The first time I questioned my understanding of love, and the relationship between men and women, I was twenty-eight years old, laying flat on my back and faking my third orgasm. Drenched in sweat and obviously trying to make it last, my then Mr Right had been moaning in my ear for the last half hour, “Scream when you come, baby. Scream when you come.”
And so I did. Just so he would shut up, roll off me and let me get some sleep.
It was only later, as we lay on the sheets I had laundered just that morning, his sweaty flesh pressing against mine, that I ran my fingers down his spine, vertebra by vertebra, and knew. If I could press hard enough to somehow penetrate his skin (in a metaphorical, non-gory way) and reach inside of him, I would find nothing. In a moment when our souls were said to be soaring in unison, Mr Right’s was an empty vessel. And not simply through his own doing, but because who we were as a couple lacked substance and depth. We contained no light, no texture, we were just a vacant lot waiting to be filled. We were a man and woman preparing to take out a mortgage on a happy-ending that the dream-makers were selling; simply because it was for sale.
This wasn’t the first Mr Right that I broke up with, and I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that nor was it to be the last. But it was the first time I acknowledged that I wanted something less urban, less ‘scripted’ when it came to love. And it was the first time that I found myself wondering if we weren’t all simply part of an elaborate scheme designed to keep the marriage industry viable and the pockets of those invested in it lined. Yes, I was actually considering the possibility that LOVE was a CAPITALIST PLOT.
Fifteen years later, when I think back on all the men I dated before and since that awakening – Mr Right from A to Z – I can honestly say, “it wasn’t you”. It was me… and the propaganda machine. But mostly it was just me. In as much as, I knew it wasn’t you. And by “you” I mean I knew you weren’t “the one”.
Nonetheless, I am sorry now for having tried to turn each of them into “the one”. And for being so good at it that I often had both of us convinced. Well, him and everyone else at least, because to be honest I always knew. From the moment we met, until the moment we parted.
I consider this ‘knowing’ my superpower. And although, like most with superpowers, I have tried to ignore it and live a normal life, eventually it catches up with me. Infiltrating all aspects of my relationships until it is impossible to ignore and I am forced to reveal my true self. The facade comes off, the cape goes on, and Mr Right looks up to see me leaping from our room on the tenth floor, where only moments before we had been making love. He races to the window too late to do anything other than watch as I land nimbly on my feet and sprint down the darkened alleyway, disappearing into the night.
And the further away I get, the more aware I am that all around me others are leaping in to this thing called ‘love’.
So why then, despite ‘the knowing’, did I proceed? Not once, but over and over again?
For years I created elaborate excuses for my part in all of this, for how it began and how it ended. My journals were filled with lies about being in love, with fictions of how I was feeling, with anticipation of white dresses and vows and then, abrupt endings. Moving onto the “NEXT!” as quickly as possible. Tireless scribble about everything and anything, but the truth. About what happened between the falling and the leaving.
When I finally had the courage to strip away all the meat and separate the marrow from the bone (I admit, only this year), I saw the origins of my storyline. I saw the capitalist plot laid bare for what it truly was and finally understood why the battle I had been fighting was so hard.
I was a female, born in the early 70’s and raised on a diet of fairy-tale endings, damsels in distress and men on white horses charging to my rescue. I was programmed to believe that I would meet Mr Right by the time I was twenty-five (because otherwise, hello, Christmas cake that no one wants to buy). I would marry, live in a house with a picket fence, a dog and two children. The picture was eternally static. The paint never peeled or faded, the dog never ate the rat bait and died, the children never aged and my husband was always the hero.
It was expected that when the time came, I would quit my job and stay at home to raise our fictional children. Whether I wanted those children was never even part of the discussion. For years I believed I did. In preparation, my own mother encouraged me into a teaching career, so that when I did return to work my hours would match those of my children, including during school holidays. Within the confines of this life I envisaged I would learn to make the dollar stretch further by sewing amazing outfits that my children would wear begrudgingly, and make pancakes on Sunday mornings.
It was not an unhappy picture, per-se, and I believed in it; because everything I read and watched and was taught until I was in my late twenties acted as reinforcement. My society promoted few, if any, strong female characters living adventurous, bold, independent lives. Outside of a handful of religious or spiritual icons, there were no apparent alternatives.
When it came time though, this life I had been taught to expect didn’t fit the way it was meant to. It was an overcoat too small for the complexities of what I wanted for myself. What I wanted of and for them – my alphabet men. And I could only wear it for so long before I was desperately peeling it off and casting it aside. And with it, I’m sorry to say, “him”.
And now I am 43. Single. Without children. Financially independent. In a career that challenges me. Surrounded by family and friends I love. Living a bold adventurous life that wasn’t scripted. But it’s only in the last year that for the first time since I began looking at men as something ‘more’, that I am not looking at them through the filter of organza and lace. I have no interest in a white knight, no time for a prince, and no desire to live in fairy tales. I simply woke one day and found I had reached my threshold of manufactured drama – romantic or otherwise. Which, when the propaganda machine got wind of, caused it to sing the jingle of how “now that you least expect it, it will happen.” As though somehow I am not enough without this magical “it”. As though the universe has been waiting all along just for me to let go of all my expectations. Only I see this for what it is, the new chapter added to the book of “Falling in Love” by the money men.
You see, these expectations were never mine to begin with. This narrative belonged to those who saw currency in marriage. Selling their daughters (and sons) in order to secure more land, more camels, more slaves, more power, more wealth. But rarely for the purpose of more love, more happiness, more joy. Rarely selflessly.
I am not so cynical as to not believe in love entirely. I have loved. His name was Scott. And my mother has loved. His name was Eric, my father. And my friend Junket is in love, as is her husband. As is my best friend, Jazza and her husband. As are millions of others around the world, who fought the good fight against the propaganda machine – consciously or otherwise. Who stood their ground and demanded more than the popcorn version of life that was being splashed across the big screen.
Real Love is not a storybook tale, waiting to be told, and it has no ending – happy or otherwise. It just is. Love is from the heart, which beats before we are even born, until the moment we die. It is the first to know and the last to give way. And if we allow the heart, it will lead us to love and be loved. It will lead us away from the fictions we have created to the truth of who we are. For what I understood that day, 15 years ago, was that to love, just love, is our purpose.