What’s love got to do, got to do with it? Pretty big question. I’m not sure Tina Turner really got to the nub of the issue in her 1984 hit of the same name. As that sentence. Not that one. The first one. Without the repetition. Anyway…Tina didn’t write the lyrics. She may well have known precisely what love had to do with ‘it’. I’m taking ‘it’ as read. I’m assuming we’re all OK with that?
So for this particular ramble through some words that I know, sometimes being used in the right order, I would like to talk about the little-discussed subject of love. This has nothing to do with the impending (as I write) Valentine’s Day. Not much anyway. If it does, it’s sublimely subliminal. As all best liminal is. According to some songs on my iPhone, ‘love’ is the following things: A Bourgeois Concept, A Stranger, Blindness, My Condition, Rare (and yet also, All Around), The Drug, The End, The Rage and The Seventh Wave. So, it feels like it’s quite important. We’d best watch out though, because it also: Comes Quickly and Will Tear Us Apart. You may own Love Dogs or Lovecats, living in your Love Shack, in Lovetown.
So all that means is we all have to deal with love taking on many forms and catching us unawares. It is difficult to define, clearly. Good news? That won’t stop me from writing about it. I said ‘good news’. Oh shhhhh.
The thing is, love makes me behave differently. It brings me out of myself. It has taken my breath away. It has driven me to tears and made me laugh so hard I liked it better than the Pirates of Penzance. No, I’m not above making a schmaltzy film reference, this is love we’re talking about here.
I don’t know where this is going, but I do know where it will start. At home. The home I grew up in. I know that we can’t take even a parents’ love of their children for granted, but I was fortunate to grow up in a loving household. What this means of course is that occasionally you feel so smothered with the stuff you can’t breathe. All those questions about where you are, who you’re with and when you’ll return. They drive a mopey teenager to distraction.
Even before my teens I remember being out with my friends one summer evening. Let’s just pause for a second. I grew up in a very quiet, very middle class village on the outskirts of a largely quiet, largely middle class town. The village of Upper Poppleton. Yes, really. I think my love of rhythm comes from learning to say that name and revelling in the meter of it as it trips off the tongue. It’s a drum fill of a name.
So there I am, or was, out with ‘everyone’, charging around the playing field on bikes, and generally doing mid-70s pre-teen middle class things. Think the innocence of The Wonder Years only without the narration or the American Football and Baseball. It’s starting to get a bit twilighty. By that I don’t mean homo-erotic and undead, with vampires and…well you know what Twilight was. I don’t. It’s the other one. Usually without a capital ‘T’. Meaning the onset of night time. It’s a pretty magical time of the day, especially in summer in the UK. The light, the temperature, everything is just right. Then I hear a car. “I have to go” I announce. Yes, when I was 8 I usually announced things. Pretentious little git. “Why?” I like to think at least one person said. I think it was Richard Lawson. But it may have been John Hewitt.
“That’s my dad coming to find me”
“How can you tell?”
“I know the sound of my dad’s car. Don’t you?”
“Err, no. Anyway, I bet you’re wr…”
“There he is! Coming Dad! See you tomorrow”. That last part is aimed at my friends. All of whom are looking slightly bemused that I knew the sound of my Dad’s car from a few hundred yards away and long before I could see it. I would allow myself to be impressed with myself, but I know that in the car sits an aggrieved parent.
Dad hadn’t come looking for me to tell me off, per se. He’d come looking for me because Mum was constantly hassling him about where I was and he had run out of reasons to be able to defend me.
It’s just a smidge of a glimpse into the typical expression of ‘love as worry’ that comes to a parent. At least, as experienced by the child. Me. All through my childhood (and, let’s face it, even now), it has been Mum rather than Dad who has expressed the concern, the disappointment, the prodding and poking to keep me going forwards. I turn to my Dad for the reassurance and the slightly less shouty words, but I know exactly where Mum is coming from.
So this aspect of love, whilst absolutely not something I ever took for granted, is clearly only one kind of love. It may not always be welcome at the time, but it doesn’t take long to realise just how much you would miss it if it wasn’t there. Anyone who has that parent looking out for everything they do: supporting, cajoling, and of course sometimes downright annoying you through your early life, and beyond. You know how good it feels. I wouldn’t change it for anything.
I’m going to stay with my parents for a minute. They have been married for 54 years. Love can be long-lasting. Some say eternal. I suppose if you are still in love with someone when you die then you won’t let a trifling thing like death stop you. Sure they haven’t shared a bed for probably 20 years, but that’s mainly on account of Mum snoring like a whale. Wait, do whales snore? Snoring like a…pneumatic drill. Drills can’t snore, any more than whales. Possibly less, but we all know what one sounds like. Not when it’s snoring. Are you mad? So maybe the non-bed-sharing is helping keep them together. Maybe it’s the breakfast in bed Dad makes for Mum. Every. Single. Day. It’s probably not the monologue of jobs and tasks Mum starts the day with and provides frown-faced interludes throughout. Dad’s going to do most of them anyway. The one’s he has no intention of doing usually only resurface casually over a period of years until they make the top of the list. Or
until the washing machine finally does pack in. “Why didn’t you do that when I asked you to, hmm?” is probably as harsh as it gets in my parents’ household.
