Archive for April, 2012

April 16, 2012

Lies about love

As of next week, I will have been married for one year. Which, according to my divorce lawyer friend Nick, means I will be able to get divorced!

I’m not planning to, and hopefully neither is my husband; but I thought that I would mark the occasion by writing, for once, not about audio entertainment or handicrafts, but love. I cannot claim expertise – and anybody who would is not to be trusted – but I have loved and been loved by the same person since 2002, which I am pretending sufficiently qualifies me to debunk some of popular culture’s most prevalent falsehoods upon the topic.

Love will keep us together
Incorrect. While love might bring you together, what will keep you together are such things as compatible life goals, selective hearing, and respect for each other’s private bathroom time.

Love will tear us apart
Here, Joy Division confuse ‘love’ with ‘hungry tigers’.

Love is a battlefield
It is not love to place tin soldiers on your partner’s prone naked body and pretend they’re Normandy. That is just a sex thing.

Love means never having to say you’re sorry
Are you kidding me? You have to say you’re sorry all the time! ‘Sorry I broke your glasses.’ ‘Sorry I ate all the sausages.’ ‘Sorry I forgot your birthday.’ ‘Sorry – I was drunk, and I promise I really thought she was you.’

Only sociopaths would not apologise when apologies are expedient, and sociopaths are not renowned for their capacity to love.

Love is patient, love is kind (1 Corinthians 13:4)
Let’s see how kind love is when you tiptoe in the dark to go to the loo in the night and trip over the pair of shoes your beloved left smack in the middle of the doorway. Let’s see how patient it is when you explain for the sixth time that the reason you’re not going to be in tonight is because you’re going to Jane’s birthday dinner and IF YOU REALLY LOVED ME YOU WOULD REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME I TOLD YOU.

All you need is love
In an ideal world, sure; but it is hard to love if, for instance, you have nowhere to live and nothing to eat, and your liver is packing up. But it is easier for multimillionaire rockstars to gloss over that.

Love me, love my dog
A common folly is to think your loved one needs to love all the same things you love. In fact, both of you need to reconcile yourselves to your differences. Healthy relationships involve a fair amount of compromise; and while you can’t reasonably expect to change somebody, you can decide whether or not you can live with what you perceive to be their particular deficiencies. For instance, in theory a hairy back or a love of Kate Hudson romcoms might look like dealbreakers to you; but in everyday life they are not actually significantly disruptive.

With that in mind, now amend your fridge magnet to, ‘Love me, be prepared to tolerate my dog.’

Love can build a bridge
Nonsense. Had the Clifton Suspension Bridge been constructed by love, instead of builders and Brunel’s engineering brilliance, we’d all be forced to take the long route through Bristol.

Love and marriage, love and marriage
Go together like a horse and carriage

I was ready to scrape this straight into the ‘Rhyme is no substitute for meaning’ bin. Quick analysis would suggest that a horse is surely better off without the encumbrance of a carriage, which is not necessarily the case with love and marriage. But surprisingly, upon applying it to my own experience of marriage, I discovered this is quite a complex analogy.

I am fortunate to exist in a country and century where there’s no societal or religious imperative to marry. Even when my parents married in the relative liberation of London in 1970, it was the only way for them to live together openly, and for my mother to be granted a mortgage. They married some seven months after first meeting, which would be considered quite reckless nowadays, but was fairly normal back then: marriage preceded the relationship, and in effect your choice of spouse was something of a gamble. Whereas for my husband and me, forty years later, marriage followed almost a decade of relationship, much of which was spent cohabiting and allowing ourselves such proto-marital privileges as joint bank accounts and being too lazy to go out on Friday nights. So what does marriage mean, if you don’t need it, and you pretty much are living it anyway?

