If love is the answer, what is the question?

The weird thing is that I have no idea why this happened, but happen it did.  The feeling worked its way into my instincts by some kind of osmosis.  Maybe it was a worm eating away at my brain and some day I’ll find myself in a hospital bed while doctors shake their heads sadly at my prognosis.  Whatever, but the fact of the matter is that I found myself in love with the last person I ever expected to fall for.  Not for looks or sexual prowess, not for wealth or fame, not for anything more than sheer adoration of another person for who they are.

Not a bad fate, you might think, but it was more than my expectations that were surprised.  My friends and family were quite shocked too, though the spectrum of opinions formulated into a fixed phrase once the shock died down was more than illuminating – it caused me to re-evaluate them and their role in my life.

I mean, people who I expected to be hostile wished us luck, while some I thought to be tolerant and liberal-minded found objections held up their hands in mock horror, said it would never work and I was wasting my time.  In other words, they showed no respect at all.

Suddenly respect is all important to me.

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The tipping point came when I suddenly realised I was proud to be seen in public with my new partner, that I didn’t care who knew about us being together.  Not only did I want to offer respect and love but to fight the good fight, confront these negative attitudes, win out.  Show those people they are wrong, pig-headed, dumb-arsed shit-heads who should know better. If they were small-minded that was their problem

But then, why should I care what anyone else thinks at any time?  Some people never accept love, maybe out of jealousy and maybe out of shrivelled malevolence for the happiness of others, urging you to fail, sticking pins in your voodoo doll.  Let them go, let them stew in their own bile and hatred!  There must be millions more who would wish us good luck and a happy life?  The answer is that we all want to be loved by everybody, scarcely a realistic expectation but there you go.

It works both ways, of course.  Having to meet your lover’s parents for the first time is an ordeal everyone has to go through, knowing they are giving you the evil eye, looking for the flaws, identifying reasons why you should not be the one to settle down with their precious child.  The question is not whether my other half is good enough for me but whether I’m good enough for them.

So there I was, perched on the edge of a sizeable sofa in a tasteful burgundy velour, sipping on tea served in a cup from the finest porcelain service, the one that only comes out on special occasions, feeling more stressed than during my final set of exams.  My love sat at a respectful (that word again) distance on the other end of the sofa, and the parents in separate armchairs scrutinising me in critical silence, the worst kind.  The temptation is to fill the vacuum with any amount of claptrap, though that’s the biggest mistake you can make.  And I made it, babbling on for an eternity about absolutely nothing:

“What a lovely house you have.  I’ve not been over this side of town very much.   It’s a beautiful street.  My job is right over the other side, so I got a flat just a few minutes drive away. Very convenient but not in the same neighbourhood.  Class!  Not in the same class as this one…”

“Son,” said the father, cutting short the stream of drivel issuing forth from my mouth.  Thank goodness for that!  “You know why we’re here.  This is not an ordinary situation, and we have to be very careful, perhaps more protective than we should be.  Do you understand?”

This time all I could think of was to nod.  Probably a wise move.

“You see,” he continued, “we can’t be sure of your motives, and it’s really important that you don’t mean any harm.  We don’t want either of you to be hurt, so take things slowly.  We need to know you’re… compatible.  And that things work out well, do you see what I mean?”

I felt emboldened, though chose not to mention the friends and family on my side who were clearly of the opposite view.

“Frankly sir…”

Why sir?  This is not Victorian England.  I should be calling him by his first name in the 21st Century, but since I don’t know it then by his formal title.  But “Sir”? I could scream!  That’s respect turned into parody – he probably thinks I’m taking the piss!

“… frankly I don’t think that’s an issue.  If I didn’t feel sure, I wouldn’t be here.”

He nodded.  “That’s good, though you know the old saying: actions speak louder than words?  How long have you two…” his fingers crossed in a failed attempt at delicacy.

“We’ve known one another for almost a year now.  We met via work, indirectly.  But we only met socially and began dating round about… what was it?  Six weeks ago.” An enquiring look to my left, greeted by nods from the one I call baby.  “Yes, six weeks.”

It sounds no time at all, yet people have fallen hard for one another far more quickly that that.  Personally, I believe in instant attraction, but that love takes time to mature.  Six weeks is probably the optimum period for the first blossom to flower.  To me every second has seemed like a lifetime of well-being and joy.

