Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Who was it that said if they could choose to do anything before they died, it would be to fall in love again? I thought it was Germaine Greer, in fact I hoped it was, but I think now that perhaps it wasn't. Never mind. It's what I would choose too, every time.
To feel that intensity of longing and mutual desire, of anticipation and excitement, has to be one of the most sublime experiences that life has to offer. A lot of people dismiss the heady emotions that tend to mark the early stages of a relationship as being essentially meaningless. Psychologists label them 'attachment flu' as though new love were an illness, and people far more sensible than myself quote that famous passage from Captain Corellis Mandolin and say that it is only after the first rush of infatuation has faded and you find that what you have left are shared values and a common vision for the future that you can truly say you have found love.
But I think that society can often seek to dismiss and minimise what it fears the most. Attraction, chemistry, and the feelings associated with falling and being in love are extremely powerful. Fathers and mothers have been known to leave their homes and abandon their children whilst in the grip of such strong emotions. You can read what is possibly the greatest of all the Shakespearean tragedies, or listen to any contemporary love song. Focus on the sentiments that are being expressed - they are not concerned with shared values and long term commitments. It is the fireworks that inspire great art.
I don't think that I will ever live with a man again. My own personal experience of living in a traditional set-up in which I was financially dependent on my partner was that it was a horrible, horrible trap. I believe that women tend to lose out when it comes to the institution of marriage and partnership and that they often sacrifice far more than their men in the interests of keeping the nuclear family together. I have never felt the injustice of gender inequality more keenly than when immersed in efforts to navigate my way through the choppy waters of my intimate relationships with men. Talk about the personal being the political. My priorities these days are that I am able to support myself and my family, and that I enjoy and can feel proud of my autonomy. My children have good relationships with their fathers whom they see consistently and regularly on a weekly basis - and once they are in bed my time and space is my own which is something I value immeasurably.
I sometimes find myself questioning whether a whole adult life spent in a monogamous relationship with the same person is a particularly natural state for human beings. I have a huge amount of admiration for people who manage to make it work and who remain content in their partnerships, but I think that generally as a species we are not very good at it. Indeed the idea that successful marriages can be founded on enduring romantic love is actually very recent and not at all universal. If I'm honest I don't enjoy being in long term relationships very much. In my experience they tend eventually to be defined by a diminishing interest in the other person, power struggles over who does what, and a lack of sex. At 34 and with a completed family of three children, I have come to the conclusion that those things hold no interest for me. I do not want them. And as long as I have family and good friends around me then I don't give a fig if I never have a husband or live with anyone again. But, show me a future in which I never fall in love again and it looks bleak. It takes on a sad grey tinge and in it I feel strangely wilted.
The last time I fell in love it was completely out of the blue. I was at a wedding, we were introduced, he held out his hand to shake mine, and I actually caught my breath. I suddenly felt shot through with self consciousness and kept looking furtively around, convinced that what I was feeling was somehow written all over my face. He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen - he reminded me of a greek statue. He was also much younger than me and wildly unsuitable really, but it was too late. I had already decided that I was just going to ignore all of that.
He lived about a two hour drive away. Soon after we met, my children were going away for the weekend with their fathers. I jumped in my car and sped down the motorway to spend the weekend with him. It was two days of madness. We must have walked for miles around the city he calls home, little landmarks of which will be forever etched on my brain. The tiny pub on the corner with the outside tables and chairs on the little roof balcony that we had all to ourselves and where we watched the cars and the night go by. The narrow boats moored to shiny black iron boulders along the city canal. We sneaked onto one of those boats, laughing, shushing and whispering, and made love hoping the moonlight wouldn't give us away. It took us hours to walk back to his flat that night. We kept stopping to kiss every ten paces and he carried me half the way home because my shoes were hurting my feet. He was the most fun I had had in years. When it was time for me to go home, we both sat in silence in my car for about twenty minutes. Already, tearing ourselves away seemed impossible.
And so began a relationship that lasted about fifteen months. Through choice I only ever saw him when the children were with their fathers so we did not get to spend much time together. He would come over once a week after work, drive for two hours to spend the evening and the night with me, and then get up at half past five in the morning in order to leave in time for work the next day. We got the odd weekend together during the school holidays, and that was all.
It is over now, and although the end has been painful I'm still so glad that we had those times together. For a while we were in love and it was wonderful, and as much as I loathe mawkish cliches, it is still nevertheless true I think, that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
So when I picture my future I do not imagine wedding bells and shared possessions. But I do, I admit, sometimes find myself thinking: please, don't let that have been the last time I ever get to feel like that.