What's It All About?
"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow. General opinion is starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. Seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy but it’s always there. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends…”
My wife blames Brent Scott. He was the mutual friend who introduced us, and she jokingly refers to that as the day her life changed forever. When I prompt her with the words, “For better, right?” she goes “Hmmm” in a non-committal way, knowing that I am sometimes laced with insecurity and enjoying that she can still tease me about it.
Anyway, Brent got us together, for which I thank him. I fell a little in love with the picture he showed me. She was, and still is, this flame-haired, Celtic-coloured, emeraldeyed, warrior woman, and when she arrived at the coffee shop – well, the downtown Safeway Starbucks kiosk – and decided to stay to talk, I was hooked. That she found me amusing was even better. She still does, mostly. I still think I’m lucky she does; lucky in every way.
So how did I know? Was it Love? How does one tell? I’ve had a bad marriage and a couple of disastrous relationships behind me, the kind that send most of us snivelling into the dark corner of a bar, ready to pay for any nice word the bartender cares to bestow. Yet after years of what I called my Carefree Bachelorhood 2.0, I was eager to throw myself back into the throes of the pain, anguish and potentially belittling devastation that had hurt so much the previous times. I’d sworn off love for life as it was too painful. Now I wanted to jump back in the deep end. Madness, sheer madness.
Thank God for it.
What do I know about love? I can tell what it isn’t.
Love at first sight does not exist.
What happens instead is a congruence of potentialities. We feel the spark and know that, whatever that feeling is, we like it and want more.
Later, much later, we tend to romanticize it and blow it out of all proportion. It’s nice to talk about such things as an instant connection, or a foreknowledge that the world was about to change as our anima intertwined in a fatalistic love tryst. Bullshit.
"When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from people on board were messages of hate or revenge; they were all messages of love…If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that…
…love actually is all around."
We can rewrite history as much as we want, but all that does is acknowledge that love at first sight is really only the initial building block on the way to whatever it is we eventually find.
Love is not a singular emotion.
There are different kinds of love. I love my dog. I love my brothers as well, although we never talk about it. Men don’t. They are different kinds of love and it takes a while and a bit of growing up to realize that it can take many forms and intensities. As an example, if I had a choice in a fire of saving my son or saving the mutt, well, in this imaginary scene Sally just became barbecued beagle, (and in the interest of family harmony this analogy will run no farther). Yet that love for your child is different to the love you have for your wife. And it should be. If you have any doubt, remember how your children were created. Now, ponder about the love you have for your cat, or your hairy sibling. Still think love is equal?
The capacity of love is an infinite well. It can be tapped and used as frequently as we wish. The only limit is the size of our own reservoir.
Love is something men are trained not to do well. As I write this I can imagine Brooke reading it and saying, in her fondly ironic tone that she reserves for me, “No way! How did you work that one out Sherlock?”
We do not learn as well as the female species how to describe or display our love. I think it has to do with playing with dolls. Girls do, and they learn to love openly and freely. Men don’t and grow up as emotional retards. This doesn’t mean Ian is getting Barbie for Christmas. But I hope he enjoys his Incredible Hulk figures more.
For our first Christmas as a couple I was away in Ontario. To keep her happy during this time I bought her some funny DVDs. If you are a man and are now saying, “Good idea,” I hope your significant other is as forgiving as mine. She still doesn’t mention too often how unromantic my present was. She rarely comments on my arrogance at thinking that because I was away from her she would need cheering up, and she only reminds me occasionally that I bought them on Ebay from New Zealand and they don’t even play in this region of the world. Rather she gave me credit for effort and slowly taught me how to be a better, more loving, caring and mostly important of all, thinking person. It’s a project she hopes to complete in the next 40 years. Me? I’m just glad I’m in her plans that far ahead.
Love is not about sex...although I wish it was. The truth is, there isn’t always all that much time in life for all you want to do. One of the reasons we got lots of sex in our 20s is because it didn’t take as long, in more ways than one. Marital sex is more like a logistical operation than a romantic event. Drug the child or send him elsewhere, tie the dog down lest you find a cold nose up a naked butt at an inappropriate moment, feed the goldfish.
Turn off the phones, all five of them, plan the meal, don’t forget to shave, smile, light the candles, dig out the Lionel Richie country album and … what the hell were we trying to do tonight anyway?
Sex, that fateful attraction, is part of what gets you together. Keeping you together requires more work. See below under romance.
Love is not about romance. It would be nice if it were, and every now and then a surprise bunch of flowers or gift certificate to the spa will remind her why she wants you to stay. But there are other ways, and lots of them have to do with the little things. I am a bit of a tidy freak, so I have learned to bite my tongue in her gloriously happy chaos. I preheat her travel mug every morning with hot water so the coffee will stay warmer longer. I know I have to be out of the bathroom at 6:03 A.M. or else I must wait until 6:20. I should rub her feet more. I do it on occasion and I like doing it, but she buys the weirdest creams that seem to stick on my hands for days so I should surprise her with a cream that smells of bacon.
Mostly though, because I do not wish to give away all my secrets in an article she will inevitably read, I have learnt that love sometimes is about shutting up, or at least stopping to think before I say stuff. In this, alas, I do not always succeed. But I’m getting better.
So what is it? Damned if I know is the easy answer. Yet by writing about what it isn’t, I’ve crystallized what it is, I think … maybe … possibly.
Here’s what I know. I have a teenage son who thinks I’m not a total dingbat, a four-year-old who is always happy to see me and is, by a wide margin, the world’s greatest hugger. I have a dog who takes me for walks and makes me feel important, three brothers who are very old, very annoying and each, in their own way, my best friend. I have other friends as well, probably more than I deserve because I can be a grump. I have a mother who is old and tired. At nearly 90 she is waiting for her demented end, yet in the cloudy climes of her eyes I still see love and, occasionally, hope.
And then there is Brooke, my wife, also known as She-who-must-beobeyed. I mentioned earlier that men are not good at being articulate about love. How feeble of me to get to the end of this article and find how pathetically inarticulate I really am.
I am groping for the right words and clambering through Shakespeare (“Such is my love, to thee I so belong, that for thy right myself will bear all wrong”)—to Jane Austen (“My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you”); and from Erich Segal (“Love means never having to say you’re sorry”)—to Tom Cruise (“You complete me”).Yuck.
Brooke, I write them and I want to shoot myself for not being able to say how much you mean to me and how empty life would be without you. I, the writer who prides my ability with the pithy phrase and memorable remark, am finger-tied on my keyboard, not knowing how to say what I want.
Love is everywhere, it is different, it has many colours, many shades, many flavours. Yet wherever you are, that is where it is strongest. Thank you.
Photos by Greg Halinda