Love is... what, exactly?
The thing that poets have striven to describe and scientists to fathom; is it living as cutesy at the couple in that cartoon? Is it dependent on a dozen red roses and a diamond ring, a declaration and a dedication via a flurry of flowery cards from Clintons?
All of those things, it used to be to me. Though I’d been wrong about love from the off.
You first think you’ve found it at junior school when some boy, clearly wiser than his years and more handsome than you’d ever noticed, sees past your NHS specs and wants to sit next to you in class rather than the pretty girls with ringlets.
But now I know: that isn’t love, it’s an ego massage.
Then you’re convinced you’re feeling it again at 15, when some boy you’ve long worshipped from afar blanks you at the school disco. He couldn’t see how good you could have been together, that you’d practised that eyeliner for weeks and you’d even got your mother’s dancing shoes on.
But now I know; that isn’t love, either. The ache of despair in your chest is merely the pain of your ego, fracturing.
I wish I’d realised the stark, utterly unromantic reality of my first “in love” situations at the time. Never mind home economics, they ought to give schoolgirls heart economics; straight-talking advice on why not to take rejection so personally, or sell yourself short, would have been of far more use to me than teaching me how to make rock cakes and sew an apron.
It could have saved me decades of pining for unsuitable males and from mistaking everything from lust, rejection, hurt pride and, on occasion, pity, for being in love.
I’d have spent far less time trying to persuade someone either not that into me, or not actually that right for me, to feel like I thought I did.
Think of the Valentine’s Days I wouldn’t have been disappointed by. When you’re single, February 14 is a blood-red reminder of your loveless state; a day you want to give the V sign to.
All those lovey-dovey cards you can’t buy and won’t receive, the flowers you won’t be able to waltz through the office with, the restaurant dinners you couldn’t eat even if you wanted to because they’re all booked up by the smug loved-up... it’s salt in wounded heart.
How many Feb 14s have I spent, pretending I’m not checking the post, then making out I didn’t give a damn when there was no card from either a current beau or an unknown admirer? Too many, reader, too many.
Though now I’m in the Real Deal Relationship Club, Valentine’s Day has paled into insignificance. I neither hate it nor love it. It’s a nice way to mark your love for each other, is all. And to be frank, OK, alright, smug, we do that most days, in lots of little ways that cost nothing but time and a wee bit of trouble.
I thought about what love really is on Sunday night, while we were contentedly eyeing the telly over the top of the papers. My feet, clad in my son’s old penguin-print ski socks, were resting on his legs.
He got up, made me a cup of tea, went to walk the dog and lock up the chickens, came back and put my feet back up again.
Doormat? No, loving husband.
When you can focus on someone else’s ego instead of your own, in the certain knowledge that they are thinking about yours in return, that’s love, that is.