated, this time more firmly. She always did as C.R. said. She began to dig. After a few shovel fulls of sand deposited on the silver tray she felt something hard and reached in to pull it out. An enamel bracelet, rather attractive for the country but certainly not worth this charade.

"Dig," said C.R.

She kept digging. Another prize. An ivory pendant, quite handsome but still nothing to get excited about.

"Dig," said C.R. She really was getting a little annoyed by now. This was trifling. She soon came upon another item, this a rather pretty, unusual jade pin. She was a little more cheered but still. C.R. knew better than this.

"Dig," he insisted once more. This, she thought to herself, was a little much.

But she decided to give it one more go. Finally she heard another sharp sound and reached her creamy enameled fingers into the bottom of the pail. Out came two very sandy objects. She brushed them off and smiled.

In her hand lay two exquisite emerald earrings surrounded by diamonds.

C.R. was standing, by this time, staring out over the grounds with his back to her. "Happy Valentine's Day darling," he said.

She turned to Williams, his hands still holding the silver tray, now filled with sand.

"Williams," she said, "could we have a little more sorbet?"

Sally Quinn A Shattered Image

It's a moment that stands alone in time, a moment whose exact parameters you always remember, like remembering where you were when John Kennedy died. It's the moment when you hear that the great romantic couple of your experience has finally and irrevocably split up.

I was in Washington when the word arrived, when the phone call csme from a mutual friend. Annie had left Jeffrey. The shock was extraodinary, like hearing about a death in the family. It seemed unbelievable. Then more phone calls came, even letters. I wasn't alone. Nobody could believe it. Everybody cared.

Ever since they'd met in some impossible unromantic/romantic way, waiting for a train on the Long Island Railroad, they had always been together. Jeffery a writer, a blur of psychic energy, Annie with a kind of resilient inner strength that seemed at once to tame and sustain him. If the words "made for each other" meant anything at all, they meant it for them.

It had started in college. When Jeffery left for a year to live on the Lower East Side, Annie went too, despite the stereotyped horror of her parents. They even got married, the first of my friends to do so, though it was secret initially because Jeffrey, having sworn so long and so hard that marriage was not for him, was inevitably embarrassed to have succumbed so soon.

Eventually, almost accidentally, they moved to Canada, where he did odd jobs and tried to find time to write. Together they would walk the lush, romantic hills of the 100-acre farm he'd managed to buy and talk about the future: the children they'd have, the vegetable garden, the goats and chickens. We'd all visit them up there, spend parts of summers and even winters, and always come back filled with the rightness of what they had done.

If their life had been a best-seller or a movie, the end would have come dramatically. Perhaps a fur trapper would have caught her fancy, or there would have been some scene in a snowbank. Reality is often less easily managed. Essentially, Annie simply had had enough; enough of cabin fever; enough cold, snowy winters; enough of postponed promises. Like many women, she felt too much under the thumb of the man she was living with, too much a prisoner of his special dreams, with too little thought given to her own. She took their two children and went back to the States. At first the break was supposed to be temporary, a bit of Rest and Relaxation, but she took up with another man and suddenly, quite suddenly, it was over.

They are still separated, and a divorce is apparently in the works. She refuses to discuss him at all; he talks at length about how he is attempting to make something positive out of the way his life has been blown to pieces. And their friends, in Washington and elsewhere still can't get over it.

For there is an air of mystery about a breakup like that, and Annie and Jeffrey's friends talk about it in the hushed tones that Hasidim use when pondering the inexplicable deeds of saintly rabbis. Everyone feels that part of them, the young, perhaps childish part that believed in storybook endings to real-life romances, has been dealt a permanently damaging blow. We all clandestinely examined our own relationships, and wondere, if role models like Annie and Jeffrey could totter and fall, what chance the rest of us had for any permanence. And, though it sounds somehow puny when reduced to written words, we all suddenly felt very much older.

Kenneth Turan Second Time Around

It was May 1926 when Louise Lunsford, who had just turned 21, left her home in Olyphant, Pa., a coal mining town. She wanted a job in Washington even though she didn't know exactly what kind of a job.

Upon her departure, the Olyphant Press, a weekly newspaper, referred to "Miss Lunsford" as "Olyphant's regal beauty" and wished her well. (Johnny Ceccarelli, who wrote all four pages of the Press every week, hadn't wanted her to leave any more than her Uncle Charles, who had raised her.)

She moved into the Wisconsin Avenue apartment of an older, distant cousin. Working for the government did not appeal to her; she wanted retailing, perhaps a position with a large department store.

One afternoon, after visiting several employment offices, she stopped in at a downtown jewelry store owned by Francis Lewis, s fifth-generation Washingtonian (his great great grandfather had been a member of the only American unit willing to stand and fight at the Battle of Bladensburg).

