Hey – this is supposed to be an adventure journal, a ripping travelogue from steamy South America! So where do I keep disappearing to? You have every right to ask. I should be writing this with trembling, blood-stained hands. I should be telling you about my hair-raising adventure in the Andes where I contracted double-malaria after being attacked by a herd of tsetse flies. Or I might be dictating this to an amanuensis because I am attached to an oxygen machine after my swash-buckling travails through the Amazon jungle, wrestling crocodiles and with only a tub of Marmite sandwiches to keep me going. But no, folks. The sad truth is that I have been hiding out in my little pad in Porto Alegre, watching Brazilian soaps, reading George Gissing, frying fish and depressing over Bradford City losing twice in the space of a week. Life is a crock of cockroaches at the moment. But I don’t feel sorry for myself – oh no! In fact, by busily doing nothing, I have had time to reflect on something we all cherish, crave and care about.
L-O-V-E. A mystery we never seem to solve. Can we learn more about it, or is it something you can only feel? Who knows most about it? Poets and songwriters? Jilted lovers? If you learn more about it as your life goes on, then I should know quite a bit by now, seeing as I am entering my dotage. One of my very favourite poets, W.H. Auden, spent his whole life trying to understand what those four little letters really mean. He begins one poem wittily:
Some say love’s a little boy,
And some say it’s a bird,
Some say it makes the world go around,
Some say that’s absurd,
And when I asked the man next-door,
Who looked as if he knew,
His wife got very cross indeed,
And said it wouldn’t do.
And he ends by asking how he will know love when it comes:
Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love.
Of course, I cannot hope to ever match Auden’s insight and wit. I’m from Bradford, remember. But over the years I have had a few ideas about love myself. Romeo I am not; Casanova neither. But having had a few broken hearts and plenty of time to mull over the whole business of romantic love, I would like to share a few of my thoughts and maybe shatter a few myths. So here goes:
LOVE LASTS FOREVER: Who said that? How do they know? Sorry to disappoint you, but love is not a solid, static thing that sits permanently on your shoulder. Love is the most fluid thing; it won’t just stick around. Love comes and goes and sometimes there is nothing you can do to stop it flying off like a bored budgerigar. The point is not to feel guilty about it. No-one is to blame when love steals away. The surest things can change. But fear not: love will come back another day and make you glow all over once again.
LOVE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WORK: Yes and no. If you spend all your time cultivating loving relationships you might end up as a bus driver. Love is here today and gone tomorrow and there isn’t much you can do about it. But there is a lot you can do to improve your work options. And someone who loves their work is much more attractive than a shabby sentimentalist who can’t even buy you dinner. I say: work hard at finding something you love doing for a living, and let love come and find you. Unless, of course, you love buses.
LOVE AND SEX ARE DIFFERENT: Whoever said that deserves a chocolate cookie! The trick is never to confuse the two. But for that trick you need to be a master magician, unfortunately. How many people get married because the sex is good only to find themselves waking up every day next to a wazzock. You see, passion cools, and it’s better to assess the respect you have for your lover when the flames have died down. Because respect is the key to a long, loving relationship. You need to find someone you deeply admire, but still fancy. Tricky, huh?
LOVE IS FEELING JEALOUS: Isn’t it natural to feel a twinge of jealousy when your lover is swooning in someone else’s company? Maybe. But being possessive can be catastrophic and says more about your insecurity. If you genuinely love someone you will want them to enjoy their freedom, too. Besides, if your partner is really enjoying someone else’s company that much, you had better let them go. Just make sure you have a hobby to turn to when you get dumped. I collect plastic submarines.
LOVE IS SAD: I have learnt this the hard way. Love might be quick to depart, but there is always a little bit left over that stays in your system. As you get older, it builds up and can easily turn to nostalgia. Better to allow the old loves to mature inside you, like good wine. Without the sadness that love leaves behind, we would never experience the joy of finding and treasuring love in the first place. Joy and sadness: these are the essence of love.
LOVE, AND BEING “IN LOVE”: “I love my partner, but I’m not in love with him anymore.” I’ve heard this a few times, but what does it mean? It means you don’t really love your partner, or rather, you love him like a brother. But you can live without your brother, so you really need to move on. Love means staying “in love”, and I don’t mean sizzling in the flames of passion, I mean the delight you feel just watching your partner experiencing moments of happiness. Falling “in love” is so wonderful that sometimes we fantasize about having a fling on the side. But if you are prepared to risk all on an illicit affair, better dust off those suitcases in the garage.
Love is not “staying together through thick and thin”. It is not a test of commitment. Love is freeing your spirit, not trapping it in a dingy flat in Shepherd’s Bush. Love doesn’t calculate; it liberates. It doesn’t build up resentment; it forgives and renews itself. Love is like a butterfly that doesn’t die. Oh dear – now I’m trying to sound poetic. So I’d better finish with a proper poem, or part of one. Wendy Cope wonders what to say to the man she’s been with for donkey’s years when another Valentine’s Day arrives:
Today’s the day we have to be romantic.
Our love is old and sure, not new and frantic.
You know I’m yours and I know you are mine.
And saying that has made me feel romantic,
My dearest love, my darling valentine.
I couldn’t have put it better myself. But that’s enough romance. Next week I will post some pictures of me grappling with a big brown bear in a supermarket car park. I thought the bear loved me…I was wrong.