Friday, 7 October 2011
The Secrets of Long Term Love
Two good friends of mine just got engaged and I am quite delighted for them. It is lovely when two friends get together and they are two lovely friends so the whole thing, basically, could not be lovelier.
I'm a bit of a softy at heart. I love weddings and try to be an exemplary guest. I agonise over gifts (or the price, certainly). I'm also one of those people who cries (especially if there is no free bar or late night buffet).
Sometimes I do worry though, that young couples are not entirely prepared for the reality of long term love. Of course, it is now quite common for couples to live together for a while before they marry, or have a civil partnership, or decide to commit in the long term. But there is a big difference between two or three years of fondue parties with fellow young solicitors and proper, down in the trenches, blood and guts, toe-nail clippings on the armrest, long term love.
So I have taken it upon myself to tell a few home truths. The first rule of long term love is that you have to discuss what is for tea EVERY SINGLE DAY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Reaching terms of agreement on beverages can also be a minefield. Particularly getting your partner to accept that placing the teabag in the cup the night before, "to save time in the morning", is an early sign of madness.
It is also true that it is difficult to keep the romance alive. Delicate whisps of underwear dancing like snowflakes on the washing line, are replaced by sturdy cotton items resembling dead moles on a fence. The courtesy of only breaking wind in the garden is abandoned, to be replaced by a lift of the cheek and a cursory flap of the Radio Times.
Bearing all of this in mind, I think it is best to approach long term love with low expectations. The key to this is to have a really crap wedding, or rather, have a great wedding but a really crap wedding night, since this best reflects later life when fun times are reserved for going out with your mates.
A friend played a blinder in the crap wedding night department. She and the groom had their small reception in their flat, the idea being that they would slope off to a swanky hotel in the wee small hours. In the end they both got hammered and couldn't face the journey.
My friend went to bed just as a food fight was breaking out and awoke some time later to find her husband climbing into bed, apparently coming down with something, so cold and clammy was his chest. But still, he also had a raging erection. The good news was that the cold and clammy chest was only a large slice of gammon stuck to his pecs, the bad news was that the erection turned out to be half a cucumber in his boxers. Shortly after, the door opened to reveal a sleepwalking male house guest who urinated on the bed.
I rate this as an excellent introduction to long term love, particularly if having children is on the agenda. For the horrors of secret nose-picking, or tights worn two days in a row, pale into insignificance when you enter the long term love landscape of parenthood.
For example, no-one tells you when you're exchanging rings that one day you will dress your concussed husband's head wound with a sanitary towel, before making him have disorientated sex with you, because you are ovulating. Or that he may be forced to take dictation for a shopping list that includes "nipple protectors" while you stand naked after your shower, blowdrying your episiotomy stitches.
I imagine there are people in long term relationships reading this "tutting" and getting ready to launch into a lecture about how to keep long term love "fresh" as if it were a smelly armpit you were forced to sniff on the tube.
I am not about to criticise them. I admire them, I really do. I am in awe of people who have date nights and won't let their wives see them in their curlers. I wish I were more like them, rather than being someone who shouts "OH, DRY YOUR EYES!" when my husband suggests that I might like to change out of my pyjamas in order to go to Homebase.
And yet, and yet, there is also something very special about allowing one other person in your life to see you very far from your best. I'm not cut from the same cloth as I was 20 years ago. Not emotionally, and certainly not physically. If we want to be loved for who we really are, then surely that must admit the possibility of still being desirable with a crumpled face in last night's make-up.
I'm not advocating making no effort for your nearest and dearest, it's a bit disrespectful to say the least. But I also believe that true love has tenderness at its heart, and that tenderness does not require perfection. Thank God.