Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The language of love

Looking for a decent Valentines Day card last month, I came across greeting after greeting which ran along the lines of "I can't live without you," or, "You are the missing part of me."  Similar sentiments are also a stock in trade for pop lyrics.  Am I alone in finding this language extremely creepy rather than romantic?

I didn't always feel like this.  When I fell in love for the first time, at the age of sixteen, I did my fair share of, "you make my life complete"-type mooning around.  I seem to recall copying out the passage from Plato's Symposium concerning everyone having another 'half'.  I think part of what appealed (as I was on the cusp of coming out) was that he suggested that your other half could be same gendered.  But I also wholeheartedly subscribed to the notion of having a 'soulmate': and she was it. 

At twenty, and in love for the second time, I once again tended towards dramatic and sweeping statements about how I "couldn't live" without my boyfriend.  Now, I just think it's a shame it took me so long to realise that, not only could I live without him, but that I would be a damn sight happier trying to do so.

However, while making wildly exaggerated declarations as a teenager and young adult is kind of expected, as a grown woman - and, I think, as a feminist - the idea that I might need someone else to be 'complete' is anathema to me.  There is something uncomfortably stalker-ish about rhetoric like, "I can't live without you".  It reminds me too much of couples who have Every Breath You Take by The Police as 'their' song, not realising the sinister nature of the lyrics.

For the reasons outlined in my post on being a 'spinster', I had been single for a long time before meeting The Boy in October last year.  My life - as I had created it - was busy, happy, fulfilling, creative and generally awesome.  So much so that it had been a struggle to find anyone that I liked enough to give up my time for.  Then he came along, and I liked him so much that I quickly realised that spending time with him was even more fun than spending time on my own.  And interestingly, it was the very fact that my life was busy and creative that attracted him to me in the first place.  But is he 'my other half'?  My 'missing piece'?  'The one'?  Those concepts imply the existence of a fate I don't believe in.  They also do away with the element of choice and free will.  To me, it is a far greater thing that I have chosen him; that although I recognise there may be other options, he is the one I want to be with.  I love him passionately and completely but he is not my soulmate.  We are not fated to be together, and I could live without him very well (albeit, now that I have met him, unhappily).  But I choose not to.

Because I don't assume that I am somehow 'meant' to be with him, I can recognise that things won't always be flowers and hearts and that our relationship will require work at times; work I am prepared to put in.  I can't help but wonder if people who believe in the notion of 'the one' are also people who bail at the first sign of trouble.  After all - their thinking often seems to go - how can your partner be 'the one', be your perfect match, if you're not getting on terribly well?  Is that the point at which you'd want to leave to search for someone else to be your real soulmate?  Or have I just become cynical in my old age; am I being terribly unfair about what are really just romantic declarations? 


  1. Such an interesting piece. I think the problem with love is that it has been 'hollywoodized'. The idea of one true love seems false to me too. It puts a lot of pressure on relationships and makes people unhappy because there aren't grand gestures everyday or love songs being written. I think theoretically you could live happily with just about anyone if you have enough in common and don't want to kill them. I think true love is quieter, it is appreciation, understanding, caring about what the other person thinks and wanting to be a better version of yourself. So perhaps love is one way of becoming "better", but I think there are as many routes to that as 'fish in the sea'.

    That said I have been with my boyfriend for over 8 years and we are recently engaged and I love him immensely and I feel my life would be less without him. I don't *think* I would die without him though, as sad as I would be.

    1. "True love is quieter, it is appreciation... and wanting to be a better version of yourself" WOW! This is the most beautiful and true description of love.

  2. I once read on Making nice in the midwest (or her old blog) something Mandi's dad told her when she met her husband - that there is no such thing as the one/a soulmate out there, love is two people deciding to commit to each other and thats what makes a relationship work (or something along those lines!) That sentiment appeals to my practical and not very romantic self!

    I love this post and I agree with so much of it. I was so chuffed for you that you mentioned the L word in a previous post! Perhaps I am a big softie after all! x

    1. Yep, seems like you have a hidden romantic streak after all Helen!

  3. Most of the truest insights into life and the human condition have come to me through comedy, or songs, or both. My favourite musical comedians has to be Tim Minchin, who has a particularly deep and thorough understanding of this subject in his song "If I didn't have you", which begins thus:

    If I didn't have you to hold me tight (If I didn't have you)
    If I didn't have you to lie with at night (When I'm feeling blue)
    If I didn't have you to share my sighs (Share my sighs)
    And to kiss me and dry my tears when I cry

    Well I really think that I would...
    ... Have somebody else

    Enjoy the full thing on YouTube here:

    1. Haha, I like that! And after all, Tim Minchin is the guylinered, rock & roll version of you Alex.

  4. Hmmm. I think if I wasn't in relationship with 'the one' then I'd probably agree completely! And whilst I don't go for all that written in the stars/soul mate stuff exactly, I can't help but feel that there was some amazing coincidence/timing, or whisper it, fate involved in how we met.

    I now look back at previous relationships and see them for what they were. But, y'know, hindsight and all that. A cynic might say that it's because of the now etc, but I know I'm not kidding myself. I do sometimes compare now with how I felt in previous relationships, which is how I can come to this conclusion. Our wedding anniversary is coming up soon - only six years, but I still feel the same as I did when we first met. It's on a similar level to bereavement of someone close to you - for example, you can't and don't want to imagine life without your parents, but when it happens you do survive, move on, but those people who get closest to you will always be there in some form or hang-up or other.

    But to add to Mr Minchin above, there's also Damien Rice's 'The Blower's Daughter' (used in 'Closer' - now there's a film about love!). He spends most of the song saying how he can't take his eyes off of someone, before ending with -

    I can't take my mind off you
    I can't take my mind off you
    I can't take my mind
    my mind my mind
    'Til I find somebody new

    'nuff said.

    Graham W

    1. It's one of my favourite endings to a song, that. Such a clever little aside.

      And yes, you're right, when it's true love that person will always be with you regardless of whether or not you 'move on' once they're gone. I think, sadly, that my previous relationships only remained with me in very negative ways. I know I have chosen a lot better this time!

  5. Awesome post Janet. It has also got me thinking as I have been struggling with a piece I am writing at the moment about falling in love which I am directing at my niece Amy, who is 16. You are not cynical

    “A cynic is a person searching for an honest man, with a stolen lantern”
    ― Edgar A. Shoaff

    I love the honesty in this post (did you steal my lantern?)

    Que sera sera (showing my age)

    1. Thanks! Sad to say, but I think is someone had told me when I was sixteen, "this love won't last, it's just a passing infatuation," I wouldn't have believed them.