[Credit: Cupcake courtesy of my son, the love of my life every day of the year.]
This Valentine’s, I had drinks with one of the most gorgeous woman I know. It wasn’t an intentional anti-Valentine’s protest – we just both happened to be free. Last Valentine’s was very different. I was with him. Before I called him my North Star. Now I will call him Polaris because he has earned a double entendre.
It was not just a date; it was a mini break. Early enough in our relationship that we could giggle about it and assure each other that we were not taking it too seriously. As Bridget Jones found out, mini breaks are not always about true love, and there is no Colin Firth waiting in my wings (although, while I think of it, please God, send me a hot human rights lawyer).
It was my first Valentine’s Day with someone in many years. I never thought much about Valentine’s Day before but this year I feel the loss keenly. It’s a recent wound. I’m not even sure what I miss: having company, the sex, or just the possibility of something more. As Hannibal Lecter observed: “Amputate a man’s leg and he can still feel it tickling. Tell me … when your little girl is on the slab, where will it tickle you?”
I don’t kid myself (much). I have read the excellent/depressing “Why We Love” by Helen Fisher. I am aware of the attachment hormones that flood the brain – the body chemistry that creates love. I am aware that what I feel now is habit more than heart.
As a result, I have always clung to the rational, to ensure my feelings were based on more than fancy. From the beginning Polaris and I had an intense connection, intellectually and physically. We have similar backgrounds, political leanings and frustations. He says he’s not romantic but he remembers that I prefer Buxton water and talks to me about my writing in a way no one ever has, and that first Valentine’s he gave me the most romantic gift I have ever received. How can you not adore someone who orders the Morning Star every time you check into a hotel because he knows they’ll bring him the Daily Star and he can go and complain? I have trusted him with thoughts I would only have whispered into the earth before.
There was something there. And now, I wait for the Nothing to consume the final ruins of this Fantasia. What went wrong?
Dating in your 30s is hard. I expect dating in my 40s to be harder still. People have pasts and hang ups and established patterns of behaviour and low expectations and high hopes and more defence mechanisms than Kevin MacAllister (2 points for this reference, people). I grasp around like a zombie, looking for something with a pulse but only the similarly infected do not run a mile. In the end, he said he didn’t want to be in a relationship. This time, after so many cycles, I did not let him take it back.
I’m not going to say bad things about him. Partly because I can’t help but wonder if Carrie Bradshaw had so many disastrous relationships because she used to write about them, and mostly because I don’t think badly of him. Even now.
Women are advised to follow the Rules – to play hard to get, to deliberately appear as though they don’t care, to seem unavailable. In my experience, a lot of men are natural experts at the Rules. If the other person is more negative than you, any positivity seems needy. Does that mean I should be cynical? Does that mean I should be less accepting?
In any case, what’s the point of pointing the finger? I can only control how I behave in relationships. To tell the truth, although I am generous and tolerant and all that, (please look away now, sister) I tend to think I am in the right and I can give advice which sounds needlessly critical. And that, my friends, is a useful observation for all my relationships.
The most important thing I learnt – after years of cynicism and fierce independence and awful relationships – was that I still have a capacity and a desire for joy. I had come to expect my romantic life to be joyless. But I couldn’t stop smiling when I knew he was at my door, I felt completely happy when I slept in his arms (which for anyone with anxiety is an acute and rare experience), and in a year he never once raised his voice to me. I am not wearing rose-tinted glasses, I just choose to see the roses instead of the thorns. I do know what I miss. But I also know I should be with someone who would miss me too.
So if yesterday and today and every day, you get to be with someone who brings you joy, please know how lucky you are. With apologies to Bridget Jones, I implore you, be smug as fuck.