You talk about love as though it is easy, all sunshine and roses, fair trade chocolates in plastic-free packaging winking next to a card filled with personal memories and insightfully humourous anecdotes delivered on the right day and everything. You finish the story at the point when the lovers, having overcome fear, prejudice, jealousy or all three, link hands and lips and hearts and destinies and promise that this is it, as though that really is the end of the story, and not just the end of the first chapter. Love is the beautiful ideal, the point of keeping going, the escape from reality. Reminding us all of just how hard love is doesn’t sell; but it is the only way to comprehend what it really is.
Love is drinking too much and suddenly getting serious and saying all the beautiful things to your partner that you always forget to say when sober. It is composing music just for them, while they sit sulking downstairs because it is Valentine’s Day, again, and they think they have been forgotten, again. It is taking out the bins because they’ve had a bad day, and leaving the cushions all over the floor because they need to cuddle up and be held, and cooking spaghetti bolognese yet again because they like it, even though you really don’t. It is not being able to stop smiling when The One sends you a message and everyone in the room with you can tell straight away who it’s from, and not just because you’ve given them their own ring tone. It is wanting to be the person you see reflected in their eyes and being honest enough together to see how you both fall short of that, so much of the time.
Love is the hurt silence when they have, once again, utterly failed to listen to your desperate pleas to not have to do everything alone on school day mornings. It is the teasing that feels more like nagging than like fun. It is the darkness and the solitude of breaking your own promises and going to bed angry, after all. It is there in your sacrifices and there in your tears. It is the mindnumbing boredom of Yet Another Day of everything being exactly the same.
Love is bubbling up with your neighbours, instead of your own family, because you heard their screams before he left, and you know they will need you to get through this. Love is taking your baby sister’s kids to school as well as your own because it’s been raining all week and the blinding agony of her sickled cells means she won’t make it as far as the playground, never mind getting back again, and if that means you running late all day, well, that’s just what it means. Love is putting a plastic ring in a stolen envelope covered in felt-tipped red hearts, handed over surreptitiously because her mum says girls can’t marry girls and what will she do when she sees the ring? Love is hanging around your mother every week as she groans at her computer before you connect her to the world and she can continue to learn to spell her home town, her job title, the name she gave to you with so much hope all those years ago.
Love is the hitch in your mother’s step that you see as precious, that sets her apart from all the others, recognisable even without your inch-thick glasses on. Love is thinking she can do everything, and only realising when it’s your own turn to be The All-Fixable just how terrifying that unquestioning faith must have been. Love is your mindnumbing screams when you hear the words Terminal Cancer, and your hands when you sit at his bedside and pray for the end of his pain, knowing as you do that must also mean the end of his life. Love is still missing him decades later, and decades later still when roles reverse and the cared for become the carers.
Love is crossing oceans in dinghies and putting up with excrement being pushed through your letter box and learning new languages and giving up your dreams, all for the sake of your children. Love is the alien feeling of another soul growing in your belly, and it is the echoing silence of the moment you unconsciously caress that overstretched belly and touch nothing but empty space. Love is catching her vomit in your hands to save yet another set of sheets, and love is that first “I love you too” that is sleepily murmured with actual conviction, not just as words other people say.
Love is that friend who phones you when they’re bored because you make them laugh, and the rush of joy you feel when they do. Love is knowing that you can meet up again after two years apart and it will feel like it was only yesterday that you spent hours leaning in the doorways of your student bedrooms, never quite finishing everything you had to say to each other. Love is acceptance and pride and respect. Love sees your worth more than you ever will. Love tells the future Mr Friend, on first meeting him, that if he ever hurts her you will cut out his heart with a spoon.*
Love is recycling everything you can whilst knowing it will never be enough. Love is trying to live simply whilst caving all too often for one more pair of boots. Love is talking about the future and it is living and dreaming in the present. Love is saying “yes, and” when you really want to scream “no, never”; and it’s rolling up your sleeves and making good on your promises once you do, because some things are bigger and bolder and better than you are on your own.
Love is all these things, and a million more moments as well. And yes, sometimes love can even be sunshine, and flowers, and fair trade chocolates wrapped in plastic-free packaging, with a handmade card.
*I am sorry about that, incidentally. A little too much wine and a lot too much Alan Rickman going on there. I meant every word of it, though, and I still do.