I have got a Waitrose special Valentine's meal deal for two for twenty quid. If you want to know what's on the menu (and why wouldn't you?) it is: a starter of smoked salmon and lemon pate, main course of Gressingham duck (red cabbage + mangetouts), dessert of chocolate and passionfruit assiette. Plus a box of Belgian chocolates and a bottle of Rioja. Candles, incense and music I got, plus partner. We have been together for over thirty years, and twenty eight years ago, having stated very clearly at the outset that he would never want to marry, he proposed to me. Never mind that it took more than eight years for us to get round to doing it, and by then our two children were born and old enough to come to the wedding dressed in elephant suits. The gesture counts.
Romantic love - the heightened kind that has the power to transform your world. It isn't just about me and him. It isn't just about you and whoever you are with, wish you were with, desire, yearn for, think about in secret, blast with curses and tears, celebrate in sweetness and flowers. In every good friend I have had since childhood there has been an element of romantic love. The freckled red-head who built dens in the bracken made something happen to my heart (I could feel it filling up) when she called me her best friend, and again when she later chose someone else instead of me. The friend who moved schools to be with me, and whose trust I betrayed. The ones who matter, and not just the friends and lovers. The niece who stares at you as though seeing you for the first time and says she loves your face. The small sister with a fever who waits up late for you to come home from boarding school. The children. On bonfire night, a few days after my daughter's birth, I felt every firework in the sky (seen from a hospital window) was incandescent with the fact of her existence. When my newborn son first looked at me I understood afresh what it meant to know someone - the shock of recognition. And what about the brief encounters, the connections that are good for nothing but the particular moment, which might be in a train, a conference hall or a post office queue? Times when you catch a person whole, or they catch you, though nothing comes of it that you can name, but something is changed - the heart is stretched, made bigger. Perhaps not romantic love, but almost.
And the animals, can I mention them? Not just my own cat who loves, in her fashion, and though it is to some extent about the food, it is more than this (I meet her at the point of need and she restores my soul); once you really love an animal, you learn how to love the others more, even if you are a lapsed vegetarian. It's a hard world, and ultimately (as someone said to me the other day), we all forgive each other. I don't yet believe this, but I want to. Perhaps this is a step away from romantic love. And so is Raymond Carver's 'Late Fragment', but I will put it here all the same.
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.