In classic narratives, the wise and contented soul and the passionate lover are always disparate players, as if they could never coexist within the same satisfied being. The message is that to fulfil the romantic fantasy and experience true, burning love, you must endure suffering and disappointment – your final chapter marked by tragedy or bitter aloneness. Heathcliff and Cathy never skipped gaily across the moor to forever after and Romeo and Juliet were star-crossed into eternity, after all.
Subconsciously, I swallowed this hook, line and sinker and found exactly what I manifested – passion, yes, but also turmoil, heartache and sad endings. After my divorce, deluded that I could play the female lothario with my untouchable, scabbed-over heart, I raced headlong and vulnerable into a love affair that could only have ended in tears, and it did. The writing was on the wall in neon, skyscraper font. I read it, shrugged and double-marched into devastation. Not only did I do it willingly and with my eyes wide open, I did it without care for my precious heart or respect for my intuition, which whispered until it was hoarse: do not do this, oh ye of little sense.
Dating was a novelty, and I was fresh from heartbreak, lonely and with an ache in my belly so, when a man 11 years my junior and still living with his parents asked me out for a drink, I said hell yeah, make mine a double. He was honest about wanting a fling with an older woman and I said sure, let me be that for you. What was the worst that could happen? The worst that could happen was that we fell in love despite completely disharmonious circumstances and tormented each other for nigh on a decade. At the start of our tempestuous, push-and-pull relationship, I was the mother of teenagers with bills to pay, he was still establishing himself in his career and wanted a family of his own – eventually. Not at one point did I even consider stepping back to save myself from us. This was love and there was nothing I could do about it, right?
Pursuing romances with people who could never deliver what I needed became a pattern. As a sentimental soul – some say sap, I am fluent in all five love languages, as cited by Gary Chapman in his titular book: I will bestow you with gifts I can’t afford, cuddle you to death as you brush me off, give you all my time, tell you how wonderful you are, run you a scented bath, make your meals and kiss your feet. But I was so busy giving to the unworthy and unsuitable that I forgot to ensure that I got what I was entitled to in return. I need to communicate freely, so let me choose a stiff-upper-lipped non-sharer; I am affectionate, so let me attempt to melt this standoffish ice queen, I arrange nice things for us to experience together, so let me pick a taker who does not reciprocate…
I find the notion of a checklist for love unappealing and wholly unromantic but, essentially, that is what you must do, at least on the non-negotiables such as having children, lifestyle, philosophy on money, stage of life and dreams for the future. Love does not happen to you like a bolt from the blue that you cannot dodge, the path to lasting love comes at a fork in the road and you are free to go the other way from the outset. In psychology, this is called agency. When offering your heart on a platter, choose wisely who gets to tuck in, and don’t dismiss your special requirements or go hungry in the name of love.
‘We accept the love we think we deserve,’ said Stephen Chbosky in The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, and we all deserve what’s right for us and a fair crack at happiness, with or without a partner.
Follow Vee at @veejanesey