This year, I will have known my husband for twenty years – half of my life. This has caused me to reflect on the topic of love and how with each successive Valentine’s Day I’m less convinced that the cards in the shop do it justice, but then they are probably not aimed at me…
As a teenager, one of the hot topics for me and my girlfriends was whether your boyfriend would say “I love you.” It was a very keenly contested prize and something that caused us to ceaselessly badger our boyfriends for confirmation that they did indeed ‘love’ us. Nevermind that they wouldn’t hold our hand in public, preferred playing computer games to being with us, or had only decided to go out with us as a means of not being left out when their mate brought his girlfriend to the park.
The words ‘I love you’ were quite enough to sustain us in a state of bliss, even if they did come from a boy whose balls hadn’t quite dropped, saying it to keep you quiet. It was something that could never be trumped, until one of my friends presented us with her boyfriend who not only said “I love you”, but also had a car. We stepped back in awe and allowed her to bask in the twin glories of romance and transport.
Back then, when days were spent imagining what our signature would be if we were to marry one of our idols, and when being bought a cuddly Garfield holding a heart was the height of romantic gestures, I’m not sure what we thought love was actually about. Given that until then our experience of love was that of our families, how were we to learn about ‘grown up’ love?
We took our cues from our parents, Clinton Cards, Neighbours (oh how I wished for the Charlene and Scott wedding!) and perhaps ill-advisedly from Deirdre’s Photo Casebook in The Sun, which positioned stockings and suspenders as either the cause of, or solution for, all relationship issues. If it wasn’t the husband being caught with someone in suspenders who wasn’t his wife, then the wife was in her suspenders with a man who wasn’t her husband. Very occasionally the husband had them on. Marriages were built and destroyed by them. Why no-one ever wore a nice comfy pair of tights I don’t know.
Fast forward a bit and ‘I love you’ is used more sparingly, and meaningfully. What may have begun as a mass of hearts and flowers, or a setting down of friendship roots that took time to bloom into love, has mellowed into something more familiar that ebbs and flows and continues to grow at a more leisurely pace. Not easy and not always exciting, but not taken for granted either. Grown up love has to withstand the daily grind of washing-up, sweeping floors, ground-hog day routines and the petty annoyances of toothpaste in the sink and clothes on the floor. But that’s ok because the moments that stand out shine all the more brightly.
For me at least, those stand out moments are not always when the words ‘I love you’ are uttered. Sometimes it’s a look, like the way my friend Lucy looked at her husband on their wedding day as he wept during the speeches (check out ‘The Look of Love’ in my Reasons to be Cheerful, Part One), or holding hands in bed at night. Sometimes it’s being hugged fiercely as you let out great heaving sobs, sometimes it’s about really being listened to. Sometimes it’s about bloody well biting your tongue.
Once I would have chased declarations of love in order to feel secure, or felt unloved if I didn’t hear those words every day – I guess that’s a common ailment of being in love with the vision of love we are sold. I still like a card, enjoy a heartfelt verse and flowers are never turned down, but my experience of love can’t be captured by a bear holding a sign that says “I love you”; it’s a bit more grown up than that.
Soundtrack: You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me – Dusty Springfield
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