What no one tells you about love
Unhappiness. Secrets. And ditching the idea of 'The One'
I am in no way an expert on love. I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 17. And I’ve really only ever had three boyfriends. I’ve not slept with a great deal of people- thirteen in case you’re wondering, and I’ve never kissed a girl. I lost my virginity in what amounts to a bush in a park on a very cold school day and I burst out laughing when my husband proposed. (It was nerves!) By today’s standards I suppose you would call my romantic history deeply old school: love letters; telephone calls, spying someone across a crowded bar, then hoping they might sidle up to you when the DJ played Come on Eileen at the end of the night. That sort of thing.
But whilst the means to find love might have changed, love itself has not. I know what it’s liked to be jilted. And I understand the sting of unrequited love. I have been cheated on and have cheated and I have walked away from as many good partners as I have walked into the arms of bad ones. None of this makes me qualified to dish out advice on love. But it does mean I can offer a perspective. And perspectives, when you’re dealing with a subject as tricky and wonderful as love, is always worthwhile. Or at least that’s what I reckon.
So because it’s Valentine’s Day and because I’m quickly becoming very fond of all of you (thank you for all your comments and notes by the way. I love reading them) here’s a couple of things I think are worth knowing...
YOU CAN BE SINGLE WITHIN A RELATIONSHIP
When I tell people that my husband and I take separate holidays a couple of times a year, a funny thing happens. First their bottom lip hangs a little lower. Next their eyes widen. Then they usually take a few seconds, as their brain comes up with a few different scenarios: Bad marriage? Cheating? Just a couple of old fashioned weirdos? I don’t blame them, I guess. I don’t know how it happened, other than it just did. And that when we come back together after such time apart, things feel, not better exactly, but fresher. We are a unit, sure. But we are also two individuals who walked into a relationship never wanting to surrender who the other was. I think that’s important. I like to be reminded of who I am away from my marriage. The space and time away from my husband allows me to figure out who I am becoming. We inhabit the same relationship but we are not the same. And that, I think, is what makes it work.
HUMILIATION IS THE HARDEST THING TO HEAL
Jealousy in a relationship isn’t great. Neither is resentment or pure full-on fury. (But all those things do happen). But I tell you what is worse than all of those things. Humiliation. Humiliation, especially when done publicly, gathers over time. It is a paper cut that becomes a gaping wound. A young boy once left a Valentine’s card on my desk in college. Inside was a poem by John Donne. My heart fluttered until a friend told me who had put it there. This was a boy no one was attracted to. He wore big square classes, the sort a 70’s MP might wear. And his hair was big and coarse, like candy floss. It never occurred to me that boys like that would have a heart. And so what did I do? I tore the card up in big dramatic rips right there at my desk. I’m pretty sure he saw and I’m pretty sure that’s what I wanted.
I have a fair few regrets in my life, and that is up there with them. I had a chance to be kind to someone, and I wasn’t. Worse than that, I had a chance to humiliate someone and I took it. Humiliation is hard to take back. It cuts people up whilst simultaneously cutting them down. It is one of our cruelest acts and so, if you have the opportunity to to do it, my advice would always be don’t.
YOUR PARTNER IS GOING TO CHANGE - ALLOW THEM TO
The relationship you had at 25 will not be the same one you have at 45. People change, relationships change. Pain and frustration doesn’t happen because of that; it happens when we try to keep people the same. Expecting your partner to have the same desires and ambitions and even, perhaps, the same propensity for affection, they did when you first met is like expecting a child to never grow up. But guess what? The joy is in the growing up.
ALSO…LET THEM HAVE SECRETS
There are lots of things I don’t know about my husband. I don’t know what he does when he goes away to Spain for three weeks at a time to finish his books. And I don’t know who he follows on Instagram. (Ex-partners? It’s possible). I don’t know how often he watches porn (though I accept that he probably will) and I certainly don’t know what he spends all his money on. But I do know that he will have secrets. And I know that it’s unrealistic to expect him not to, in the same way that I will have mine. Love isn’t about possessing another person. Neither is it expecting your partner to hand over their entire life to you. Of course secrets like an affair or having an actual secret life are not what I’m talking about here. I’m simply saying that with respect for a partner’s independence comes a little bit of unknowability. And that’s no bad thing.
DON’T CONFUSE A PERSON WITH THE WAY THEY MAKE YOU FEEL
Most people never forget their first love. This, I’ve always thought, has nothing to do with your first love and everything to do with how they made you feel at that time. My first love was complex. Every time we had an argument he’d punch great big holes in the walls of the college we went to. The relationship didn’t last all that long- maybe nine months. But I’ll never forget him. Or I should say, I’ll never forget the way he made me feel. Before I met my husband I wondered if i’d ever meet a man who made feel the way he made me feel. And of course the answer is I won’t because I’ll never experience love for the first time again. But that’s not about him, that’s about me. Often the partner we find in front of ourselves is there only by a combination of circumstance and mutual hormonal longing. It’s not always the person who is significant, but the moment in your life that they appeared that is.
THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS ‘THE ONE’
Between the ages of 18 and 24 I had ‘a list’. Perhaps you have one too. I didn’t write it down anywhere, but it was there, lodged inside my brain, a list of all the things the partner I would eventually fall in love would posses. These included things like , ‘must be poetic’ and ‘ideally would have dark hair and blue eyes.’ Over time ‘the list’ gathered increasing specificity, with ‘must appreciate 60s French cinema” coming in as a last minute addition. If I found a partner that was all of these things, I would have found ‘The One’ I told myself. Except eventually of course ‘my one’ had none of these things. Because ‘The One’ is not a binary concept. A person is not all these things or not. No one is a ready made ‘One’, your ‘One’ becomes that way over time, as your life and experiences blend together. And that is far more unique than anything any of us could ever dream up with a list.
UNHAPPINESS IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF ANY MARRIAGE
How can you know what happiness feels like if you’ve never experienced unhappiness? How can you test the strength of your relationship if it’s always in a state of bliss? If you’re changing and evolving how can the same things that once made you happy still make you happy? Moments of unhappiness (as opposed to terminal unhappiness, which is a different newsletter altogether) will happen. Navigating your way through them is part of the deal.
LOVE ISN’T A FEELING..IT’S AN ACTION
Making your partner a cup of tea in the morning even though you’re still half drunk with sleep. That’s love. Buying them a new shirt because their old one doesn’t put their best face forward, that’s love too. Squeezing their knee under the table if they’re speaking over people at dinner. That’s love, just as telling them they’re an idiot when they’re being an idiot…well, that’s definitely love right there.
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What things have you learnt about love and relationships that no one ever talks about? As ever, I’d love it if you’d share your thoughts with us.