The last Valentine’s day I remember pre-children was spent working, on my own, staying overnight at a hotel in Bristol. This involved an evening meal as the only solo diner in a room full of couples, food poisoning, the realisation at God-awful-o’clock that someone else had already had a personal explosion in my hotel room toilet WHICH HAD NOT BEEN CLEANED, and a 5am start.
Post-children, it’s basically all gone down hill from there.
Dadonthenetheredge and I have now been together for something like 17 years. I am fast approaching a time of life when I will have been with him longer than I was ever without him.
I’m not saying the romance is dead, but it’s definitely in some sort of medically-induced coma. Either that or it’s gone for a really, really long nap.
(Both of which, by the way, are totally unfair, as napping is now basically all I desire in life – and if there are strong horse tranquilisers involved, I FUCKING WANT SOME).
The fact is that love after children does not look quite the same as it did before.
Love now is much less about dressing up, dining out, gazing into each other’s eyes, exchanging gifts, and dancing the night away before getting in some inventive shagging.
It’s more about dressing gowns, take-aways, gazing at the telly, giving each other an early night, and possibly (if Dadonthenetheredge is extremely lucky) getting each other off as quickly as possible before sleeping the night away – or as much of it is left when you have small, restless, early-rising children.
Because sometimes love isn’t an expensive gift – it’s a crappy handmade card from a playgroup.
Sometimes love isn’t sleeping in each other’s arms – it’s sleeping at opposite sides of the bed and NOT BEING TOUCHED FOR A FEW HOURS.
Sometimes love isn’t bringing home expensive Belgian chocolates – it’s bringing home emergency Cadbury’s buttons after a shitty day stuck inside with the kids.
Sometimes love isn’t candlelight and handholding – it’s sitting at two ends of the sofa bathed in the soft light of your separate iphones.
Sometimes love isn’t sex – it’s an exhausted cuddle (often with interlopers).
Sometimes love isn’t a compliment on your outfit – it’s a compliment on your parenting.
Sometimes love isn’t Shakespeare’s sonnet 18 – it’s Julia Donaldson’s ‘Stick Man’. (Again).
Sometimes love isn’t a love letter – it’s a text to say the baby is nearly asleep so you can start the tea.
Sometimes love isn’t holding in a fart – it’s facilitating a private poo so it can be enjoyed without mini spectators.
Sometimes love isn’t a sparkly piece of jewellery – it’s a sparkly bathroom, CLEANED WITHOUT NAGGING.
Sometimes love isn’t a bunch of flowers to be arranged – it’s a bunch of socks to be sorted.
Sometimes love is just doing the washing-up together, even if you’ve cooked, even if it’s not your turn.
Sometimes love is a nap.
Sometimes love is packing the kids off to Grandma’s so you can both spend an evening looking through pictures of them.
Sometimes love is admitting that perhaps the other person IS more tired than you are.
And sometimes, all of that is OKAY.
Love, like everything else in life, changes. Perhaps one day it will go back to being violins and poetry, instead of recorders and nursery rhymes. But perhaps it won’t.
When we looked at the swollen squishy face of the Big Small after her arrival, Dadonthenetherege and I realised simultaneously that we no longer loved each other above all else; and that we also loved each other more than ever.
We realised we hadn’t really known love at all, until that very moment. And that love was very different to what we’d thought it was. (Very likely, Dadonthenetherege and I were the victims of the traitorous hormones that accompany children into the world – presumably to prevent their parents from immediate infanticide).
Quite clearly, though, since that moment of oxytocin-fuelled revelation, we’ve not always got it right.
Because while all of this stuff is okay, SOMETIMES, sometimes, it isn’t.
Sometimes, Dadonthenetheredge and I get so caught up in loving the children – and in living the draining, debilitating, deforming work/life/guilt/repeat reality of parenthood – that we forget to love each other.
Certainly we’ve found this happily-ever-after shit a great deal harder than the fairy tales, rom coms and Valentine’s cards would have us believe.
Because an awful lot happens after the ‘The End’, after the ever-after, in this ‘middle bit’ of life. And it happens without the adventure and wonder and momentum and PLOT that began our love story. That begins everyone’s love story.
There is a relatively fine line between giving up on the false ‘valentines’ trappings of love and giving up on each other.
Between being comfortable and being complacent.
Between growing together and growing apart.
Between being tired, and getting tired of each other.
Between keeping the peace, and keeping resentments bottled up.
Between focussing so much on your part you forget to appreciate you partner’s.
Between love being blind, and forgetting to see each other any more.
Between pouring all of yourself into the kids, work, friends and family, and leaving nothing but the dregs for your other half.
Between finding your way through this parenting lark, and losing each other in the process.
Between holding it together and holding back.
Between getting on, and getting through – getting by.
And all parents of my acquaintance – if they’re honest – have walked this line at some point in their relationship.
Some people will fall off. Some will fall apart. And some will fall back in love, all at once or bit by bit.
We are led to believe that love is the easiest and simplest thing in the world; that it will trump all else. We are being lied to. It’s hard. It’s about remembering, and trying, and working, and forgiving, and forgetting, and renewing and getting up each day and doing it all again and again and again.
Life, and love, and living, is a FUCKING SLOG.
So this year, I would like to say to Dadonthenetheredge, that after 17 years, I’d still rather spend 14 February with you than over a pre-soiled Bristol loo. (See? Maybe the romance isn’t dead after all!)
This Valentine’s Day, I promise that I’ll keep slogging away at it if you will. (I can’t make any promises about the fucking. It’s not your damn birthday).
Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone doing the middle bit of life. The hard bit. Keep walking the line.