As I mentioned at the Weekend, I’ve never been one to pay too much attention to Valentines for varying reasons, but I wouldn’t be much of a blogger if I completely ignored the occasion and failed to write something sugary pink and heart filled now, would I?! So here goes….
When I was younger I had a very romanticised vision of what love was. It wasn’t that I thought it would all be about expensive gifts and being treated like a princess, but I had got it in my head that being hopelessly in love with someone meant huge gestures and life and death. It was all drama and intensity. Passionate jealousy, slamming doors, declarations that you can’t live without one another. It was driving through the night to see someone for just a few hours or moving to another country on a whim. When I loved I loved hard, and was willing to make sacrifices. I tested the boys I was with back then, eager to see them show the same devotion in return – I was almost always disappointed.
It’s possibly the fault of my first love. It was pretty idyllic as first loves go, to be honest. It was that innocent, passionate all consuming love that only a 16 year old can know. I’d spent my early teens feeling painfully self conscious and never really believed I’d find myself the object of someone’s affections, but I did, and he was the perfect start to my journey in love. He was a good boy, my parents liked him, he treated me well and for around 3 years that was all I knew – love was great! Love was sweet. Love was kindness. Love was being someone’s favourite person. It was novel to me, this idea that I mattered more to someone than anyone else – as the girl who followed a few paces behind the pack, that knew the popular girls but was never quite popular herself, it felt good for someone to want you around. The idea that I had been picked out from the crowd? Well, not a lot beats that feeling, does it?
Of course, time passed and we grew and changed. I often wonder how my life would be now had we stayed together, and the answer is most likely very different to how it is now, but I think ultimately I would have had a perfectly pleasant life. Pleasant is not what a 19 year old heart seeks though. As is the way with most childhood romances (back then I’d have been mortally offended at the idea that I was anything but a capable, mature young woman – bless!) we went our separate ways and I entered a slightly less rose tinted phase of my romantic life. These were the years of chronic conflict. Wanting to be seen as the cool and sophisticated girl who wasn’t uptight and was ‘one of the lads’, but trying to balance that with not being used or treated like a doormat. I so desperately wanted to be the girlfriend that didn’t nag, the girlfriend that didn’t mind her boyfriend going out with the boys instead of seeing her, the girlfriend who didn’t care about whether or not the relationships were serious. My choices in partner during this time were poor, and I still bear the scars of throwing too much of myself into relationships that were not worth my time. My confidence and my self worth suffered. The nice boys that snuck in along the way I pushed away because I was jaded and distrusting. Love was being cheated on. Love was being vulnerable. Love really hurt.
And then I met The One Before The One. After years of an on-again-off-again relationship that had shattered my old notions of what love meant, I finally met someone who seemed to offer more. He was not mean, or spiteful, or selfish. He was caring and kind, and the next few years were happy. We forged a life together. We lived abroad for a while. We moved house a lot. We got a dog. I turned 30. Our friends started getting engaged and we did too. My life was a blur of domesticity and attending Weddings talking about babies. I enjoyed taking care of someone and I thought my life was set. This is it, I thought. Love was comfort. Love was safe. Love was predictable.
And then suddenly, life got hard. I went through an extremely traumatic time in my career (that sounds dramatic, but honestly it’s the only way to describe it). Months on end of waking up in the morning genuinely scared to go to work, having no clue of what the day had in store. Evenings spent crying, swearing that I couldn’t do any more and had to quit. I didn’t though, I survived, and I’m a stronger, better person for it. But my relationship didn’t. It turns out, he didn’t want to look after me like I looked after him. He wasn’t there to give me a cuddle when I came home crying – the house was often cold and empty. He would pat me on the back, say, ‘there there’, then ask what was for dinner. I wanted him to take some of the decisions out of my hands, but he wouldn’t – or he would, but only in his own time. I couldn’t rely on him, and I realised, quite shockingly, that I felt incredibly lonely. This is it?? I thought. Until finally I realised, I didn’t want this to be it. I wanted to be cherished, I wanted to feel valued and loved. I wanted to be his priority, like he was mine. I had made the mistake of thinking that a relationship that wasn’t bad, was good, but it wasn’t enough. So I made the hardest decision I’ve ever made – I called off our Wedding, and later I walked away for good.
Then I found The One. Or so I thought. I found myself in a relationship that made me incredibly happy, and I was shocked at the speed an intensity with which it became serious. The things I’d grieved when I called off my Wedding – being a wife, starting a family, the stability of someone always being there – seemed possible again, but better. This was someone who had similar values, the same work ethic, the same attitude to money. I could go on the holidays my ex wasn’t interested in, share a bottle of wine rather than a glass on my own. I felt like I was finally getting what I’d been waiting for…. and then just like that it was over. Blindsided isn’t the word. I learned another hard lesson – that you are never too old to get your heart broken. I thought I’d experienced it in my youth, but I knew now that what I’d felt back then didn’t come close. Back then it was chronic disappointment, rage and betrayal. Now it was simply not wanting to exist. I couldn’t eat. I didn’t want to get out of bed. Everything seemed pointless. It felt like my life was over. True heartbreak is really like suffering a death, but not just the death of a loved one, the death of a version of yourself and the life you thought you had. I thought my years of experience would help me have some sort of jaded, protective layer, but instead my age just made the pain more raw. It was the first time in my life that I couldn’t picture my future anymore and it was terrifying – I would literally wake in the middle of the night gripped by panic, but not really be able to understand why. It was quite honestly a life changing experience (which feels melodramatic to say, but that’s the honest truth) and I couldn’t say for sure that I’m completely recovered today.
This post does have a happy ending though of course, because this would be a pretty sucky Valentines Day post if it didn’t! With time and caution we found a way back and my life is now unrecognisable. We share a home now, that is ours and ours alone and that we are busily shaping to be just the way we want it. I’ve left behind my city life for the quietness of the countryside and, surprisingly, I love it! We make plans, so that even when times are tough we have something to look forward to. Neither of us are completely healed from our past lives, but now we are better at understanding each other and why we are the way we are. I still fear that I may not ever get married or that I won’t have children – greatly in fact – and I still struggle not to tie up my notions of self worth with my relationship. But at least now I know that if I don’t end up with the future I thought I would, there is an alternative that can make me just as happy. I have learned an awful lot in my years about love. I’ve learned that love is more than grand gestures and actions. Love is a cup of coffee in the morning. Love is a handwritten note on your pillow. Love is someone taking the reins for you when you don’t feel strong enough. It is a partnership. It’s sharing your feelings, your time and your experiences, because you want to, not because you have to. The most important thing I’ve learned of all though, is that love is worth it. When you’ve suffered the heart shattering blows that love all too often deals, it’s easy to tell yourself not to bother any more, that you are better off alone. And maybe some people are. But for me at least, the truth is, I like sharing a life with someone, and I’d go through all that heartbreak again if I knew I’d end up where I am now.
There is life both before and after love – always. Don’t be scared to grab hold and experience it. Fight for it and cherish it and don’t let it die. Love is hope, in the end.
Happy Valentines Day all, whether you are loved up or not.
(P.S – How’s that for sugary pink and heart filled, huh??)