Ten years ago I would have told you that the greatest love one human being could have for another was the bond between a mother and her young child. I know some people don’t experience that bond with one or more of their children, but when the bond is there it’s literally worth dying for. I had loved and been married and been widowed, and I can honestly say that I loved S. But I don’t remember ever feeling about him the way I felt about all three of my babies. I missed him because he was my best friend, my companion, my co-creator of these amazing three people. What I didn’t miss was the whole marriage thing. I felt diminished the first time I had to write Mrs so and so, hated the fact that he was the important one in the eyes of the world, especially as I was a stay-at-home mother.
Then came single life, and I started to date. I also started reading romances, mostly with a light touch. I missed sex, sure, and the intimacy of having a partner, but I wouldn’t swap that for my freedom, for the intense relationship I had with my kids. I had a career, I had my own house. I had freedom, for twelve years.
Then it happened. At a deeply unsociable moment, I fell in love with the newly widowed husband of a dear friend. I didn’t even know if I liked him, but it was there, just like in the poetry and all those romances I loved when I was younger. And I mean fell, there was definitely a sensation of falling and possibly crash landing. My perspective on love changed dramatically.
Take Elizabeth Barrett Browning and ‘How do I love Thee?’ for example:
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
And Shakespeare’s sonnet 141:
In faith I do not love thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But ’tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who, in despite of view, is pleased to dote.
Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted;
Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone,
Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
To any sensual feast with thee alone:
But my five wits nor my five senses can
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee.
I get them now, I get the weird transformation from me, singular to us, plural. I did struggle with it, not least because he came with a lot of baggage (recently widowed, four kids) and I had to give up my hard won freedom as my kids grew up and go back to looking after a three year old. Not to mention that he was, and still is at heart, a very traditional product of a very traditional marriage. I looked at him, and really saw him, and still loved him warts and all (figuratively speaking, no actual warts).
After seven years I feel like I have discovered something amazing, that I realise I never had before, whether because I wasn’t ready for it or because that person didn’t connect in that way. Now I’m away, I find myself writing poetry and astonished to find that, much as I love my kids (and I do) and although their welfare is foremost while they are still kids, the person I love most is my husband. I miss him, not the everyday stuff so much (well, some) but the moments of real connection which are rare with kids and work and life getting in the way. I have started to write about love in a different way (well, all ways are different because I hate the gooey stuff normally, I’m the least romantic person). It’s like getting a new colour in your paint box. You had an uneasy feeling all along that there ought to be a colour in that empty space but couldn’t imagine what it would be like… but now you have it it’s your favourite…