Yes, long after the children have left, and you have got past the phase of wondering if you’ll still have something to say and do with your significant other, through the births and deaths of friends and relatives, the rolling of the years, the changing seasons, the arguments about whether the gas fire really needs to be on and ‘why can’t you just wear a jumper’ but ‘that’s what we pay the bills for’, through to ‘well I need a through draught as it’s so hot in here, but can you do something to stop the flies getting in’, to the setting of the sun on a day spent doing the crossword and ‘how about another cuppa?’ and ‘I was just thinking the same’ and tuning in and out of the monologue, the rising of the sun on a day that begins with the sound of burnt toast being scraped in the sink, the sound of a plate on the bedside table and the smell of marmalade on toast gently waking you from your sleep so you can ask if the bin got put out last night, the aches and pains and wheezing and ‘what are you still coughing like that for?’ and ‘no you can’t just go and lie down, you’re not an old man’, the occasional visits to the doctor or hospital, mercifully being given the all clear, or at least the right medicine to resolve the issue, the exit and arrival of neighbours and the ‘well we don’t want to seem as though we’re being nosy but can you go over there and have a word about why they keep parking on the road and blocking us in’, the changing of the carpets ‘I don’t want the neighbours to think we can just spend money on new things when we feel like it, but I can’t look at this bloody carpet any longer’ through the chopping down and planting of trees, the practicality of buying a new car but the reluctance to get anything ‘too new’ because ‘well, what will the neighbours think?’ to the keeping quiet the night time aches and the waking up at 5 and not getting back to sleep because the shoulder and knees just hurt so much, to the painting of portraits and favourite family holiday scenes and ‘why don’t you sell your art at the local show, it’s so much better than any of that other rubbish?’ through the constant gossip about other family members and friends and names you no longer remember or are fairly sure you never knew and in any case all you care about is that your children and healthy and happy and there’s too much else going on to pay attention and all of this is going on and held together with happy silences and walking arm in arm in town or on holiday and knowing what makes the other person laugh or cry and whatever else happens you have always and will always have each other until such time as you don’t and we don’t talk about that but let’s face it it must be coming soon and anyway ‘I’ve had a good life’ and ‘you talk as if you’re going to drop dead tomorrow and stop saying such stupid things you do annoy me sometimes’.
Who doesn’t want that? See how imperfect it is? But see how strong it is? When we are younger, we have an ideal of love, painted for us in soppy films and magazines and fantasy. That’s all it is. Life? Life is actually, most of the time, pretty mundane. Is it a coincidence we use the phrase ‘settling down’? It’s almost something to mock others with. ‘Have you ‘settled’ then?’ Like there’s bound to be something else out there. Something better. Or different. So you go ahead and chase that different thing. See how long it takes before it’s roughly the same as the last thing you had that you thought you wanted to run away from. Because every relationship you have will have one thing in common with all the others. You. Learn to love yourself first and everything else will fall into place. Relying on someone else to make up for something you lack is not a road to sanity. If you’re insecure, being with someone else is only going to heighten that, as you’ll always wonder what they’re up to when not with you. If you’re not happy in your own company, you’ll never be truly happy in someone else’s. Or, in the words of the late, great John Candy, “If you’re not enough without that gold medal, you’ll never be enough with it”. OK, so we’re not all on the Jamaican Bobsled Team, but you get my point.
Love? What do you think it is? Of course it’s exciting. It makes your heart miss a beat. Several. It means you miss the person you love the second they have gone. It means you count down the seconds until they are going to return. Yet when they arrive you’re mournfully counting down the seconds until you know they are going to leave again. Love is a tricksy, one, that’s for sure.
So it’s very difficult to define, yet we all know when we have found it. Why do we say that? ‘I’ve found love’? It’s not as though you can really go looking for it. I think if you chase it you may end up falling for it’s slightly smutty brother, lust. “It’s a question of lust, it’s a question of trust, it’s a question of not letting what we’ve built up crumble to dust”. If you don’t know where that lyric comes from, I’ll let you go and research it now. No hurry. I’m just playing that song in my head. You’ve got four minutes and eight seconds (I’m playing the 101 version).
