I’ve been thinking about love. At this point in the year, we sit down as a team and talk about our thoughts for the year; what we want to do, what we think is important, what should be our focus each month. February is always a struggle because of Valentine’s Day. I loathe it. I always have. It’s not about love. A hastily purchased card, a gift, a bunch of flowers, an expensive dinner is not about enduring love. It’s about an expectation that on a particular pre-named day each year we will receive something that validates us as worthy of love and the absence of it marks us out as not belonging to the tribe of real lovers. It’s nonsense and yet we are made to feel it so keenly. I think Valentine’s Day represents the ‘fast food’ of love - it’s so easy but real love is not. It’s hard.
So this year I decided I would write about love. Enduring love. The love that ebbs and flows over decades of being with a partner. It’s not about roses (those I provide for myself at the farm – a whole summer of them), or gifts (they are beautiful and arrive, but rarely coincide with a traditional event such as Christmas or birthdays), or expensive dinners (I prefer hearty breakfasts). It’s about me and him. Us. It’s about good times and bad. It’s about knowing that even in really difficult times there is a silken thread that keeps us connected to one another. It’s about moments of intense loneliness, the kind that feel overwhelming, when you find the person you love is so very hard to reach – when you are just holding on in the storm, waiting for quieter waters, knowing they will eventually be found. These are the challenging times, the ones that test your mettle, that make you question the very foundation of your life together. This is the nature of life and love.
The good times are plentiful, wonderful and numerous. Jokes that evolve over a lifetime together, knowing how to make the perfect coffee presented in the right cup (yes it is a thing), tenderness and care, gentle touch, a passing caress, giving each other breathing space to develop individually – all these things reaffirm and support a loving relationship.
We have been together for 34 years, had 6 children, moved countless times here and abroad. His work has remained more or less constant as an academic, mine has changed and evolved over the years, each new skill adding to another to bring me to this wonderful point where I do what I love every day. He says on my gravestone he will have inscribed, ‘could this be her final career change?’ – I hope he does, I’ll be chuckling tucked up in my winceyette lined wicker coffin (yes I have thought about it, one needs brushed cotton for such a long subterranean trip).
As I write, on the table beside me is some hideous foot powder of his (that’s love). In our bathroom there is a tube of Euthymol toothpaste that tastes revolting and smells worse (that’s love). On our windowsills there is no space for anything other than my plants (that’s love), there are 2 dogs sitting on armchairs – my partner does not like dogs (that’s major love), the radio is permanently tuned to radio 4 and the Archers blares out through the house (that is also love). Love is not the grand gestures, it is the everyday accommodation of the weirdness of one’s partner and their understanding of you – because we are all weird in our own way. It is the melding together of disparate personalities and somehow making a whole that works for the benefit of both. It takes a massive investment of time and energy for a relationship to survive and prosper in spite of the unexpected challenges that life hurls at it. That is enduring love.
Love is encouraging your partner in the direction they need to go even if it makes life a little harder, because you know they would do the same to see you happy. In long term relationships there is give and take, passion and fury, stillness and intensity but most of all there is acceptance. An understanding that on a cellular level the person you have loved for so many years has become a part of you, as familiar as your own heart-beat.
I look back over our life together and am content that it has been a life well lived. We are better together than we would have been apart. We are happy, we have had mad adventures, laughed ourselves stupid, raised these brilliant children, struggled and thrived. We don’t need heart shaped cards to validate that.
e.e. cummings puts it all rather beautifully…
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands