What is this thing called love?
After spending Tuesday evening drinking Martinis and wallowing in the lyrics of love and loss and longing in the company of a Broadway chanteuse, I found myself sighing like a lovesick teenager all the way home. Reality quickly bit. My partner was already asleep with his earplugs in. "Right here, right now," I hummed determinedly, slipping quietly into bed, reprising the words that were actually the title of a song I'd just heard. I liked the fact that this song seemed to concentrate on the here and now, the love you've got, not the one that got away, or the one that might have been. A love that encompasses the mundane, the everyday, the real.
Something I've never felt the need to ask myself about my five-year relationship with the man I met in my mid-fifties and with whom I now share my life, is whether he's actually the love of my life. It hardly seems relevant. He's my right here, right now man, and hopefully here to stay. But according to a survey published yesterday, not only is one in seven of 2,000 adults polled in a long-term relationship with someone they do not class as the "love of their life", it's also something that clearly troubles them.
Of those, 73 per cent have "made do" with their partner because their true love slipped through their fingers, suggesting they have settled for second best. We are such cuckoos when it comes to love. The notion of a love of your life is one of those romantic myths that make relationships so hard to maintain. I'd contend that rather than there being The One, there are many The Ones out there. This is not a rallying-cry for people to go out and seek multiple partners; in fact it's the opposite. The notion of The One puts too much pressure on said One, once you consider him or her, to be perfect.
And if you think your partner is perfect you're going to be sorely disappointed when you inevitably find out they're not. Hearts do get broken (mine included), but over time hearts of the lovelorn variety should be allowed to heal. If you've been walked out on, it's only once you've got over the notion that the person who left you was the "love of your life" that you can enter fully into the possibility of a new and durable relationship. A relationship ending when you don't want it to can lead to anger and hurt, but it can also lead to idealisation of the one you loved. I have a friend whose fiance didn't abandon her, but died in a motorbike crash at the age of 27.
Regaling me with tales of subsequent relationships over the next 20 years which failed to match up, she has often used that phrase "he was the love of my life" to sum up her sorrow. There is no denying that it was a tragic loss, but the real point is one she refuses to acknowledge: that her memory of him is preserved in aspic, fixed at a point when the two of them were wildly, and newly, in love.
Passion had not had a chance to give way to the realities of living with someone on a daily basis. She experienced none of the pressures of earning a living, raising children, and the inevitable disagreements that set in when two individuals throw in their lot together. Another woman I know, widowed after a long and happy marriage of 30 years, seems to have far better dealt with the unhelpful notion of there being a love of your life. She has, several years down the line, met someone new who has asked her to marry him.
"He'll never replace my husband," she says, "he's neither as funny nor clever, and he isn't the father of my children, but he still brings joy into my life and I'm open to that." There's been a lot of love in my life, and passion too, but no one, true, all?consuming love. And I'm glad for that.