When you are seventeen, love is mutually assured destruction. These novelty pangs of brilliance and devotion which bubble and surface like lava; irresistible, deadly and hot to the touch. Who will detonate your shiny new feelings first? The ebbing confusion of backhanded compliments and rebellion. It is only a matter of time before one of you brings a match to this fuse.
When you are twenty, love is faceless solace. New lovers and new minds. Everything is uncertain and senseless, reckless. Boundaries are reworked and you use your sense of self to push back against falling back into old ways. You believe you are changed now, solidified since the adolescent adherence to the demands of others, and when asked whether you’ll be cutting your hair that way again you say: yes. You pour your heart out over a bottle of red wine.
When you are twenty-five, love is the spaces between. It is working around your internship in London, weekends on the train and professional faces which reflect light like flat stone. You collect stamps on your coffee card and share the froth off the top of lattes together. Your conversations are eloquent slow burns into the night, delving into a belief in something higher. Cocktails sunken with tequila, which neither of you will admit you can’t really afford, so you sip slowly. The city is lit with pinprick embers of office windows, but no stars; your love nestled amongst the metropolis.
When you are twenty-nine, love is syrupy promises. The sickly sugar of imagination which comes with your new vows. Everything is a horizon, the type you won’t drop off but keep rolling round when you reach the end. The future is material, and in focus. You envision holidays to The Alps and staying at the grandparents’ cottage. A white and purple colour scheme for the wedding, peonies and golden doilies. Venue after venue, but ultimately you know you will settle for the church in ruins. This is a saccharine love, in which you retreat into the terms we and us.
When you are thirty-three, love is practiced. It is the knowing tonight’s your shift to feed the baby with half-closed eyes, and heightened senses. The trickle of vomit and the heavy breathing from behind you in the bed. You are worn down, but beaming an aching and debilitating warmth. Watching patterns in the way you kiss each other goodbye, followed by a sigh, upon kissing your baby’s soft ear, handing them over for a moment of retreat. There is a peace in the interchanging of your tasks, beyond the cacophonous noise of parenting.
When you are thirty-seven, love is a non-existent sepia photograph. You reminisce upon early moments as though they are all that are worth anything. Blank and immaterial, it never existed but you reflect on the golden days like they defined you. You crave the fuel of minor heartbreak, petroleum arguments and riveting passion. Now it is nights in silence in front of the tv, with a hot dinner on your lap and intertwined legs whilst the children are upstairs. You are humble and you are subdued by your journey so far. Asking yourself when this routine became so… routine?
When you are fifty-two, love is the act of rewriting. Rewriting dynamics when the house is an empty echo chamber; because the love you channelled into your children is a long distance love now. A love pressed by your tongue onto the back of stamps which you will place on envelopes addressed to phantom cities. You move around each other in mysterious ways, cautious and unsure. This is a time to redefine the us you clung to with venom in earlier days of youth. Now the thunder is no longer loud, and you miss it; but the electric calm is welcome.
Now I am sixty-seven, and love is old. It is the warming of his socks by the fire, and my favourite dish made for me on a bad day. It is having family over for holidays, observing the faces emblematic of familiarity and how they weather gracefully. The seasons quench a desire for change and new life. Yet, amongst this progress we settle. It is the knowledge that I am his and he is mine, as we grow sturdy and intertwined year after year.
I have lived all of these types of love, breathed them all. I have sent painful love letters across neighbourhoods covered in teenage tears. I have seen uncertainty in love the next time around, in trepidation of something real. I have booked days off work, when I know I need the money, to travel cross-country for camping weekends eating beans from the tin. I have worn white, and made promises which tasted sweeter than candy floss. I have shared love with my babies, growing the depths of my feeling, not dividing them. I have grown restless and nostalgic in my ways, and fought the wrought knots of time. I stood like an oak, writing us in new terms, sustainable terms: our terms. All the while, this is a reminder that we created this. Once there was nothing, now there is this love, old love.
– Emily Black