I can’t answer this question, but it was at least very clear to me that wedding ≠ marriage. I was far less invested in the former (a day!) than the latter (a lifetime!); but to become married you have to have a wedding, and if you have decided to get married, you might as well get married, and not sneak out to Bromley registry office on Tuesday lunchtime, then return to your separate workplaces as though nothing of note had occurred. Therefore a wedding had to be prepared, and as my husband was much busier than I was, the task largely fell to me. I am very shit at planning anything, and I’d never even mentally concocted my dream wedding as a young girl, or as an older girl; but I thought perhaps his proposal would force open a distant trapdoor within and unleash the bridezilla.

Instead, I hated it. I hated the admin. I hated the friends who appeared to enjoy their own wedding admin (‘wedmin’). I hated friends asking whether we were having a religious ceremony, even though my husband and I are lifelong atheists. I hated having to flip out because the ceremonial venue we’d booked and paid for went bankrupt with just weeks to go. I hated the presumptuousness of people – even strangers, especially strangers – about our characters and our relationship and what we wanted for our wedding. I hated everyone saying, “It’ll be children next!” when, had that been our ambition, it would have made better sense to have the children rather than the wedding, and instead of squandering all that money on cheese, booze and registrars, save it up lest they eventually wanted to pursue tertiary education. I hated people asking whether our wedding had a theme, as if we were decorating a three-year-old’s bedroom, and as if ‘wedding’ was not theme enough, and one we were ever going to use for any other party in our lives. I hated people unsolicitedly telling me to do as they had done at their own weddings. I hated how much effort it took to forge our own path and not succumb to homogeneity. I hated that, by trying to maintain individualism, I had to make a thousand decisions about which I did not care – for example, people will sit, and therefore chairs must be obtained, and therefore choices need to be made about which chairs, and those choices had to be made by me. I hated having to think for more than a nanosecond about something so prosaic as napkins, and I hated spending as much as £70 on napkins, especially since nobody was going to notice the napkins if the wedding was fun, and if it wasn’t, the napkins weren’t going to save it. I hated chair bows for existing. I hated marriage itself, for begetting the wedding industry which encourages the existence of chair bows.

Yet at no point did I hate my husband. (Even though, in the run-up to a wedding, your nearest and dearest have resigned themselves to the likelihood of you losing your decency and using them as slaves and whipping-posts. So really I was wasting an opportunity.) But the fact that I didn’t turn my hate-beam on him, despite the months of tedium and aggravation looking to be vented upon an innocent target, confirmed to me that the relationship itself was not the problem, and thus it had proved itself worthy of enshrinement in marriage. One could then counter-argue that, since the relationship demonstrated itself to be in decent fettle, why actually bother getting married? Similarly, whenever people ask me, “How’s married life?” my truthful answer is, “The same as the preceding 9¼ years of unmarriage” – again proving either that the relationship was good enough to turn into a marriage, or that marriage doesn’t make a difference so there’s no point to it.

Whichever side of this argument you support, the common fact is that the relationship has to work. Which not-neatly returns us to the horse and carriage. I bet there has never been a horse which thought to itself, “I am a sub-par horse. My legs are gammy. I’m not very fast. My tail is sparse. My breath stinks. But ever since that carriage was strapped onto me, I’ve turned into the best, healthiest, shiniest, speediest horse you’ve ever seen!” Marriage does not magically transform relationships. It cannot solve problems within a partnership or the individual; and while marriage celebrates a good relationship, it doesn’t convert a bad or adequate one into a good one. That would be putting the cart before the horse.

Marriage becomes meaningless if you treat it as an end in itself. A large number of my friends, male and female, have no desire to get married, ever. However, looking down from my state-sanctioned Smug Perch For Two, I don’t consider their long-term relationships to be somehow inferior to mine, or less committed, less loving, less likely to last until death do them part. In the terms of the love+marriage=horse+carriage analogy, I just think, “That’s a wonderful horse.” As for those who fixate upon getting married more than cultivating their relationship, or who hanker after marriage in isolation, regardless of a relationship – in that horseless carriage, they’re not even going to make it out of their driveway.

Love is like candy on a shelf
This simile does not work in any way.