Friday, 10 September 2010

On the nature of love

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…


  1. You have portrayed your sentiments with such passion, thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you. It's funny how you can look differently at things from a distance. I wish I had this clarity and perspective when I was at home!