Love is tricky. There are no easy answers
Laura Kennedy: Enduring love is not sparkling, or poetic. It is stout, practical and tender
‘The romantic love of an early relationship is so different from that of an established one.’ Photograph: iStock
Love is tricky to discuss or understand, because it is opaque, and it shifts with the changing of the light shone upon it. It is understood mostly in the act of feeling it – we can intellectualise love, and discuss it coldly, but none of this quite captures its essence. Yet we can be mistaken, too.
It is not so hard to mistake obsession or infatuation for love, especially if you are inexperienced. Many people – the tender, broken sorts – will see love in all of the wrong places, because they need to see it, or because in their youngest, most vulnerable years, they were taught to mistake a warped likeness for the real thing. This is how some of us can grow up to think that loves necessarily involves harm, or unacceptable sacrifice, or loyalty in the face of poor treatment.
We think, when we talk about love, that we all grasp a shared concept which that word refers to, but this is often not the case. The romantic love of an early relationship is so different from that of an established one, that the two are barely the same thing at all.
The first tumult of new love is a mania that lifts people out of the plodding pace of normal life, and stretches them, so that the wonderful, unique and mystical characteristics of the object of their love become their own. To feel so intensely is to be rendered solid after what in retrospect feels like an eternity of floating, without substance, through the world. It is to merge with someone else into an entity larger than yourself.
The real substance, the real meaning, is in the part that comes later
Of course, that’s all nonsense, insofar as feeling something, however powerfully, does not necessarily tell us what is true about the world outside our skin, and we have all, at some point, felt this intensity of emotion for someone who, upon better acquaintance, turned out to be utterly undeserving of it. Less “move heaven and earth”, and more “move your damn stuff out of my house”. The real substance, the real meaning, is in the part that comes later, when the mania has burnt away and you revert back to being two individuals rather than one beast with however many backs, squinting at each other in the stark and unflattering morning light.
I have been in a relationship now for almost five years, and am intensely conscious that there are relationships which endure five times as long and more, and that they have endured stages and experiences that we may get to some day, or not. There is nothing that binds us together but a verbal agreement and a variety of constantly changing feelings, their current moving us along while they thrash and creep like snakes in a bag. Everything could change.
The relationship could break down, and our lives could become suddenly unrecognisable. It may be the Halloween season tainting my thoughts. In adulthood, it is not ghouls and mummies that you fear, but anticipating ever having to find the other half of the rent on your own, or imagining what dating apps must be like for people reeling, their fresh wounds still drenching them, out of a long-term relationship. Insipid questions like so what do you do. I would rather a film-style chase scene with a newly loosed killer any day.
Five years is more than long enough to stop romanticising one another, and to witness the worst sides that, for the first year or two, we all shield with terror. Across those nearly five years, Jules, who I have written about in this column before, and who is very tall and very loud, has seen my very worst self. He held my hand at my mother’s sickbed, and then at her funeral. He has held my hair back while I was sick after no fewer than two poor quality chicken dinners.
Last week, he brought me home a doughnut in a little box when I had had a bad day. We have offered one another, and accepted, countless apologies for everyday infractions. The love that endures in the longer term is not sparkling, or poetic. It is stout, practical and tender. It is less uncertain, less frightened and unconfident than that first, furious love, but it is still fragile, requiring constant attendance. Yes, love is tricky.