What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

(The title is from a Raymond Carver short story)

I had a curious experience recently. While in London in December, I met up with an ex-girlfriend for some lunch. We were previously together for a few years and you could say she was one of the loves of my life. Now we hadn’t seen each other for many years but the power of facebook and mutual friends put us back in contact again 3 years ago. We’d fb chatted occasionally, sent private messages on matters of mutual interest and liked each other’s statuses. Like friends do. But actually meeting up again, even just for lunch still felt fairly monumental.

After a quick hug at the tube station, we wandered to a restaurant chatting but barely making eye contact. Sitting opposite each other we couldn’t avoid looking at the faces we knew so well. Initially discussing the menu provided easy respite from the awkwardness, allowing evasive small talk. By the time the food arrived, we were more at ease, gently investigating each other’s lives, (she is now a TV producer), laughing about people we used to know and smiling at the silly moments we’d had.

The Czech novelist Milan Kundera wrote a book called Ignorance, a story concerning a long-lost affair and how the two protagonists met and recall the affair differently years later. What struck me over lunch was how we too had slanted memories, reminding each other of different events or with alternative memories of the same events. That’s kinda natural of course but it could be indicative of what was important to us, moments that stuck. On the train back home, she sent me a text. ‘It was weird wasn’t it! But lovely.’ I agreed. It was. 

It started me thinking about how our relationships shape us. The band The National ask ‘how can anybody know how they got to be this way.’ Well we earnestly nod about the nurturing power of childhood, family, school or travel but we’re told we’re meant forget past relationships and banish anything that triggers a memory. The past is best left there. Yet these relationships led me to the World Cup in Japan or amazing parties on Queen’s Day in Amsterdam, music festivals in Paris or times where I’ve met some great friends. They’ve moved me to better places. 

Of course a bad break-up can cloud everything for a while. A friend once told me she couldn’t remember the good times she had with her boyfriend after a 5 year relationship. That’s a shame. Sometimes we go on too long. We think we’d be alone rather than seeing it as an opportunity. My friend M mentions she still thinks of her ex over a year later. That highlights the encompassing pull of love. The world may be fickle but love isn’t.

We often ask what was I doing or how did I stay there so long, regarding them as tangents or aberrations. A friend of mine LP once put his friend right about his life. After years being away from Australia he was back and was told by a friend that he was a few years behind them in terms of life, lacking the mortgage and ring. But rather LP explained he was at the same point but simply on a different ladder. These relationships weren’t a detour from the right ladder but in fact a physical and emotional shift to a new ‘you.’

The truth is we never forget and in most cases nor should we completely. Love can be equally uplifting and debilitating, rivalling only jealousy in terms of emotive power. Controlling it seems impossible at times. There is no rational reason to love. You either love or you don’t. Dimension and consideration play no part. But to love and be loved is truly glorious and utterly unforgettable. I’ve always been a near-hopeless romantic and smile at the person I was in those times. It made me more than I am.

So rather than forget, I sit here with a glass of wine writing this (while my unfinished dissertation looks forlornly on), revelling in glorious rapture of the women and the love that’s shaped me, made me think silly, happy thoughts and put a spring in my step. It would be unnatural to blank it out and undermine its importance. It’s what makes us human. You simply move on hopefully improved.

Its late and I may not sleep soon but I do have to end this somehow. So using the lyrics of Dave Berman, ‘the final words are so hard to devise. But I promise that I’ll always remember your pretty eyes.’


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