Call Valentine’s Day whatever you like, but I have to be honest that I like a little bit of romance… Of course, I don’t think we should wait for the price of roses and teddy bears to increase 1000% in order to be able to show our person that we love them, but I really love the idea of a day that’s all about love. I genuinely believe that the world would be a better place if we spent more time engaged in love; self-love, romantic love, love for friends, family and colleagues; but for now, let’s talk about the romantic, intimate kind of love that we all seem to be so focused on so much of our lives.
Memories and moments are created around love…first love, first kiss, first date, not necessarily in that order. Birthdays, weddings, funerals and anniversaries are essentially a celebration of love and connection. And almost every song I’ve ever heard has been about some kind of love… But what is it to truly be loved?
I’m no expert in the matter, having spent much of my twenties and all of my thirties as a single-something. There’s was other stuff going on in my life at the time, like travel, drinking, adventure, drinking, partying and drinking, and that’s not the ideal situation in which to find true love as I learned. I fell in love many Friday nights, only to see that maybe that’s not exactly what it was in the stark light of a hungover Saturday morning. And so passed the time. With me always secretly hoping that just one of those encounters would develop into something – anything – resembling a real, loving relationship. But alas that was not to be my rom-com happy ending.
And for many years that was where my ideas of love and romance were born – by watching movies. I also stopped drinking when I was 35 and then any interaction with the opposite sex was whittled down to some very nervous, awkward conversations and exchanges as I relearned to socialise without the help of alcohol. Never one for half measures I chose sexual celibacy while I worked on myself and how I’d like to show up in my next relationship. I was later to learn that the only way to get relationship-fit is to be in a relationship and that five years of celibacy is more caustically referred to as being sexually anorexic…not profound personal development as I thought.
What I did do during that time was to really think about what I was looking for from a partner. The kind of guy that I wanted to share space and time with, and who I was prepared to be vulnerable, authentic and congruent with. And around 40 I met a guy who I thought was that guy, but after three years I realised that I was never going to be his priority and there were a dozen things that came before me on the emotional, mental, social, spiritual and physical to-do list. I walked away at the right time after fighting to be seen for the last 12 months of the relationship and am exceptionally grateful to him for the lessons I learned. One of the biggest was that being really seen by the person that said “I love you” was a non-negotiable for me. And I mean really seen…
I learned that I needed to be considered, the be respected, to be prioritised and to be acknowledged. Not simply by words, but most definitely in actions. With my love languages of quality time and acts of service that means I’d rather he stood with me and cooked dinner after doing the grocery shopping than buying me an expensive meal. And the most life-changing lesson I learned was about self-love, because if we don’t love ourselves then how can we possibly ask and expect someone else to love us. It’s really difficult to love someone who doesn’t see their worth and what they bring to the world…
So, the relationship ran its natural course and I walked away with the intrinsic knowing that it was the most self-loving thing that I could possibly have done. And walked into the most unexpected relationship I never saw coming. It’s a complicated story, but what I have learned over the time we have been together is what it truly means to be loved…and it’s nothing like I expected it to be.
It’s been a whirlwind, in the style of a typhoon, that bends strong, preconceived ideas to the limit and breaks false beliefs that have no place in a relationship. But for the first time in my life, I know how it feels to be part of something genuine and authentic when it comes to love. I know what it feels like to have someone courageously and vulnerably tell me how they feel, rather than dribbling out the sentiments when the right amount of time has elapsed. Being really seen by a man for the first time has been an amazing, yet overwhelming experience.
No one in their forties can hope to come into a relationship unburdened by past experiences, and what I have come to learn is that’s what a real relationship is about. It’s a beautifully messy meeting of minds, hearts and souls, so totally perfect in it’s imperfection. It’s about a deep knowing that the person in front of you will be there for you when you need them the most, and that they’ll hold your hand just to be there holding your hand on a difficult day. But they will also challenge the hell out of you and call you on your bullshit and incongruity immediately as they see it. They won’t give you a free pass to project your bad day onto them, but they will love you unconditionally for who you are and forgive you those silly outbursts that were brought on for no apparent reason, or maybe some over-inflated life situation.
Only living with a man for the first time in my forties has come with a whole special set of hockey-stick learning curves. I thought we’d just slot into cohabitation effortlessly, knowing where we belonged and who did what…I was a little left of reality. And it took time some time to figure it all out. I honestly didn’t know the household chores, duties and responsibilities needed to be discussed…that never happens in the movies!!! I guess I was completely naive…surely love would simply allocate shopping, cooking and cleaning to the right person and we’d live blissfully in our universally-assigned roles. Who knew that men didn’t simply assume the “take out the rubbish” and “change the light bulbs” role!?
What I have learned in this time is that the only way to work all this stuff out is to talk it out, which was “unromantically” surprising to me!! Wasn’t moving in together and being in love just some exciting series of moments and memories??
But in all the logistics of it, I have come to know what it means to be truly loved. That a disagreement over the most trivial or important of issues does not mean that the relationship is going to disintegrate in a couple of minutes or hours. That the stress of daily life continues, but that there is someone there to come home to and feel the feeling of real safety and certainty. To know beyond knowing that if that horrible lump in your right breast were to turn out to be malignant, that he’d be there with you every single step of the way. And yet, it doesn’t mean that he’ll accept bad behaviour or put up with endless rounds of ineffective communication.
So yes, there are the fairy-tale parts to the love, the magical moments of blissful synchronicity where it feels as though our souls are locked in wordless conversation. There is connection, togetherness, deeply felt emotion. And there is action…lots and lots of doing, talking and showing up to express our love to one another in an everyday, moment-to-moment kind of way. There’s also all the messy stuff that makes a grown-up relationship. The missed conversational nuances at the end of a long, hard week that sometimes lead to silly arguments. The misconstrued, unintended projections that happen from time to time, and really piss the other person off. Yet none of that can ever take away from how it is to truly be loved. To stand in the chaos of life with a deep, knowledge and certainty that I am seen and loved for being exactly who I am (as long as I am working on the not-so-okay stuff). And that’s much better than being in a Hollywood rom-com any day of the week. To look into the eyes of the person who truly loves me and know that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be and that no matter what comes up he’ll be there with me; maybe holding my hand, maybe kicking my butt, but he’ll be there and that’s how it feels to be truly loved.