Frank Lewis, in his mid-30s, seemed to her an unusually kind man; he had not only introduced himself but had seemed concerned about her when she confessed to being away from home for the first time.

He offered her a job, helping him managed the jewelry store. Meanwhile, she was being courted by another man, who worked in his father's new and flourishing business consulting firm. It wasn't long before he'd proposed and she'd accepted.

She asked Frank Lewis, to give her away at the wedding. He told her he would be honored.

As time passed, they would see one another downtown occasionally. He also was married and raising a family. In the mid-'40s they fell out of touch. In 1954, he closed the jewelry store.

Twenty years later they met again on the first floor of Garfinchel's and recognized each other instantly. They were both grandparents, a widow and widower. They went to lunch that day in Garfinckel's and in the following weeks could be seen together at the Kennedy Center or at Sunday brunch at the Georgetown Inn.

The next spring, 1975, Frank Lewis married the woman he had given away almost four decades before; he was 73, she 60. His house in Northwest where the reception was held was filled with grandchildren. There were 20 of them, including one small one who had to be stepped over in the living room.

You only had to look at them, as they stood arm in arm that day, to tell how happy they were; they looked just as happy when I saw them the other day.

William Gildea

Diplomatic Match

The handsome host pounced on us, as he always did, booming out something hearty and English, while his fat wife hung back, also as usual, tugging nervously at her sari and maintaining a frightened smile.

You often saw that kind of social incongruity among Eastern diplomats. You figured that the man had married before he had dreamed of making a success on the international scene, and had not considered that he would need a wife to match.

But on this occasion he looked a shade less expansive than at his frequent dinner parties, and she seemed slightly less lost. They were hosting the wedding of a younger diplomat on their embassy staff and his bride-to-be from back home.

The members of the wedding party stayed silently in the background until the ritual began. It seemed odd that the sophisticated young bridegroom acted like one of them, instead of mixing smoothly with the guests, as we were used to seeing him do at the larger embassy parties.

He so embodied his profession that you had to remind yourself to allow him his day of excitement and romance. Also, we were told that the bride had arrived in Washington only a few hours before - she had been delayed at home until an auspicious day could be declared for the long flight - and he could have had little time for their reunion before having to appear in public.

We all stared at his bride, of course, although she modestly kept her head so low it was hard to get a good look at her.We had expected him to choose a jolly girl, but it was impossible during the complicated ceremony to judge whether he had.

They had gone through quite a few of their formal paces before she looked up, painstakingly bringing her gaze up to the face of the man who was becoming her husband.

We all smiled. It cut through the cultural differences, because everybody understood the desire of lovers to freeze that moment by locking eyes.

But that wasn't quite her expression. It wasn't flirtatiousness, or we-two-alone-in-the-crowd, or shared solemnity, or a telegraphing of private feelings to enrich the public commitment. It was - it looked like curiosity. It looked as if she were staring at him the way we had stared at her. To find out what he looked like.

During the reception, a few of us bolder ones approached our host with the question. We needn't have feared embarrassing him. Equally at ease in two worlds, he was used to answering the naive questions of one about the the other, and he laughed indulgently.

"Of course not," he said. "It was too late for them to see each other last night, but this is certainly not the first time they have met. They have a cousin in common, and I believe they must seen each other often as children."

Judith Martin The Odd Couple

Their fellow students at Rice, unfamiliar with Washington, found it hard to believe that Sylvia and Cedric had never met before the course, "Film 1900-1939." After all they were both from Washington and they're both black.

But Sylvia's father was a judge and Cedrics sold numbers, and unbridgeable gulf in the black community when they were growing up. Still, it was instant attraction the darkened classroom under the flickering light of "Potemkin."

Cedric had never met a woman who talkde like Sylvia, who looked like she did, who knew so much. She was all the Ebony fashion models rolled into one, fair with hair that curled down to her waist, neat and lady-like And Sylvia had never met anyone like Cedric. He knew about race tracks, sports, numbers runners, night clubs and jazz.

When they looked out the window of Sylvia's beige Morris Minor, a car Cedric had never heard of before he met Sylvia she saw one thing and he saw something entirely different.

He would see the dope peddlers making contracts, the unmarked police car sitting in an alley observing the whole thing. She saw the sunlight playing around a group of kindergartners being hustled across 15th Street by their teachers. Cedric's was a fascinating, new perception for Sylvia. And then there was the song business. Cedris was an agent for singers, he was a writer and wanted to get into television. He was with who were slated for careers as doctors, lawyers, or dentist.

They moved into an apartment building off Columbia Road when they graduated from school. To the horror of Sylvia's parents, Sylvia and Cedric were happy.

