Many love stories end after the wedding scene. In the fairy tale or the romantic comedy, it’s often the kiss at the archway of the church that caps off the story. It’s assumed that from there on in, it will be ‘happily ever after’. But for so many, once the honeymoon period is over, the problems begin; many years in, those same problems can lead to separation. Sometimes, that really is for the best – when the differences are truly irreconcilable. But in the best case scenario, the real juice of a loving relationship begins there – at those points of resistance. It’s there that parts of the relationship and each other are re-discovered – when you can dive in to explore deeper intimacy and more growth, despite the temptation for an exit.
Harry, my partner of twenty years went away for a few weeks earlier this year. I was intrigued by the way I missed him, what I missed about him being gone and how I longed for his return. It wasn’t the kind of desperate craving of a newer love affair but something so deep that I missed – a steadiness that wasn’t there while he was away, like the way earth would miss gravity only once it was removed. Harry, I came to realise, is my gravity. It’s a love that is entirely different in nature from the days when I fell head over heels with him in London, in 1998.
We met at a mutual friend’s house. I had just arrived in the UK after living in Italy for a year. I had shaved my head, healed my heart and was ready for adventure. Harry was out of work, with long hair tied back in a ponytail. He offered to show me around London and we explored the city by bike – via pubs, restaurants and clubs – and we began to fall in love. We fell in deep; it was a passionate, beautiful, raw love affair and the strength of that initial connection has seen us through many years of varying terrains of relationship – as lovers, as a married couple, as parents, colleagues and business owners.
I remember feeling that this guy was very different from the other boys I had loved. He was a lot kinder and seemed to be really into me. I had always gone for guys that were slightly unavailable and unable to love me in a way that my soul needed. But here was this lovely, handsome guy who made me laugh and was just as happy listening to classical music in the kitchen while cooking as he was dancing at an all night party. He adored me, cooked like a chef and seemed so comfortable in the life he had created around him in England.
That didn’t mean it was all smooth sailing. After four months of the most passionate love affair in London, we were forced into an abrupt reprieve. I moved home because I had run out of money and needed to be in Sydney again. We promised to meet up again shortly but one month led into the next as I realised how much I had missed being home. He promised to come out to see me but what began as a few months apart became two years without seeing each other, before a reunion in Thailand on Valentine’s Day. This was before Skype and before smart phones. I had forgotten exactly how he looked, how tall he was, how much I loved his smell and how right it felt to be together.
We had some massive fights as we settled into each other’s lives and hearts back in Sydney. I was jealous and this created some tension. I didn’t trust his love at that stage. I had had my heart broken before and just expected it to happen again. My jealousy almost drove us apart, but importantly, after the fiery fights followed very healing talks which ultimately brought us to a place of greater intimacy and deeper understanding. Slowly, I began to trust his unwavering love.
Perhaps there is a fantasy that long-term relationships are always rosy. It’s simply not the case; it is, in my experience a dance. There are some weeks where there is wonderful synchronicity and connection and others where there is more space and separation. But what fills the space is love. A deep, subtle, steady, supportive and beautiful love.
Sometimes we talk about missing the heady days of falling in love. The first kiss, making love by the fire for the first time, exploring the terrain of the highs and lows of it all. But what replaces that passion has, in my experience been a more understated and steady love. To be able to be seen in any light whether it’s mid- argument or exhausted and tired, sick in bed or radiant and know that there is love there. A deep, steadfast and un-conditional love.
Of course, there are many instances where separating is the best way for some couples, where further growth is not possible or one person in the couple is just unable to meet the other on their terms. But when it is possible to grow alongside one another, where you can both see the possibility of deeper self-knowledge and healing through being together – leaning in at that moment you want out – that can be the greatest intimacy.
Sometimes diving in when the resistance is at it fullest can bring the kind of vulnerability that only breeds love.
As I visit Cornwall again – the place we fell in love 20 years ago, I feel this love like the deepest river within me and feel full of gratitude and tenderness for that boy I met and fell for with the long hair and beautiful heart all those moons ago. Rainer Maria Rilke sums it up beautifully: “For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”