Yesterday, after spending the preceding waking hours running in furious circles and generally comporting myself like a week’s worth of bad news, my friend called.
We’d scheduled a video chat (the vomitous de rigueur of current social interaction) and, armed with a glass of cava, I sat down, propped my feet on an adjacent chair and tried to think happy thoughts.
Within a minute or two of saying hello we were cackling about something.
That’s the first time I laughed today.
A guilt-breaker washed over me. Somehow, I’d found something to share a genuine laugh about with a friend while my partner had heard nothing but bitching all day.
Love and courtesy
Once, apropos who knows what, a colleague said that one’s family is ‘obviously’ easy to get on with. I argued then, and argue now, that however much and sincerely we love someone, intimacy and proximity often cause carelessness.
I choose, when engaging with friends, to not sulk and storm. My time focused on them is brief so, even on bad days, I can muster the energy to be a slightly better self.
This isn’t falseness so much as simple courtesy. Other people have feelings too, and limited time, and worries. It is unkind to fill up their head space, which is surely every bit as overcrowded and precarious-feeling as mine, with solopsistic whinging.
But when you’re with someone round the clock, for the indefinite, it is easy to feel like every moment doesn’t count. Like, it’s okay to be grumpy and skip showering because he’s going to be here tomorrow (and the next day, and the next day).
Slipping into this perilous relaxation happens when we treat love as a noun. I love him, he loves me, ergo I can do what I like.
Fair is fair
The trouble is reconciling my bellyaching inner child with the duties of an adult relationship. I’m an individual, entitled to feel and express my feelings. Granted.
My partner is also entitled to not live with a whiffy harpy.
Excuse me while I shove a tea-towel in the gob of the me, me, me voice in my head.
It is only right to acknowledge that my rights end when they being to infringe on someone else’s. Yes, I have every right to curse, moan and carp; but when my crappy mood blackens the air for both of us, I’ve overstepped.
Basic courtesies like this are what allow us to maintain friendships and relationships. Letting ourselves act and react unchecked is what leads to breakups, meltdowns and guest spots on Jerry Springer (if that’s even still a thing).
Get to work, love
Making it work, in real time, means doing love not just giving ourselves credit for feeling it. Love has to be a verb, or it risks losing any real meaning.
Love, the verb, is making the effort to find something funny or pleasant to talk about, it’s not complaining constantly, it’s taking a shower and remember to put on deodorant, it’s shutting up for a minute and listening, it’s keeping some of the more outrageous paranoid thoughts to yourself, it’s saying ‘we’ll be okay’ even if that seems like a stretch.
Ursula LeGuin, the (Oregonian!) stalwart of goodness, sanity and fine prose, said:
Love is not a thing that happens to us. It’s a thing we do. It’s not a thing that lives inside of us and can be left to its own devices. It’s an action. It’s not an experience. It’s a way of relating.
Of late, my way of relating has been sub-optimal, to put it mildly. Which is, and this I must remember, okay. Only Pollyanna or a complete ditz believes that long-term confinement, financial precarity and uncertainty bring out the best in people.
It can’t be all or nothing anymore though. I can’t be one of those positivity freaks (and would hate myself more if I tried) but that isn’t licence to be unbearable.
For now, I’ll do my best in the circumstances and try to keep faith with love, the verb.