“Good,” he repeated.  “So you two have serious intentions then.  You’re looking for long-term romance.  Are you looking to move in together?”

The nightmare question!  We look towards one another wondering what answer can possibly appease the paternal concern.  He knows damn well that we’re sleeping together, and he knows I know he knows.  Sex always seems a subject of shame, even in the 21st Century.  You know?

Then an inspiration: “Well… perhaps some day.  At the moment we’re taking each day as it comes.  See how things go.  Lots to think about, it’s a big step…”

If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard that string of clichés, but there’s no doubt that they still do the trick.

“I hope so,” he said with a clear warning note in his voice.

After that encounter I needed to get out, get a breath of fresh air.  The breath of fresh air led directly to several stiff drinks in the nearest boozer and for a serious conversation with my love, so here we are.

“Don’t worry, he means well.”  People say this but I often wonder what it means.  What can he really mean, what motivates anybody?  If I was being paranoid I’d probably fear for my own well-being.

“I’m sure he does, but this is stupid.  You’re a free person.  An adult.  You can make up your own mind what you do in life, who you fall for.  Nobody can wrap their kids in cotton wool – we all have to make our own mistakes,” I hear myself rant.

“Oh, so you’re a mistake?  Thanks a billion!”

“No!  You know what I mean, and it wasn’t that!  Give me a kiss.”

The restorative powers of a good kiss and cuddle are legendary.  Would that we could forget work and all the problems of daily life, and just kiss and cuddle in the warm sunshine.  Just imagine how much better the world would seem in the hazy glow of soft, tender kisses and warm hugs!

“You know I need you,” says this wonderful person, now in my arms.  The words are spoken with a sudden passionate intensity, so fresh and genuine they could not be interpreted other than as a message of true love and devotion.

That’s the other thing I’m not used to – being needed by another person is both a joy and a responsibility.  I have a foresworn duty of care to protect and nurture this person, to encourage their growth and development, and to be the best of what I can be under their tutelage and guidance.  If it works well, mutually, you can become more than the sum of our parts, grow together, be special.

But then you see people who grow apart, never reach that potential, no matter how promising the early signs might seem.  Either they get corrupted, or with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight you realise this was the wrong person at the wrong time for the wrong reasons – just the wrong relationship.

And after all, relationships can and do drift apart and end for a thousand reasons, but there may well be just one holding them together.  The knack is to make that one reason the most important of all.  But how?

Goodness knows, I’ve never succeeded yet, not for want of trying – but then maybe I didn’t see the real point before?  You have to accept that mistakes are made on both sides, keep trying, learn lessons, grow better and stronger, compromise.  All the right words are out there but when you’re in the thick of it this is about as difficult as life gets.

No, I don’t mean that.  It’s emotionally charged and very difficult on occasions, but when you are in love it’s the best feeling in the world.  The one that lifts you six inches off the ground, plants a big soppy smile on your face, makes you happier than you ever knew possible.  Is it possible to sustain that feeling forever?

Some people seem to manage it with incredible lightness of touch, others while looking as if they could strangle one another at any moment, but most of us simply never get there.  We lack staying power.  Why should that be if what we really want is to be adored?

“And I need you too.  But what do you think?  Should we be thinking of moving in together?  Does it matter what they or anybody else think?”  God, I’m sounding jittery now.

“Hold your horses!” Even I laugh at this!  “Chill a bit, man.  No rush…”

I sound like a jittery TV interviewer.  Maybe that’s the thing about pressure, it inspires you to knee-jerk reactions and garbled comments spoken without thinking, something to fill the void.  You want to take some immediate action to prove yourself, though looking back at my life I know this always fails.

“OK, cool.  I’ll try not to be so intense.  What do you want to do about it though?”

“Just be us.  He’ll come round to it when he sees how magical you truly are.”

I do far better as a slow-and-steady plodder than the sort who comes into a new situation and makes thousands of changes without losing the gleam from my teeth or creasing my shirt.  That’s my life, slow and steady, and as true of relationships as anything else.  How does it go?  Eliot’s Prufrock!

