One thing I found myself saying a lot over the summer is “love is many different things.” I said it so much I started thinking about it. Here’s what I thought.
When I was seventeen and sporting a weird-looking mushroom haircut I walked into a tatty record shop in my home town, and the shop owner liked me so much he took a photo of me when I wasn’t looking. Later on he gathered up his courage and told my best friend’s boyfriend that he liked “his mistress’s friend,” in a short, stumbling, to-the-point statement, entirely characteristic of everything about him. It took me a long time to warm up to him –he was sweet, but he was also old, and strange– but when I did I loved him from the bottom of my seventeen-year-old-heart, with a love that was pure and true and devoted: if he had asked me to marry him I would have, and I would have spent the rest of my life in the company of his wondrous childish innocence and notorious old man grumpiness. He didn’t.
So when I was almost nineteen I pushed open the door of a bar and walked in at the exact moment the DJ, a friend of mine, was telling the boy I had been in love with for a few months that he didn’t need to go some place else for something to happen in his life — perhaps the woman of his dreams would walk right through the door. When I hear the phrase ‘truly, madly, deeply’ I always think of the relationship that followed that night. I never knew that love could be so strong, or so fierce, or that it could make your head spin. That being in the same room as someone could be all you wanted for a while, or that such a small thing could seem so magical. That he could seem so magical, that it would seem to me that the heavens had opened and he had fallen right off. That just being together could make us feel that we could take on half the world. And I could never have imagined that all this wouldn’t be enough to keep us together when we were too young, too sad — and, perhaps, a little too different.
A fair few people followed that made my broken heart beat a little faster. The blue-eyed boy with the stripy hat stands out for his boundless sweetness and his amazing ability to send love in large quantities through text messages. The precious few hours I spent with him were some of the happiest of my life. I felt at home like never before. The world seemed wondrous, the little riverside town the most beautiful place in the world, the sunshine god-given. I cried on the train home, out of the happiness of having found him more than the sadness of leaving him. And when he disappeared from my life a few months later, almost soundlessly, almost painlessly, I almost couldn’t mind.
There was also the cute boy from the airport, the one who inspired me to the phrase ‘instant magic, like soap bubbles’. The a boy I spotted on the gate of a late night, late flight. The boy that looked so perfect –like a pop song– that I couldn’t help but stare and smile and want to watch him all the time. The boy I thought I’d never see again after the baggage reclaim area only to bump into him two days later at a clubnight, which made somebody exclaim “it’s fate!” I got his phone number, but it turned out it wasn’t fate.
And there was also the green-eyed boy who kissed me goodbye on that very same night, a kiss so sweet it stayed with me for hours, a boy I thought I’d never fall in love with but did. He changed my mind, through persistence and the promise of a day out on Brighton beach and I am glad that he did, because the months I spent with him were happy and the love we shared sweet and straightforward. I still have the mixtapes and the records and the lists of the films we watched and the towns we wandered around in and even a recipe for brownies.
And then there was the second blue-eyed boy, the one I had a long-distance pop crush on. And it wasn’t much more than a pop crush, I tell you, but it was a long lasting one, and it must have been pretty bad, too, because later on I discovered I had written in my diary that “just the thought of just being with him makes me feel lucky forever,” like all my sunny dreams have come true in a rainy world, “in a, suddenly, not-so-rainy lifetime.” The force of that feeling surprised me, but it must have been honest. I don’t lie to myself in my diary.
By the time the crush faded away I was twenty-three and my heart had mended which probably has something to do with the fact that I found myself confessing my love to yet another blue-eyed boy at a bus stop in the dark. Later on, as we were falling asleep in different beds, he told me love was “such a big word,” and this made me swear silently to myself –in the name of the weeks of sleepless nights that had come before, of the hopes and the dreams and the joy he put in my heart just by existing– that I would prove I meant what I said. I swore that years go by, and I would still love him. Years went by, and I do.
And then, of course, as you all know by now, there was the boy Martijn. The boy with whom everything was easy — until he turned into the boy with whom everything was hard, that is. Three months of heaven that gradually dissolved into two years of hell, and if you think I’m exaggerating, well, you should have been there. And yet I stuck with him through it, convinced that there was a way out of it, that I had I had a plan and that the plan would work, undoubtedly guided by a higher power at times and yet doubting myself all the way. And if that’s not love, then I don’t know what is. It’s not as pure or as strong or as sweet, or as instant, as easy, as dreamy, as joyful, as overwhelming as other kinds of love have been, and it never was. But there’s nobody I’d rather build my life with, nobody I’d rather have (and bring up) babies with, nobody that shares my dreams and believes in the same things as I do in quite the same way. And if that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.
But this is not a post about how or how much I love my husband. Mostly it is a post about how, to me, the idea that there is such a thing as the one, true love and that it can somehow be identified by certain characteristics seems like an illusion. It is a post about how in each and every one of those relationships, crushes or affairs –and, for that matter, in a fair few others that did not fit under the ‘in love’ umbrella and therefore are not mentioned here– there was something special, something that meant the world to me, something I never found anywhere else. But it’s not a post about how true love doesn’t exist. It’s just a post about how true love is what you make of it.
PS I hate to quote Dan Treacy, but sometimes you have to. He does have a talent for lines.