A few of my friends have recently broken up with their boyfriends because their relationships were just not as exciting as they had once been. They say they want pretty much what Carrie Bradshaw said she wanted when she dumped Aleksandr Petrovsky in favour of Mr. Big: 'real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can't-live-without-each-other love.' Well, fine. Nobody should stay with a partner that bores them, particularly not when they're young, attractive and financially okay on their own (which all of my friends are.) But's difficult, isn't it? What does the love dreamed of by Carrie Bradshaw look like on a day to day basis? How does anyone know what to measure their relationship against?
Part of me gets annoyed when people dismiss this sort of love as an unrealistic target, and I tend to write such people off as pragmatic bores living in denial. Good luck with your mediocre life, I think. This is the part of me that sees a kindred spirit in women (or men, for that matter) who refuse to settle for anything less than a true love story. But there is another part of me that just thinks, what are your actual goals here? This is, to use another Sex and the City reference, the Miranda part of my personality. I don't think anyone should 'settle' but I do wonder how exciting and core-shaking love can really be when you are living with someone. Should you have butterflies every time you look at your boyfriend?
If you don't - and I don't - does that mean your love is somehow 'less' than it used to be, or 'less' than the love that exists between couples that do? The day after I told my boyfriend I loved him for the first time, I wrote this on my WordPress page:
and I'm standing there and thinking maybe I will just take one more, reaching into my bra for another, and then Sister Sledge's thinking of you comes on, and I see his little brother and his friends and everyone is smiling and I realise that I'm coming up and this song is what a song should be, I can't breathe and I promise yes I do as long as I'm living I'm thinking of you and the things you do to me that makes me love you now I'm living in ecstasy .... ecstasy ecstasy ecstasy, to be in love and be on and in ecstasy, to float and shiver and sway, well what is this sh*t I normally listen to I normally listen to it but it lacks soul, it is lacking in soul, 'no but these are all my favourite songs you know!' it's so true isn't it, isn't it so true that without love there's no reason to live, someone brings us watermelon and it looks beautiful and maybe it's organic but when I bring it to my mouth it goes everywhere because my mouth is going mad
Looking back, this strikes me as more of an ode to MDMA than being in love with my boyfriend, who doesn't actually get a mention, but I couldn't listen to that Sister Sledge song for a good year without getting sentimental. A week later, I wrote something which is frankly too embarrassing to be copied in full but it included phrases such as, 'now I am wrapped up in his arms [...] I am hairy, I probably smell, my teeth are furry from neglect, I haven't moisturised in days...' and 'I have let myself go, and maybe I will let myself go further. I played Lana Del Rey's song Young and Beautiful the other day and every time she sung 'will you still love me when I'm no longer young and beautiful' he squeezed my hand' and then (truly bizarre, this one) 'maybe I will roll around in my own shit and wait for the reaction; maybe we will become an exhibition and get installed in the Tate Modern, and people will be able to buy a postcard of my authentically stained knickers for 50p in the gift shop.'
Again, I think what moved me to write this was that I liked the idea of it all. It all felt very Jean Rhys/Emma Jane Unsworth/Tracey Emin (or so I flattered myself.) But again, there is no mention of Robin himself. I don't know what I'm getting at here, but I suppose there are two possible interpretations of what I've just said: that I was never actually 'in love' with my boyfriend at all, but rather the idea of being in love, an idea that has since been revised to reflect the mundane reality of living with someone. Or, I was always in love with him, but my idea of what 'love' is has changed from being a state in which you lie in bed all day in dirty bed sheets getting high to something... well, more realistic, but not thereby diminished. The fact that I am writing this with the intention of it being published means that I lean towards the latter interpretation, of course, although I do not want to entirely reject the former. Possibly I did not really love him as a person back then if my writing at the time is anything to go by.
I do love him now, but it's not necessarily always exciting. This is difficult to admit because I have a tendency to romanticise everything (not just relationships) in a way that does not admit for anything less than superlative, but it usually just lands me in shit. An example: I convinced myself that a boy I was seeing for about three months was the absolute love of my life (at the grand old age of nineteen), which unexpectedly ended with me being told that I was a 'mint girl' but not for him; me weeping inconsolably on my bed surrounded by empty bottles of wine; me leaving university for a few months to go and work in McDonalds in a bizarre bid to be an Independent Woman (no joke.) Incidentally, I also met someone who I 'really, really liked' (I was reluctant to use the word love so soon) whilst working at McDonalds. He turned out to be secretly engaged and I ended up being threatened by his (seventeen year old) fiancée on Twitter.
All the literary women I have loved have been moved by an idea of love as something that is enormous, life changing, all-consuming, their raison d'être: Emma Bovary, Antoinette Rochester (the 'mad woman in the attic' from Jane Eyre who is brought to life in Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea,) and my absolute favourite, Catherine Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights, who bitterly rejects her devoted husband to wallow in a love that arguably never really existed. I also used to be obsessed with with Lana Del Rey whose lyrics tend to revolve around the same sort of love: 'I've nothing without you / All my dreams and all the lights mean / Nothing without you' and 'It's you, it's you, it's all for you / Everything I do / I tell you all the time / Heaven is a place on earth with you' and 'They say that the world was built for two / Only worth living if somebody is loving you / Baby, now you do' (I'll stop now.) It might be worth nothing that Elizabeth Grant (Lana Del Rey) is currently single. Emma Bovary killed herself, Antoinette Rochester burnt the house down and jumped off the roof, Catherine Earnshaw went mad and died, and let's not forget what happened to Juliet Capulet. Were any of these women in love with their men or were they just obsessed with the idea of their being in love, the love of their own self-image projected onto their affairs?
I remember in the early days of our relationship I would get so excited at seeing his name pop up on my phone, and I would get so angry at not receiving a text back within minutes ('You know what, I am DONE. Oh, he's replied.') I would have to drink two bottles of wine before each of our dates because I was so nervous. I would talk about him and nothing but him, and bore everyone around me with boring details of my relationship. Fast forward two years (the second of which we lived together) and I can barely remember to shave my armpits. This doesn't mean I've stopped caring. It just means that I'm secure enough now not to delude myself into thinking that it will really make much of a difference. If you want to be with someone, you want to be with them regardless of whether they have hairy armpits and smelly breath of a morning (I'm not saying stop bothering, but we can't all be perfect all the time.)
It is difficult to live in a constant state of gratitude for our friends, our home, our education, the fact we have food in abundance. Why put relationships on a pedestal and deny that they too can lose their shimmer when experienced every day? Waking up next to the person that I love every day doesn't feel like how I imagined it to feel when I was younger, but thank god for that: I'm not going to kill myself, burn the house down, or go mad. Real love is to be found in the everyday. It is getting into bed beside someone after a night out and just feeling so fucking safe and content. It is sex that is actually good. It is being with someone who gets you without you having to make any effort whatsoever. And It is better reflected in the lyrics of Just Jack's song The Day I Die than anything Lana Del Rey has ever sung: 'And you're standing in the doorway, sun at your back / In my old brown dressing gown / Well, no one can love you more than I love you now.'