As Valentine’s Day arrives this year, I’ve been thinking about how those of us in the process of re-partnering could do with our own line of cards. Because yes, Valentine’s Day is opportunistic commercialism – but in these times of great uncertainty, the world might need to celebrate the kindness and risk that comes with romantic love, and starting again.
My card might say something like, “thank you for being daring enough to propose when statistics around the likelihood of our marriage surviving are so terrible”. (He even has my name tattooed on him). There are studies that say second and third marriages have a 60 to 70 per cent divorce rate. We are the people scarred and scared, who learned the hard way how to survive a marriage breakdown.
Our relationship faces pressures first marriages don’t. We have no Tupperware, for one. There is not a single matching container and lid to be found in our place. It all ends up at my ex’s house on alternate weekends when the children leave their school lunch boxes behind.
There are the endless third party conversations with your ex and your partner’s ex. One day you might learn she thinks you don’t change the children’s sheets often enough. You learn it because your child tells you.
You might mouth to the wall, “I’m a feminist and this is not my job!”, as you shake fresh sheets out over a bed, because love.
We don’t take relationships for granted, us scarred and scared types. My Valentine’s card would say something about the work of relationships. Appropriate given St Valentine was ultimately beheaded. His claim to being the patron of love was no gentle ride.
My Valentine’s message would celebrate the vulnerability that love requires. The staying up all night together to see the argument through to safe anchorage.
Different studies have found that re-marriage, provided it makes it past the first few years, has better survival rates than first marriages. That makes sense to me. The second time around you know better what you want in a partner. Perhaps you are more willing to wait until you find it. You know more about what a relationship requires of you, too, and hopefully you are mature and grateful enough to give it.
Falling in love with someone new involves so many confessions – all those fears and insecurities of yours. Because of this, re-partnering is messy. It has more imperfection than you expect, even when you expect imperfection.
It’s not a path for the timid. It’s an awe-inspiring journey, which is why even the least art-appreciating around us finds connection with love songs, while most other art seems unimportant to them.
For all of these reasons I find romantic love to be worth celebrating. But it seems on Valentine’s Day we romanticise romantic love rather than honouring its realities. In doing so, we lose the beauty of it. There’s something so joyous about romantic love where it is ordinary and caring.
In hindsight, so many of the tensions in the first year of my new relationship were about my fear of dependency. He was so kind and so in love. He would remind me he was willing to help in any way he could. It was supposed to be comforting, but at the time, it felt like a reminder of my missteps.
I had to re-learn intimacy, the way a few years before that I had had to re-learn solitude.
What was my own fear of dependency about? Detachment is false independence.
When he moved in with my children it had felt like such a big step. But in the end, it means we just laugh together a lot more. I want to keep remembering that, just as I remember that we once slept together as strangers who met on the Internet.
Now we’re getting married, we’re taking a gamble, and we took risks to get here. As Virginia Woolf once said, “The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be.”
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