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous —
Almost, at times, the Fool.
 

I’m nothing special, yet I’m loved.  How can that be?  But then if some people I know and trust question whether my partner is good enough for me, maybe they can all see something in me that I can’t.  To be loved means being taken on faith for who you are.  That is probably the hardest thing to accept, but accept it you must.  I don’t have to be superman, just myself.

What’s the alternative: Not trusting anyone?  Being like that Simon and Garfunkel song:

I am a rock, I am an island
And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries.
 

You have to take some risks in life or it’s not worth living.  If we were all ultra-cautious there probably wouldn’t be a next generation.  However, the older you get the harder those risks are to take.  Why?  Because we fear pain and we can scrape by for months or years without experiencing the total joy that occurs when it all goes right.  Every decision is a gamble that might pay off and might not.  We have our backup strategy, our Plan B if it all goes tits-up, and that usually seems to involve retreating back into our shell, on to our island. Be a rock!

“I wish you could tell me what’s so magical about me.  I’m just happy you love me.” That’s all I can think to say at this moment but it is meant from the heart.

“You stupid bugger.  Do you want another drink?”  That’s the other way to deal with it.  Crack a joke and get on with life.  Don’t take it too seriously.  Must try that more often.

“Yes please!” I reply with a smile.  “Same again.  What are you drinking?”

“Remember you’re driving.  I should be having a pint, not you.”

“Oh yes.”  That’s the flipside of a partnership and responsibility for another person – making sure they don’t act like a prick!

Yes, it is a sensible idea that I should not drink, though being sensible is not always where I want to be.  But one party has to be mature and make the right decisions at those moments when, left to our own devices, we would be our own worst enemy.  Caring means saying no sometimes, and occasionally being hated and resented for having common sense when what you really want to do is go wild and where the urge takes you.

I remember my old man telling my mam to stop nagging him, when in her eyes all she wanted to do was be kind and loving, to help him in any way she could.  That’s the sort of miscommunication that screws up relationships big time.  It takes courage to be less selfish, to defer to the right choice and not take it out on the person who cares more about you than anyone else, the one who loves you.

You always hurt the one you love
The one you shouldn’t hurt at all
 

Looking back, I know I’ve hurt people who cared for me.  I never meant to, but sometimes the red mist descended.  Am I still doing penance for that?  The wonderful thing about true love is that you can forgive such moments, turn the other cheek – for so long.  Somewhere down the line everyone reaches snapping point, so I want to avoid hitting that terrible moment when I’ve hurt someone so badly they can’t forgive, beyond which it doesn’t matter what I say – it’s too late.  C’est la vie.

“Yes, you’re right,” I continue meekly.  “Or we could forget another round and just go back to my place.  I need to feel you in my arms.”

“Sure we could, but remember I’m going out this evening so you only have two hours to have your wicked way with me.”

Another laugh.  I just love the irresistible charm.  Down to earth and delightful with it, yet also independent.  We might be the most important people in one another’s lives, yet we also need our own space.  If you were totally in thrall to another person things would rapidly feel claustrophobic, and claustrophobia means someone needs to go for a walk and breathe again.

Some people like control and submission, often as part of sex games, but to me the real fun is when you have a partnership of equals, requiring no coercion or implied superiority.  You can be with one another consensually, precisely for who you both are.  Is that not true respect?

But then control can pass like a baton between partners in a relationship, depending on the circumstances.  I’m better in some situations, they are in others – and in a true partnership you are together more than the sum of the parts combined.  That’s what it’s all about.

Can I ever imagine not depending on this person being here with me, to cheer me up, keep me on the straight and narrow, to inspire me to greater effort, to be there with me through thick and thin?  At this moment, no I can’t, and I’m not even going to contemplate a time when we might not be together.

“Hey, you know something?” I call, and there is the beautiful, wise face with beaming smile turning to look back at me.

“No, what?”

“Sod your dad, will you move in with me anyway?  It doesn’t have to make sense, just do it.  For me.  I love you!”

The pause lasts maybe two or three seconds, but I can hear my heart pumping as if the moment is my last.

“Hey, you know what?  I might just do that… just stop over-analysing things and be you, OK?”

I smile broadly.  And suddenly nothing else seems to matter.

 

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