It’s not a novel observation to point out that most of our cultural narratives about ‘love’ are actually about ‘new love’ – those mad fizzing heart-racing giggling months when you are high on the very existence of this amazing person who loves you. That’s what inspires the songs, the stories, the films.
But what about old love? Oh, people say, yes, old love is wonderful too, like a comfortable old pair of slippers or your favourite arm chair. Easy, familiar, comfortable, homely.
I say bullshit.
Old love is soul-searingly miraculous. Yes, the comfort of being with someone who knows you inside out is wonderful, able to just relax, and yes, too, someone who’s been sharing a bed with you for decades knows your body better than anyone else on earth. But old love is extraordinary in ways that far exceed that.
The fizz of new love comes, in part, from the delicate dance – reveal a little more of yourself, as they reveal a little more of themselves, and the more you reveal the more you fear they might change their mind. And they don’t! The exhilaration! And as you become more comfortable with each other you revel in that comfortableness, not needing to put on a show, and spending perhaps years being (almost) your real self, and you talk about how lovely it is that you can relax around each other now.
But someone who has loved you for many years is different.
Imagine the worst, the most shameful thing you’ve ever done. Imagine that tiny part of your self that you try to pretend doesn’t exist because it’s so far from who you want to be. Imagine all the things about yourself that you try desperately to keep in the dark, the cruellest thing you ever said to someone, your most thoughtless actions. Imagine how you react to something difficult not when you’re strong and happy, but when you’re weak, tired, threatened, ill. All those awful things that you try to hide from yourself, let alone the rest of the world.
Now imagine someone has seen all of that. ALL of it. Everything, the very worst of you. They’ve seen your cruelty, your weaknesses, your anger, your humiliations, your impatience, your cowardice, everything you try to keep in the dark. Everything you try not to be, that you have structured your adult self around not-being.
And they love you. Purely and completely. Not for who they think you are, or who they want you to be. They even love those horrible shameful terrible parts of you, clear-sightedly and completely – not because they like those parts of you, but simply because they *are* parts of you. They don’t just tolerate you, they LOVE you, passionately and beautifully and honestly, and they have seen you at your absolute worst. That takes many years – and some tough times – to earn.
It’s like a fucking miracle. It’s revolutionary. It’s the most unbelievable and beautiful sensation to realise that someone has come to love you so completely over so many years by knowing more and more of you – NOTHING about you is not good enough, nothing about you is wrong or shameful or out of place. And that tiny part of everyone that sneaks up on the darkest days and says ‘oh but if they knew the *real* you…’ – that voice is silenced for good.