Cedric would make his manic round of calls trying to book his local band, and then hustle his friends who worked in local media for air time. Upon occasion, Sylvia would pack lunch and off they'd all go, caravan-style for a day of publicity shots at Manassas.

When the money ran out, they spent the evening at home, lying in bed, listening to old Ray Charles albums while Credric pointed out shifts in pitch and rhythm that struck as astonishingly subtle. But the band didn't go and the rent fell due, and the gas bill and electricity, too. Cedric went out hustling for another contract. And all the people that he had persuaded to back him began to drop by and eat the meals Sylvia cooked. They would sit in the little apartment, complaining to Cedric about the "crappy work" they had to do at the radio stations all day, about their "artistic integrity" being compromised though Sylvia noticed they drove home in their Audis and Mercedes.

Sylvia's mother never approved of Cedric. He's just a no-class street hustler with high falutin' ideas," she'd say when Sylvia came by. 'Why doesn't he get a regular job and make something of himself? What's he do all day?"

Finally Sylvia decided to go to law school and wanted her family to help pay for the schooling. After a lecture, her family agreed to pick up the tab.

Cedric had gone off to Atlanta to record a hot new band. He'd convinced some local media stars to finance the project. He was sure he had a winner he told Sylvia who was sitting on their bed reading cross examination techniques.

But once the tape was in the can, it stayed put. But Sylvia didn't. I'm studying with a friend up at George Washington," she told Cedric who told his friends, "Sylvia's a liberated woman. I don't know a damn about tarts, sho she's off studying with some friend of hers who's an expert."

When visitors came to their apartment, Sylvia would go into the bedroom and shut the dedCiroocr 'Cp room and shut the door. Cedric would turn the stereo down low and whenever things got a bit raucous, he'd hush it up with, "Shush, Sylvia's studying."

Just before Christmas, Cedric came into the Cellar Door by himself. The musicians were friends of his. That meant he got in and could eat for free with the musicians after the set.

"Deep in the books as usual?"

"How's Syvia?" someone asked. "No, Sylvia's . . . "Cedric looked at his watch. Sylvia's about four hours into her honeymoon with Alan Egland."

Half a dozen beers later Cedric looked up and mumbled to no one at all, "You know, romance and finance don't enchant." Porcellian Pig

They were in love. Mummy and Daddy approved. And everyone said they were perfect for each other. For one thing they both had blonde hair, blue eyes and very thin noses. He made the ultimate commitment. A commitment he had never before made to any other woman in his 30 years. He gave her his Porcellian Pig. It had belonged to his grandfather when he was a member of the Porcellian Club at Harvard. It had belonged to his father as well. It was handcrafted of solid gold with emerald eyes. Now it was hers. She put it on a gold bracelet. They both cried.

Now the wedding was only a few weeks off, the closets were filled with new Porthault linens, she had finished his monogrammed needle point slippers, but she was devastated. She had fallen in love with someone else. Someone who was not rich or blonde or thin-nosed. She had to tell him. They went to dinner, a beautiful restaurant with pink line tablecloths, freshly cut roses and candles. He thought they were going to celebrate and ordered caviar and Stolichnaya.

She knew how hurt he would be so it took her until the brandy to tell him.

"Proctor, darling," she said finally, hesitantly, "I don't know how to tell you this but I've been in love with someone else. I cannot marry you."

It was so formal, so cold, it seemed to her, yet she knew no other way. She could feel her stomach tighten as she saw him bite his lip and try to control his emotions. But despite his efforts his eyes began to water. Slowly one lone tear made it's way down his smooth, pale cheek.

She thought she couldn't bear to see him suffer that way. Perhaps she should reconsider. Perhaps she could go through with it. Anything was better than causing him this terrible pain.

He took out a perfect white handkerchief and quickly wiped the tear away. Then he looked up at her. His eyes were clear and his glance remarkably unconfused. He was going to beg her to stay with him. She could see it coming. He would not let her go. Her cared too deeply. He reached across the table and took her hand.

"May I," he asked solemnly, "have my Porcellian Pig back?"

Sally Quinn Lost Princess

Jason, a 28-year-old lawyer:

"I remember seeing a lady in Washington, three or four years ago in a little restaurant - the Golden Temple - at lunchtime. She had big, brown, baleful eyes, and the most delicately carved face. The attraction was so intense that I turned away from it, instead of turning toward it.

"And so as I left the restaurant, I said to myself, 'What if I said something to her?' And then I thought, 'But what could I say?' Because she was eating with another lady.

"And so I went back to my office, but then I immediately rushed out again and grabbed a cab, crying, 'Golden Temple! And hurry!"

"But when I came back to the restaurant she was gone.

"I must've gone back to that restaurant at least a dozen times since - or more. Just to peek in. There's always a chance I'll meet those eyes again. God, my princess was there!"

Judy Bac hrach