As the temperature plummets and men start putting on their nice, weirdly sexy thick jumpers, I personally start thinking about romance. People always say that spring is the season for it, but I’ve always felt it most in the fall. Long, cold walks with your hand shoved in someone else’s pocket. Cups of tea in bed, neither of you wanting to trade in the chill of those impossibly clear skies for the feeling of their leg, looped gently over yours.
Anyone who’s spent more than twenty minutes with me will know that I think about love, about the mechanics and politics of it, more than anyone really should. As with all things, my parents are partly to blame. They set my standards sky high and I’ve been falling off them ever since. But appreciating love isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I’m bored of the gratuitous cynicism exhibited by people I barely know at dinner parties. Professing a disbelief in love doesn’t make you exciting. I always think people who argue that love isn’t real are just desperate for someone to come along and prove them wrong.
And men are just as guilty of falling in love with love as women are, appreciating romance isn’t necessarily gendered. Where gender steps in, ruining everyone’s fun, is in the value that we place on love in the trajectories of our lives.
Women are taught, consistently, that their lives have no value unless we manage to keep our lovers for a long time. It’s hard not to internalise it, this idea that men decide your value. When you expose yourself to someone in all your complex, three dimensional glory and they decide they liked the sexually manufactured image of you instead, it winds you. Being rejected hurts everyone, but as a woman you feel like you’ve failed in some huge, life altering way. Crucially, men are taught to avoid commitment for as long as possible so they can reach their potential. Women are told that the best thing they can achieve is monogamy.
Being in love is one of my aspirations. But I also want to write, renovate a house in southern Italy, and learn how to make really good chocolate cake. In the back of my mind is a voice that needles away, reminding me that I will have to choose, because I will be expected to place his dreams above my own. And I’ve done it, I’ve thrown my entire self into the air and danced in the pieces as they fell around me like wedding confetti.
Last week, I was walking through a carpet of fallen leaves with one of my closest friend’s arms threaded through mine. We were talking, perhaps unsurprisingly, about love. And she said what I’ve spent 500 words saying in one fantastic sentence. ‘I always put my cargo on someone else’s boat and then I remember that I am, in fact, a ship.’
There is no harm in wanting to be in love. There is no harm in supporting your partner and helping them reach their emotional, professional and spiritual potential. But women, ask yourself, have you reached yours? And if not, are they helping you?