Yesterday was spent writing a paper about images of violence against women. It was a pretty heavy day.
Strangely enough though, I’ve been thinking about love all night. The love that Shakespeare wrote about in his Sonnet 116. I know it’s been used during a billion weddings, a million sentiments half thought out.
It’s the lines “love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove” that hit me every time. You know those poems (or songs or whatever) you feel in your stomach, the lines that are so true they stop your breath just for a moment…?
I wonder whether the things you read when you’re young shape how you fundamentally look at life afterwards… Much like I will always have an abiding fondness for little old ladies in small english villages (thank you Agatha Christie), my belief in love has been shaped.
“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove…”
Since reading that Sonnet , love, for me, has always been being able to allow the whole person into your heart – their perfections and imperfections – the bits that make the world sunshiney and the bits that make you want to set them on fire. You love them just as they are for all of who they are (to mangle poor Shakespeare with Bridget Jones).
And there’s such a beautiful vulnerability in that – and something that can be utterly terrifying. I never truly realised just how frightening it could be – I drank the sonnet koolaid a long time back – until I fell in love with an Irishman a little while ago. The great long distance relationship. He was a truly beautiful, good soul but he worried that I never saw the darker parts, the less beautiful parts – the parts of him that were broken. He couldn’t believe I could love all of him. And it’s not that I didn’t see them or ignored them. We all have our broken bits. It’s just that I didn’t see the point in bringing them up in everyday conversation when we were so far away from each other and they weren’t impacting on us.
But then it all started to impact on us and the distance began to feel too far away. Life got in the way of love because it does sometimes – but then I wouldn’t have given up that experience for anything in the world.
So in my heartbreak, I sought solace in another english male writer. The short story ‘Parenthesis’ in my desert-island-end-of-the-world book ‘A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters’ but Julian Barnes:
“We think of [love] as an active force. My love makes her happy; her love makes me happy: how could this be wrong? It is wrong; it evokes a false conceptual model. It implies that love is a transforming wand, one that unlooses the ravelled knot, fills the top hat with handkerchiefs, sprays the air with doves. But the model isn’t from magic but particle physics. My love does not, cannot make her happy; my love can only release in her the capacity to be happy. And now things seem more understandable. How come I can’t make her happy, how come she can’t make me happy? Simple: the atomic reaction you expect isn’t taking place, the beam with which you are bombarding the particles is on the wrong wavelength”.
The great romance that love will change us into superheroes (no one ever loves like a first love). Love doesn’t change us in the way we expect but in ways so much better than we ever imagined, sometimes I think because there’s so much beauty in love’s messiness and imperfections. There’s something incredible about the potential in love that Barnes talks about.
And even when it ends with a heart so shattered it feels unmendable, it remains our “ever-fixed mark”. So I hold closely Shakespeare’s unshakeable belief and Barnes’ words as well – “We must believe in it, or we’re lost. We may not obtain it, or we may obtain it and find it renders us unhappy; we must still believe in it. If we don’t, then we merely surrender to the history of the world and to someone else’s truth”.
At the end of the day, I would rather be able to feel heart break because it means I’ve been capable of love, able to be open that vulnerability of being my whole self, broken and beautiful and all. And the love of an Irishman opened my eyes to a whole new world of writing to be inspired by, which could never be a loss.
It was a beautiful thing – just as the next time I fall in love will be as well.