On Long Term Love and Celery Leaves

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Britain’s longest-married couple have hit the headlines recently. Phyllis and George Loftus got hitched when Phyllis was seventeen, and they’ve been married for 77 years.

My partner G and I met when we were 19 years old (almost literally children, really), and we marked seventeen years together last week.

(I say ‘marked’, but in truth, it went like this:

Me, the day before: You’ve haven’t got me a card, have you?

Him: No, I forgot!

Me: Phew, I did too.

And on our anniversary itself, I was wondering whether we should do something romantic that evening, when I heard his voice ringing through the house: ‘Sit down on the loo again, you did a bit more poo when you stood up then.’ Such is life with small children.)

We’re no Phyllis and George, not yet. But still, seventeen years. That feels pretty big. I’m starting to feel like we’re due a small column in the local newspaper, at least.

The Loftuses put the longevity of their relationship down to having a hot meal together every night. I think that makes a lot of sense. And just in case any local journos do come knocking, I’ve put together a list of the secrets to a long relationship, according to me and G:

We are never irritating. Neither of us have any annoying habits, like shoving things into cupboards so that everything falls out when the next person opens it, or offering helpful advice on the best way to load the washing machine.

We are never irritable. I would never shoot daggers at him because of the way he is eating an orange.

We never argue. Especially not about anything stupid. We’d never have a blazing row about whether you should save celery leaves or put them in the compost bin, for example.

Obviously, all of the above is bullshit. I think too much emphasis is put on there being a ‘secret’. I don’t buy into #relationshipgoals (hey, apart from the Obamas. They get a pass). You never know what a relationship is really like from the inside, no matter what instagram might tell you. Even those relationships that seem ideal- maybe even the Obamas’- are most likely a mass of complexity.

For me, it’s simply about the threads that bind you together. The threads are made of the big stuff: respect, love, intimacy, trust, shared values, family. But they are also made of the everyday. Texts reminding each other to buy loo roll and nit lotion. The time when we got rat-arsed in Tokyo and roared Born Slippy at each other in a private karaoke booth. Having a hot meal every night, like Phyllis and George.

Sometimes, even after years, you can find yourself suddenly weaving threads that bind you closer. A family camping holiday where I remembered that life is, actually, about more than loo roll and nit lotion, and that my fellow grafter at the coalface of parenthood is my friend, too. The way he picked me up off the floor when I was crippled with grief, and carried me through the days until I found my feet again. Or just a day like today, when we climbed on rocks (again) and ate lunch in the garden, and felt quietly proud of the way the kids were playing together.

Sometimes- some days, some months, some years even- it feels like you’re slicing through the threads carelessly, with the way you speak to each other, the way you disregard each others’ needs, or don’t look at your own behaviour while being quick to criticise. Sometimes the threads just get frayed and worn away, because life is tiring, and busy. As Cheryl Tweedy Cole Fernandez Versini Just-Cheryl once sang, ‘now every day ain’t gon’ be no picnic/love ain’t no walk in the park.’

Sometimes, let’s face it, you’re hanging by a single thread or two. We’ve been there. You can bind yourselves back together again, though, somehow.

Or maybe you can’t. Sometimes the threads wear away completely, or sometimes one or both people decide to slice through them for good. I’ve seen enough relationships that were strong and good in many ways end to know that there is no guarantee. Not all relationships that end are bad. Some that last forever are deeply flawed. ‘As long as we both shall live’ is a lovely sentiment, but the statistics show that it isn’t the reality of all relationships now, and that’s often not a bad thing. ‘As long as we both shall love’ seems more apt, somehow.

And as long as there are more threads binding you than threads coming loose and breaking, then it’s working. That, for me, is the secret, if there is a secret at all.

G and I aren’t married, and never intend to get married- so anyone who’s stashing their hat fund can go and blow it immediately on Easter eggs. (But please note: I do like a good wedding. Invite me to your wedding! I will cry at the ceremony, and sing very loudly in church, and get just the right sort of merrily drunk. I just don’t plan to go to my own wedding at any point).

But, married or not, I suppose long term relationships are about choosing the same person, over and over again. Consciously or unconsciously evaluating the threads that bind you, and choosing each other again. Kind of like a document autosaving on the computer.

This may be the least romantic anniversary post ever. I guess that’s how we roll, but it seems to have served us OK so far. So, happy (very belated obvs) anniversary to us. I hope we continue to autosave. And I promise never to throw celery leaves in the bin again.

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