I'm 44 and I'm in love, but it's taken me years to get here and it's not how I imagined it would be.
I used to think that it wasn't love, it couldn't be real if it didn't feel desperate, urgent and all-consuming; if I didn't feel on edge and high on adrenaline. I used to think it had to be like on Fatal Attraction (without the bunny boiling or sharp knife), or I had to experience an intensity like Baby on Dirty Dancing: "I'm scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I'm with you," Baby said to Johnny in a breathless whisper.
I've experienced crazy, breathless, got-to-have-you-right-now 'love' before, but it didn't grow into anything. It went up in smoke or it fizzled out. Sometimes, it was all in my head. Once, I fell for a stranger over email. Over weeks, he wooed me with poetic words. But as soon as I met him, the bubble burst.
I see now that my understanding of love and the journey I've been on to get where I am today reflect my personality and my inner battles. These may be unique to me, but I share them in the hope some of you can relate.
I first had to choose to love. I had wavered and wobbled and been in and out of a relationship with my partner for a few years. I thought I needed to stay away but I kept going back. Tired of not knowing what I wanted or what was good for me, I made a decision to commit to the relationship for six months and to give it my best shot. I promised myself, a few dear friends and my therapist that I would do my utmost not to doubt, not to question, not to find fault and not to look for ways out. I would stop thinking there was someone else.
Choosing to love in this way may not sound particularly romantic. It's not very Hollywood. But I've had a lifetime of ambivalence, of push-pull. 'I want you, but I don't want you. I want to love, be loved and be in a partnership, but I'm terrified of loss and of being hurt. Come close; now go away.' My mixed messages must have left a few of my ex-boyfriends feeling bewildered.
This time, I chose to put two feet in and keep them in and every time my feet got cold, my friends reminded me of my commitment. Stay with it, for six months. We're at 15 months now and we're about to buy a house together.
I made a choice and I pushed through my doubts.
I used to think he couldn't be the right guy if I had so many reservations at the start. I kept waiting for the man to come along with whom I'd enjoy an immediate honeymoon period. I kept waiting to meet someone and be instantly enveloped in a pink fluffy cloud. I'd heard others talk of love like that. I'd heard others say 'As soon as I saw him, I just knew', so I thought that had to happen for me too. I thought, to misquote Michael Bublé, that I just hadn't met him yet.
But I never arrived on my honeymoon. I was always wracked with doubts and reasons why it wouldn't work out.
I'd judge men on their height, weight or amount of hair, on their attitude to work or their career choice, their shoes or socks or the way they crunched their Cornflakes at breakfast. I could go from feeling incredibly attracted to someone one minute to not being able to stand the sight of them the next - 'Come here. No, get away from me!'
I used to think my turmoil meant there was something wrong with him, until I realised it was more likely there was something wrong with me. I read He's Scared, She's Scared and began to understand there was a reason why I was attracted to men who couldn't meet my needs and who feared commitment - because I feared it just as much or perhaps more. I was the common denominator in all my failed relationships. I was the one who found fault and pushed men away. So I began to try to understand myself, to challenge my commitment-phobia and to tame my urge to run.
When I finally became ready and willing to push through my reservations, I chose someone who showed willingness to push through his baggage too.
This process - the choice, the decision, the compromise, all the deep and meaningful conversations we've had to have to sort through our stuff - isn't how I imagined love to be. It's not how they portray it in the movies and it's not the message I heard from those people who 'just knew'. But it's my process. Our process. And it feels real.
I'd say be wary of the lightning bolts. Remember some of us get an addictive fix off men - or women - who are unavailable or unreliable or both. We can be magnetically drawn to people who can't meet our needs, sometimes because we're subconsciously repeating a pattern from our childhoods when we craved love and it didn't come. As adults, we replay the tape, hoping for a different outcome. This time, he'll love me. This time, he'll stay. Too often, the ending is the same.
If you meet someone you like but something inside you tells you to run, ask yourself if it's your gut instinct or if it's your fear. If love has left its scars - the love of a father, a mother or a previous partner - we may be afraid of getting hurt again.
These days, my wobbles about my partner are few and far between and, while I had to take a long-haul flight to get here, it feels like I'm finally having my honeymoon. Both my feet are in deep and all I want to do is sink them in deeper. This love is different. It feels certain, long-lasting. And it's good for me. I feel calmer, more grounded and I laugh a lot more.
If you're wondering if you can have love like this, take heart. I believe you can.