People talk about love and relationships as though you fall in one and get comfortable; as though it grows over time; as though it starts small and you cultivate it; like a well-sown seed, or a symphony starting from a single note, and all those other lovely metaphors. But I have little knowledge of this. My experience of relationships (and I mean the ones involving love, not all those other series of interactions) is a single active choice; everyday you have to answer with the same refrain and accept what it means in the present tense. I will be with you. Today that means one thing, and tomorrow it will mean something else. I will be with you. Love was a ton of bricks through the roof that crushed me as I slept. I tried to work around it, ignore it, but eventually you have to accept what has happened and try to build anew. Either way there will always be a hole where the roof once was. It is a lot like grief that way, a parallel I hear nobody make, though it’s true.
When people talk about love, it is so far away from what I know to be true that it feels almost alien. I guess the songs about plagues of locusts and horrific storms wouldn’t shift records, and so we stick to the roses and puppy stuff instead. Our life together is not one of constant glowing adoration, or corny loved-up photographs, or sudden flourishes of joy with extreme highs and lows. Ryan does not take my breath away, or knock me off my feet, or make me feel as though I am in a dream. I know he doesn’t, because I’ve experienced all those things over and over and they were some other, lesser form of love; at least for me. I knew Ryan was the one for me because I didn’t feel any of those things you’re supposed to. I didn’t feel blinded or dazed, or like I was in a dream, or out of breath. Instead, I felt like me; but stronger and more certain. Warmer, somehow. Like I had taken off a coat that was constantly damp. And I see much more now; how far there is to go.
It is confusing, sure, and unexplainable. I find it a struggle to even use the word love because it is so incomprehensible, so absolute, still in some way terrifying to me even though it wanders through all parts of my life like a particularly curious cat. I remember the years of time we all spent compiling our “perfect match”; they would be this, they would be that; they would be unpredictable and charming, or daring and exciting, or adventurous and hilarious. I feel like going back in time to me and my teenage classmates and saying look, none of this ends up mattering. Give it up. Otherwise, how can I possibly be in a relationship with somebody who prefers Pixar to Studio Ghibli, somebody who prefers whisky to gin? Somebody who can barely write when I am here at the mercy of words? It’s unfathomable, but it happens. I tried, I really did, with my “type”: all those arty intellectual geeks, everyone always too caught up in our work to call back. If you both get swept away then there’s nothing to come back to. And anyway, it swings both ways. Ryan has a thing about keeping things tidy, and I never met a mess I didn’t want to make.
People talk about love as though it is an explosion of emotion, like some vortex of experience that you hurtle through in a blaze of glory and tears and laughter and kisses. And it is, sometimes, but I think only when you’re young and your heart is still full and you’re still practising giving it away. Those fizzy, heady times where you first learn to express your feelings, how to send a text back, how to stay the night. I can well recall the passing of notes and the trauma of the forgotten letter ‘X’. But I have had enough of all that. When you’re young you can give your heart away over and over again: you can just lob the thing at any fucker who walks near you. It is glorious and heady, but with appropriate pitfalls attached from time to time. There are no messy comedowns in my life these days; no sweeping loop the loops into somebody’s eyes only to be forgotten next week. Instead, seasons change. There is a sense of home in my life; my boat has an anchor, where previously I waited for the sea to take it’s toll.
I have learned far more of grief than love. Death has come over and over, my strange friend, always kept at arms length. I often think I know barely anything at all of love, really, but Death? Well, sure, I could tell you a thing or two. And one thing I’ve realised is that I must be one of the ones who lives instead. I try to think about the future, a place that never previously interested me. A place that used to be off limits. But Ryan holds a season pass to “what could happen”; he walked into my life holding a one way ticket to the rest of his own, and deigned to show me how it works. Truly astonishing. Sometimes, secretly, I am actually able to picture myself older. It’s a new skill I acquired courtesy of this relationship I find myself in. I let myself daydream and I able to come up with all sorts of things I could never previously imagine. Me, but 33: a few more grey hairs, well worn socks. By that age, I will likely own a pair of well-fitting winter boots. There is room still to grow: 33, and beyond! We might both make middle age! Oh, such heights!
The movies and songs would have you believe that love is a speeding bullet, a rollercoaster of adventure or a rocket that soars into the moon. But life with Ryan is like a small boat on a slow river through a quiet forest; there are no other passengers, and we stop at every narrow pier. This would have disgusted me even as an option on my younger days. You’re saying there are rockets, and rollercoasters, and you’d willingly choose the local boat over those options? My younger self would have laughed in your face. You’re shitting me. But here I am, able to admire the soft ripples our voyage makes, the shape of the leaves as they hit the water, the way the light makes everything glitter. And I am safe and progressing and cherished. Loved, if you will. And my God, how wonderful it is to see the scenery this way.