Partly inspired by an article I read over on Thought Catalog – who possibly could compete with BuzzFeed in the ‘Most Blatant Use Of Titles To Get You To *click*’ – entitled ‘What It’s Like To Be In Love When You Have Depression’ (the piece I like a great deal, just to be clear), and partly inspired by meeting someone recently who surprised me, in the best possible ways, here is a timeline of what I’ve learned about love (with equal parts whimsy and angst, I think). There is a serious, mature, properly enlightening post that I could write here – but this seemed like way more fun. Although Part 1, is, naturally, a lot more light hearted than the subsequent parts.
c. 1984 – our family pet budgie, entitled Sparky, passes away. I return home from school to my usual snack of salami and marmalade on toast, and my Mum breaks the news, whilst standing at the sink, steam rising from the cup of tea held in both hands, not looking at me. Love is a shocking departure, encased in an old Flora tub, buried in the back garden.
c. 1985 – both my sisters are away at boarding school, and we write each other letters, full of fierce devotion, that they won’t feel again until they have their own children years later. They are laboriously written, sometimes with each letter penned in a different colour, full of slang and a child’s acceptance of their lonely lot that will seem barbaric upon adult re-reading. Love is protection, or at the least, the desire to protect, even in the face of acknowledged impotency.
1986 – I read Jane Eyre, and the die-hard-romantic gene, already awake and flourishing, blooms in an explosion of gothic angst and wild exclamations. I don’t know it, but I’m now doomed. Love conquers all – mad ex-wives, class difference, storms and fires and, best of all, being plain.
c.1987 – I receive a My Little Pony Stable for Christmas. I will love this piece of moulded plastic – complete with accessories and bonus Lemon Drop Baby Pony! – for many, many years. It’s purple gables will fill my dreams for even more, and I will later date the ‘end’ of my childhood, as a melodramatic teenager, as the day I exchanged this most treasured possession for cold, hard cash. Love is the pure joy of uninhibited make-believing.
c. 1988 Part 1 – I suddenly clock, when listening to a Phil Collins song one day, that the majority of songs I ever hear, in fact, in the *world*, have love as their subject. Falling in love, falling out of love cheating, getting married, finding the one, the one dying, never getting the guy/girl, oh oh oh oh ohhhhh. I’m mostly bemused; why is the whole world so obsessed with this… thing, that they are driven to consistently, repetitively, create art around it? It certainly seems to be popularly received, also. I suspect that this is something I’ll understand when I grow older, but secretly hope I don’t. Love is being slightly mad. And wanting to talk about the object of your affection. A *lot*.
c.1988 Part 2 – My best friend at school is Tchaiko Omawale. We do everything together, serious faces behind glasses that dwarf us. She is outspoken and passionate, and I stand in awe of her belief that her words will change a thing in this regimented environment – until I realise that the speaking out is just as important as whether that change happens or not. Then a day comes when she is called out of Latin class, by a solemn faced teacher, and I never see her again, her bedside drawer emptied. Rumours abound, and her boyfriend James and I are heart-broken. Love is a fierce friendship, a desire to scratch out the eyes of those who question her.
c.1989 Part 1 – I listen to Les Miserables, and find myself desperately crying over the story, whilst also feeling finding a lot of the lyrics faintly ridiculous. It’ll take me another good 20 years to realise that these iconic female characters are given no role other than to yearn for, and only find happiness with, their hero. Sadly, this – along with, you know, the rest of the patriarchy – will be the basis for most of my expectations and ideas about romance and love, for longer than I care to admit. Love is being found attractive above all other females, by the man of your choice.
c.1989 Part 2- My dorm room at boarding school is not a safe place after lights-out. We hold our courts in the dark, and your role depends on what position in the hierarchy you’ve managed to claw and bite your way to that day, that week. More and more, the subject is boys; who’s done what, to whom, with how many fingers. I am 10. I’ll be called frigid by my pre-pubescent peers long before a man ever spits that shame at me, and I wonder what’s wrong with me, that the thought of doing anything physical with a member of the opposite sex fills me with so much fear I see lights dance, behind my tightly clenched eyelids. Love is a penetration I’m going to have to grit my teeth and endure, sometime soon, before ‘frigid’ becomes ‘lezzer’. Before I lose my increasingly tenuous place on the food chain.
1990 – At my mother’s heeding, the family – all but my Dad, who stays to work – move to N. Ireland, and a new home, a new school, new clothes and neighbours and, later, friends. It’s cold, and my accent doesn’t fit, and I don’t want to be here, but I understand that the move is A Good Thing. I’ve had it explained to me. My Mum’s parents are getting older, and need her there. But when I see this family-before-me interact, I realise, suddenly, that she hates them. Love is an obligation I don’t understand, and immediately resent.