I tend to go through life in a constant state of low-level anxiety and panic, which occasionally crests and soars into hysterics, and very rarely dips into short periods of serenity. Overlaying this backdrop of discomfort are a plethora of several other unpleasant emotions, like misery, despair and wistfulness, each of them taking their turns to fill up my chest, or sometimes even arriving altogether at once. In other words, I have a lot of feelings, and it makes my tiny, ordinary and very uneventful life both very passionate, and very difficult. There is, however, one thing that brings forth a whole cascade of emotions every time I think of it, or encounter it (very rare, but it happens) and that thing is love; specifically, romantic love.
Romantic love is something which, deep down, deep into my every pore and every fibre of my being, I desire very much. I am a hopeless romantic, through and through, just like most of you who walk this planet. For many people love is so entrancing because it is an escape from the monotony and tedium of their lives, a chance to bask in secret joy and delight with another person, and to feel wanted and cherished. Unfortunately love, being so universal and complex a phenomenon, is also where many people trip up, or, in my case, fall flat on their faces and scramble around desperately like an overturned beetle in futile attempts to pick themselves back up.
I have been in love once in my life, many years ago. It may have been conjured up by my imagination—I’m not sure, it’s very hard to distinguish between fantasy and reality sometimes when you’re prone to daydreaming at all times of the day—but it certainly felt like love, and when it ended, very shortly after it began, I certainly felt heartbroken as one would after a failed relationship. Of course, I never really spoke to him, but, well, who needs to speak to a person to determine whether you love them or not, eh? Not I. I pined from afar, let my heart break from afar, all the while lost in the clouds and in books. Nevertheless, from this limited experience, I have learned a great deal about romantic love. One must never pass up an opportunity to learn the gears and bolts of life, and there is nothing like love to knock some lessons into your head.
The first thing I learned about love, is this: romantic love is not a necessity, in that you won’t perish should you find yourself without it; but it nevertheless is something that is very good and healthy to have in your life. Having love is like having fruit in your diet—you certainly won’t die without eating fruit if you consume plenty of grains and vegetables, but with their wonderful nutrients and antioxidants, it is nevertheless a very good thing to include in your daily meals. Being single and celibate, as I currently am, and am likely to remain as, is not the best state for a human being to be in, no matter how much of an introvert or loner you are. Fruit is good for you, and so are relationships, even the bad ones that leave you broken and afraid of the world. There is a reason everywhere, all over the world, throughout history and to the present day, people pair up: it is because that is what human beings are designed to do, not only for the sake of procreation, as some scientists would have you believe, but also for the sake of companionship. A partner is an antidote to loneliness. A partner can make you smile. A partner, while they can’t give you happiness—that is something you have to obtain for yourself—can contribute greatly to your existing contentment. Should you be discontented, a partner can make sad and bad days a lot less sad and bad.
The second thing I learned about romantic love is that it has the ability to bring a great deal of one’s internal issues to the surface, even if you never actually enter into a relationship with that person or even talk to them. As love is such a fundamental part of being human, it is linked, like the centre of a spider’s web, to various psychological nodes of one’s being, from self-esteem to the relationship you had with your parents. Just by being around your loved one can make you realise how much you perhaps yearned for but never received your father’s approval or how you actually kind of hate yourself and the way you look, deep down. Love forces you to confront your own failings, and to fix or improve them. In this respect, it is actually a very emotionally rejuvenating thing for a person to experience.
Closely linked to the yearning for love is the yearning for security. In most peoples’ minds, including my own, the idea of love is wrapped up in the idea of one day settling down and starting a family, tapping into a deep primal instinct present within almost all mammals: build a home, have children, and rear them together, in a safe, happy, loving and secure little universe. With the world such a scary and quicksilver place, people turn to love for refuge. Much as I doubt I will, especially considering my various issues, ever find someone to settle down with, just the very thought of having a husband by my side, of seeing him come home from work to kiss me on the cheek and then play and laugh with our child, is enough to fill my heart with a wistful and pained joy. As the child of divorced parents, the idea of creating my own perfect, happy family to heal myself from the unhappy one I grew up in is overwhelmingly tempting. If I could just have a child to kiss, to tuck into bed, to read bedtime stories to, then a man’s arms to return to, at the end of a long day’s work, then maybe, just maybe, I will stop feeling so scared and scared and anxious all the time. It’s a fantasy, I know. It will probably never happen. Marriages are very breakable; I know that first-hand. But I dream, nonetheless, and will never stop dreaming, along with several millions of other people who desire conjugal bliss.
Above all, however, what I have learned is that I am very afraid of romantic love. Familial love, parental love—those things, though I have lacked them at various points in my life, I have never feared. Romantic love, I do fear. I fear it because I am afraid of things turning out badly, the way things turned out badly for my parents and many millions of households across the country, and I fear it because if it does turn out badly, the pain will be very great indeed, a cataclysmic shock to my emotional system. And I fear it because I am afraid of not being accepted or loved back, or seen for who I truly am. I fear it because death exists, and therefore if I let myself love someone, show myself to someone in all my strange and awkward glory, there is something that can take them away from me. I fear waking up one morning to find myself sleeping beside a stranger. I fear the sound of voices raised in argumentation, echoing and jarring down through the very walls of a house like earthquakes. I fear looking ugly, appearing ugly, speaking or talking in an ugly manner and revealing all the not-so-pleasant aspects of my personality, and being scorned or derided or hated for it. So I fear, and I dream, and I go on living and working—just like everyone else.