Not long ago, I came across this quote: ‘Everyone says that love hurts, but that’s not true. LONELINESS hurts. REJECTION hurts – in reality, love is the only thing in this world that covers up all the pain and makes us feel wonderful again.’
I wish I knew who said these words. I found them alongside a photo of Liam Neeson, although I’ve found no evidence that he wrote or even spoke the sentiment.
It’s a beautiful concept, that love fixes everything. Love heals. Love takes apart ancient hurts and soothes them. That’s why people write songs about love and paint pictures about love and dance dances about love. No matter what’s wrong in your life, love makes it aaaaaaaall better.
Except sometimes, love doesn’t make it all better. Sometimes, being in love, well, kind of sucks.
British writer C.S. Lewis understood the shortcomings of love when he said, ‘To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.’
The minute you fall in love with someone, you place your heart in that person’s hands. The problem is that hearts can be delicate and people are just people and sometimes those hearts get can knocked around a little.
Sometimes, the person you love the most lets you down. Sometimes, your soul mate forgets to call or doesn’t listen when you need to talk or shouts at you and tells you to bugger off. Sometimes that person you love – the one who SAYS they love you too – isn’t completely loveable.
And then there are the thousands of ways in which life does its best to pull your love apart. Some days, the laundry pile is overflowing and the tower of bills is teetering taller than ever and SOMEONE managed to miss the toilet AGAIN and there’s ANOTHER little puddle of WEE on the bathroom FLOOR.
‘What the hell is this?’ you might wonder. ‘You’re supposed to LOVE me,’ you might think to yourself. ‘I know I said “for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health” but you were rich and healthy when I said that. You’re supposed to make everything better! You’re supposed to fix me and heal me! What are you doing, going and being human like that?’
So why does anyone bother? If love is so painful and unreliable, what are we all doing here today?
We may find the answer in the words of French writer Andre Maurois (Moo-RAH) who said, ‘A successful marriage is an edifice that must be rebuilt every day.’ In other words, love isn’t a one-time test you pass with a ‘happily ever after’ tacked on at the end. It’s more like a roller coaster ride that goes up and down and twists and turns. Sometimes it’s thrilling and amazing. Other times it makes you feel like you’re going to throw up.
The truth is that in some moments, falling in love and being married is the best feeling in the world. It’s nice to know that you have a partner in life, someone who’s promised to forsake all others just for you. It’s nice to always have a plus one, a companion, someone to help you cope with difficult relatives and assemble IKEA furniture. It’s nice to go to bed with someone who has a legal obligation to be there in the morning.
It’s also nice to know that sometimes, YOU are the only one who can make it better. Sometimes, you will be the only person in the entire world who cares that he quit smoking or that she earned that degree – but YOU caring will be all that matters.
Sometimes YOUR smile will be enough to bring him back from the edge of despair, and YOUR compliment will be enough to restore her self-esteem. Sometimes YOU will fix everything. YOU will heal. You will take apart some ancient hurt and sooth it away. YOU will make everything better. And that’s a good feeling.
Like a lot of great accomplishments, love is a project that takes at least a little bit of work every single day. Sometimes the balance will shift in your favor, the days when you’re broke and sick and miserable and you need someone to look after you. Other times, you’ll feel like you’re the only one doing all of the heavy lifting, taking on more than your fair share – and sometimes you’ll be right.
Yes, there will be days when you’d be happy to walk out the door if she doesn’t stop talking for FIVE FREAKING MINUTES. There will be days when you can clearly envision yourself stabbing him … in the throat … with a meat fork. At some stage, the bathroom door will become irrelevant and you’ll wonder why you ever thought you wanted to spend your life with this person.
Except that when life gets really tough – or really fantastic – that person will be there and all the work you put in every day will pay off and you’ll be glad you never quit. Why? Because, as American novelist Erica Jong said, ‘Love IS everything it’s cracked up to be – that’s why people are so cynical about it. It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for.’
When the doctor has the worst sort of news, when the boss says he doesn’t need you anymore, when your mother dies, when your kids are born, when you embark on another grand adventure, when everything is going wrong, when everything is going right – that person will be there. And every struggle and every puddle on the floor and every difficult moment will have been worth it.
(Author’s note: I wrote this piece, which I read aloud, for Kate and Andrew Nabarro on the occasion of their wedding 9 April 2016.)