Ain’t love grand? Those heart thumping moments when your loved one tells you they love you, or when you have “that” kiss, you know the one, the one that leaves you jelly kneed and paints a huge smile on your face. Yea, you know the one.
Love has different meanings to all kinds of people. Many have different expectations on how they perceive love – for some, being in love is the epitome of success whilst for others it comes in other guises. Parents providing for their children because they love them. Partners learning a new skill in order to spend more time with their chosen one. Offering time and compassion to others less fortunate. The list could (and does) go on, however, the love I want to discuss here, is authentic love and what it looks like.
The love a parent feels for a child (mostly) is profound, it comes straight from the heart and comes naturally. When we choose a life partner, things are never that simple. People are complex mammals – they factor in so many variables on what they want out of love that sometimes it’s difficult to see the wood for the trees.
It is easy to shower your loved one with compliments and gifts (compliments are free, gifts not always, but it’s the thought that counts) – it’s also a good way to try and convince your partner that they are special to you. This is often how love starts out, I get that, but what I would give to be able to go back to my 15 year old self and have a chat about what real love is like. Here follows a story about when a boy met a girl…
I was 15 years old (just two weeks away from being sweet 16 and never been kissed) when I met my Mr Right. I was rather inexperienced with boys and I had not been a part of the “crowd” that went underage drinking or to clubs, so it could be said I led a sheltered life. Mr Right was everything I was not. He was confident, handsome, had an active social life, went to a private school, he was well liked and had many friends. To say I was in awe of him is an understatement. He was my IT. We met at our local outdoor swimming pool; he showered me with compliments but it was the eyes that hooked me. He told me he had never seen such beautiful eyes, that it was like looking into the bluest ocean. Corny, I know, but I fell for it, hook, line and sinker.
He was very attentive, polite and eager. He would meet me at the end of the road so he could walk me to the station (to get to college) and he would be outside waiting for me on late evenings. He made me feel special. We dated for five years before we became Mr and Mrs and throughout the whole time, he was constant in his affections. By this time, however, my inner demons had started to claw their way out. I began to feel a fraud – why was he with ME when he could have chosen anyone else? Why don’t I feel the same intensity for him as he does for me? Surely he will soon realise what a mistake he has made and find somebody more suited to him.
I was being swept away with the romance of it all and with the “unsaid” expectation that once you get engaged you must follow it through. So, follow it through we did. It sounds like I have a negative relationship with my husband here, doesn’t it? Truth is, I had the negative relationship with myself. I don’t know where my poor self esteem stems from but it was well and truly rooted in my psyche at this point in my life. Every day it seemed that I was waiting for things to fall apart. For him to have an affair. For him to just admit he wasn’t happy. But it never came. Two years into our marriage we had our first child. She helped me to come out of my shell a little, after all, it was ME she was depending on now. The husband was working longer hours and at first I didn’t notice. After the initial euphoria/exhaustion/worries had worn off and we had settled into a routine, back came my devil. All of a sudden, I had no identity of my own. I was my husband’s wife. My child’s mother. A housewife. I was no-one. I was lonely.
By the time we had been married for five years we had extended our family by a further two children. Our last child was born with several issues that required hospital treatment and operations up until he was seven years old. It was at this time that I discovered who I could be. Not who I was, not yet, but a glimmer of things to come.
Have you ever had someone pay you a compliment and you accept it but tar it with “a yes, but”? This is something I was more than guilty of. People would tell me how strong and brave I was. How organised I was, being able to deal with a baby in hospital (in a different town), getting a child to school and one to playgroup. Did I believe them? Did I hell – “it’s something that has to be done!” I reply. In a way, that was the simple truth – there was no other option that would be acceptable to me or my husband. That doesn’t mean that there was NO other option though. We could have given up. We could’ve asked for more help from friends or family. We did none of things… we soldiered on.
I’m going to skip forward several years for the sake of cutting a long story a little less long. Recognising the power I had to deal with many issues in my life, whilst maintaining a happy family persona, gave me the impetus to go forth and forge a career for myself. To find the me I wanted to be. Little did I know though, that it was all a persona! I was a fraud. I didn’t feel strong, or worthy or even capable. In my head, I was these things because others, my biggest fan being my hubby, had said I was. I didn’t want to let others down so I carried on trying to build a “better” version of me. Hindsight is a wonderful thing though… it wasn’t the “better” me I should have been striving for, it was for a “different” me.
This is where I would like to go back to my past self and give her a pep talk. I wouldn’t change a single thing about my relationship with my husband – our marriage hasn’t always been a smooth ride, but without a shadow of a doubt, I can truly say he is my Mr Right. I love him with every fibre of my being. I would, however, change my relationship with me. I have denied my family so much throughout the years because of the destructive behaviour I have directed towards myself. It has taken two serious episodes with Mr Black Dog for me to finally stop pretending. No longer do I apologise for feeling “down”; no longer do I say “yes” to things that I do not want to do; no longer do I berate myself for my “failings”. Instead, I have donned a new perspective. I walked out of my career (one that I was passionate about, but could no longer remain in due to unforgiving workload, strategy changes and lack of focus on the big picture) – people have intimated that this is a risky move – no more money coming in, jobless on the cusp of 50, putting extra pressure on my hubby to provide. Well, to them I say, yes! Yes, it is risky. But so, so brave. I am finally able to “see” my strength. It’s taken a long time but finally I am digging my heels in and doing something for me. I don’t know what that will look like yet, but I know it’s waiting for me to find it.
Sincere, authentic and genuine. These words could all be used to describe the relationship between my husband and myself – we have been married 28 years this year and saw our eldest married in October. There is one photograph that I absolutely adore and it shows how wrong I was all those years ago. My husband staring into my eyes with the biggest smile on his face – I have no doubts now that he loves me. He cherishes me. He’s encouraging the space I need to “find myself” whilst always being there for me. Yes, sincere could definitely describe our love.
However, I want sincere to describe my intentions. I wholeheartedly believe that I can turn my worst enemy into my best friend and in doing so experience life from a different view point. One in which I approve of myself.