Over brunch with friends this weekend, someone asked ‘how do you define love?’ The answer is not easy. It often wriggles out of our grasp and defies description. But today I am going to try. Why? Because today is the fifth anniversary of the day I met Laura. No better excuse than that..
I think for me, love is the feeling of being truly seen by someone and to be loved anyway (eccentricities and all). Laura said she felt fully seen by me and deeply loved by me and I felt the same. Our lives weren’t always easy. Like any couple, there were lumps and pot holes on our road. And you don’t get to midlife without some emotional baggage. But for me, Laura’s gentleness and her ability to speak her truth simply and clearly and then stand back and give me room to hear it was an incredible gift. She would not escalate a bad situation or pour gasoline on a fire. She would say plainly how she felt and wait. Indeed I think her gentleness helped me grow as a person.
Six months into our relationship we got into a pickle. Or rather I did. We went to England on our first vacation. I was brimming with excitement. I had been in London already for two weeks to see family and for work. And I was standing at Heathrow airport hopping from foot to foot waiting for Laura to arrive. Our separation felt like an eternity. We were young lovers (still in the six month honeymoon period). We kissed so long at the airport, it seemed like every shop on the concourse shut down around us.
But two days later I found myself wondering if Laura was the wrong woman for me. She had changed. Or so I thought. Every little thing she did seemed to chafe; stupid things, from the way she ate her porridge, to sailing out into the middle of the road without waiting for the lights to change. My irritation must have seeped into my tone and behavior. The next day Laura said simply ‘I don’t think you are treating me very well.’ If she had added a couple of other sentences about what I had done to upset her, we would have been off to the races. I would have immediately gone on the defensive, tried to justify everything I was accused of, and built myself a big fortress of self-righteousness from which it would have been hard to climb down. But Laura just said she was hurt and stood back to let me figure it out.
At first it was like a bucket of cold water over my head. I couldn’t believe I had hurt the person I loved most in the world. But I couldn’t figure it out either. So we carried on sight-seeing and one day walking down Marylebone High Street, one of the prettiest shopping streets in London, I noticed I was nervously scanning the faces of passersby. Laura and I were walking hand in hand as usual. ‘See everyone is smiling at us,’ Laura said. ‘They like seeing two women in love.’ And she was right.
And then it dawned on me, I was frightened. I might be out and proud in New York, but when I left London 25 years ago, I was still closeted and that old anxiety about being seen to be gay and judged was causing me distress. Laura had nothing to do with it. I was protecting myself from my own discomfort by pushing Laura away. (Have you noticed – it is almost never about the other person). Laura’s gift to me was to give me room, to let me grow into this knowing, to love me unconditionally while she waited. And that dear reader, is my definition of true love…and of course, there’s all the fun stuff too. But that’s another story..