Yes. Lust. We often talk about the heart ruling the head, or vice versa. Well, there’s a third place that likes to have a say. Yep. The gut. What? I’m British. I can’t talk about anything below the waist. Some people have a tendency to mistake lust for love. Possibly on purpose. There can be the same burning in the heart, and elsewhere if you’re unlucky. But lust dies out far quicker. The flame is brighter yet more fleeting. A firework display, rather than a volcano. Lust is love without the substance.
I want to focus on love, then. When you hear it from someone for the first time, there’s often a vulnerability that can melt your heart. It’s not something you can really shout out. You know you mean it. But when it comes to saying it to someone for the first time you’re almost asking as much as telling. “I love you…” The dots are part of the phrase. I may as well have just peeled back my skin to literally offer my heart to the other person. Will they accept it? What if they don’t love me back?” Oh god. What if I’ve jumped too soon. The plane wasn’t high enough and now the ground is rushing up to meet me faster than I can open the parachute. Oh god, oh god. Why did I say that? Just look! I’ve stunned them. Eyes searching for the exit. Oh god, oh god, oh god. What was I thinking? This silence isn’t just awkward, it’s holding a gun to my head. The trigger finger is itching to pull. Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god. Please. Can I unsay that? No, of course I can’t. The words have floated around in the air, turned into an angry swarm of bees and now they’re headed straight back for my heart. I’m going to be stung to death as I stand here. “I love you too”.
Wait. What? Did you…do you…? You do?! The swarm of bees turns into some jump leads and I am stunned back into life. Those words have engulfed me and I am now floating. No longer falling. I may never actually reach the ground. You. Love. Me. Too! Wow. Oh God. Whoo! What now? Oh, look at me. Grinning like a village idiot. I want to bottle this moment. I cherish it forever. I will never forget this moment. This place. This time. It’s when everything changed.
Be careful now. You’ve let love in. Love has family. Love has some pretty fucked up relatives. Lust, we know about. But there’s also jealousy. Love’s idiot cousin. Jealousy likes to masquerade as a friend. “Hey. Being jealous only shows I care, right?” Wrong. It shows you don’t understand. You’re on the lookout for wandering eyes. For mobile phone passwords. The smile on their face when they receive a text.
“Who was that?”
“Don’t play games. I’ve seen you. Smiling when you get a text. Hurriedly sending a reply”
“So…who is it from? Are you cheating on me?”
“It was from Jealousy. He’s coming over for a bit”
At this point, love has decided to leave the party. Jealousy has the place all to himself and love can’t be bothered with all this shit. Jealousy sits between you on the sofa. Keeping you apart. Stopping the conversation. Love will be there in the morning and hope you remember. But jealousy usually sticks around on the periphery. Sending the occasional text. Hopefully with less and less frequency.
The other member of the extended family is longing. Longing only shows up when your loved one is away. Longing isn’t like jealousy. Longing sends good vibes and warm feelings. Yet you can feel pretty miserable. “Can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you miss”. I know. You thought I was going with the 1970s free love disco sentiment, “love the one you’re with”. No. Don’t do that. Having someone to miss is great. Of course in this day and age we don’t really have much chance to truly miss someone. There’s face time and Skype and phones and other ways of keeping in instant touch with someone. Quite right too. But it can never beat the physical connection. Absence does make the heart grow fonder. Just don’t turn into a bunny boiler.
Newsflash. Love can make you crazy. Or at least you think it’s love. But somewhere along the line it got twisted. I don’t want to leave it there, but I don’t want to say too much more. Thousands upon thousands of pages have already been written about love. But unlike stories about vampires or boys in capes on broomsticks, this is a subject far better to experience than to read about.
Quick Valentine’s Day update for you. I started this article before Valentine’s Day, and now it’s decidedly after it. Yes. Perfection takes time people. I received, as I do every single year. A card and a chocolate from…my Mum. I know plenty of people who pour scorn on Valentine’s. In some ways, that’s quite right too. We shouldn’t have to ask for something. We shouldn’t expect something. We damn sure shouldn’t get upset if we don’t get something. Being in love with someone has nothing to do with giving them a gift on Valentine’s. You can. But if that’s the only
time you show your love for someone else, then all I can say, in the most American of ways, is…Yikes.
All I’m saying is this. If you have ‘found’ love, then for god’s sake treasure it. Treat it with respect. Most of all, enjoy it. Take that person you love right now and give them a great big warm, lasting, hug. Not the kind of bromance hug where you stand at arms length, just close enough to reach round the back and pat each other like you’re burping a baby. No. Get in there. Really close. Kiss them on the neck. Breathe in deeply. Cuddle up together and tell them you love them. Really, really love them. Then shut up and hold them. Share this private, quiet moment. The
universe melts away and it’s just you two. Together. Close. Warmed to the depths of your heart. Happy.
And THAT, Tina, THAT is what love has to do with it.
This column was originally featured in Issue 17