There’s this brilliant bit in the Jenny Diski book I’ve been reading for the past week. In a fit of insecurity and fear at the thought of sort of kind of maybe moving to Cambridge to be close to her partner (romantically referred to in Diski’s writing as ‘the Poet’) she declares, “…oh god, oh god, the house has a crack, I will always live in London…my late ripening love affair will drop off its tree and rot on the ground, I will die lonely, infirm and quite quite mad”.
I can relate.
Like Diski, I am no expert on love, but unlike Diski, this is not for lack of trying on my part. I am a fervent collector of the love of the people I hold dear. In other words, I am the needy sort. My whole life, I have been searching hungrily, desperately for the affections of those closest to me. I search for it high and low; I search in who shows up to my birthday events, in the frequency and length of my long-suffering boyfriend’s (who is also a poet, thank you very much) phone calls and text messages, in the level of interest my parents show in my life, in whether or not so-and-so who I just met and chatted with for a while at a party befriends me on Facebook first… Alright, that last one I made up, but you get the general idea. The search is long, it is all-consuming, exhausting, it never ends.
And so another line from a book I recently read comes to mind. A poet friend of bell hooks’s wrote the following: “I was moved by violent conflicts and yearnings, a need to be reassured in love that all but obscured any act of loving”. Which is classic me, really. It’s hard to explain it to people who aren’t…well, me – or bell hooks and her friend, I guess – but my past, and the way different events in my life have occurred to shape who I am and the choices I make contribute to this odd condition I have, this state-of-being, and state of being (a friend once lovingly, drunkenly called) a “love anorexic”. It is not that I am not loved enough. For reasons I cannot fathom, I am blessed with a devoted partner who seems to love me dearly (well, he’s stuck around going on two years, the math has spoken), friends who tolerate my raging insecurities and a family that has stoically stood by me, without (much) question, even when they have been sorely neglected, even when I have forced them into the background of my life, even when I have pushed them into the foreground as scapegoats in the various dramas that make up my life, even when they don’t understand my life.
I am loved enough, and I am sure of this (um…mostly…sometimes, kind of sort of) because I am not alone, even though I am quite quite mad. But it’s kind of like that KT Tunstall song (and this is the last of the quotes I swear!), ‘Miniature Disasters’. You know, the one in which KT croons, “And I need to be patient, I need to be brave/Need to discover how I need to behave/And I’ll find out the answer when I know what to ask/But I speak a different language and everybody’s talking too fast!”
Love, for me, has become this complex matrix of signifiers that even I cannot understand sometimes. I have a picture in my head (my boyfriend has called this ‘the vision’), it seems, of what love is and there is a part of me that won’t-stop-can’t-stop until I get it.
And, as luck would have it, I seem to pick people who either (1) do not have any picture of love in their heads and love as and when and how the person they are loving requires, and/or (2) people with pictures in their heads that do not neatly speak to mine. I have a type: if you speak a different ‘love language’ than I do, you’re perfect for me. And once I’ve found my type of people, I resume my feverish search, always looking, scrutinising their every presence and absence for signs that they care, that they will not leave.
Still with me? Exhausting, isn’t it? So what is the answer? What, then, is love? Am I wrong? Are they right? Will I ever find what I’m looking for? After a few years on the therapist’s couch, and many, many, many late night journaling sessions similar to this one, I have, from time to time, moments of searing clarity (only moments mind you, it never lasts too long, what would be the fun in that?) when I know the tired cliché that ‘love is in the letting go’ is true.
No, not letting people go – my moments of clarity are not quite that advanced (but my inability to let people go and my clinginess is a topic for another late evening). When I am clear, I know that letting go of my vision, and of my idyllic picture will give me the love I so desperately crave. So, when my mother buys me a sturdy, sensible winter coat for my birthday (again, like she does every year, without fail), when my boyfriend forwards me an article about the African American author of The Matrix who won a court battle, when my best friend drags me on a long walk uphill with her…this is Love.
Sometimes, my moments of clarity don’t wait till 2AM to dawn on me. Sometimes, I’ll fall in love with that sturdy, sensible winter coat, I’ll lap up every obscure thing my partner e-mails me, I’ll tolerate the uphill walks. Sometimes, I’ll let myself be loved by the people who love me, in whatever way they choose to, however they can. And isn’t that something worth aiming for? If I can just capture these moments of real-time clarity, when I let my picture of ideal love go and allow the love I have in, maybe, just maybe, I can call off the search. Kind of, sort of.
 Diski, J. 2003. Heart’s Desire. A view from the bed and other observations. London, Virago Press.
 In hooks, b. 1997. Wounds of Passion: A writing life. New York, Henry Holt and Company.
 Tunstall, K. T. 2006. ‘Miniature Disasters’. From the album Eye to the telescope, Relentless, Virgin.