Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

A non-Valentine’s post

Love doesn’t get much of a look-in on Thought Leader. Politics, race and power interest the readers here. But Valentine’s Day is upon us, and the shops are full of heart shaped chocolates and glutinous messages, so I hope you will indulge me.

I used to write a lot about love here – the absence of love, at least. Love is such a fundamental drive, and one with so many deeply practical social dimensions. It inflates our lives, expanding into marriage and mortgages; sometimes, into children. The debris left in its wake when it dies is an awful, rusting mess.

And now I am writing about love again. I first met my husband thanks to Thought Leader – he was another of the writers here. Back then, he asked me and the man I was dating to dinner (I was in my accidental cougar phase at the time). Time passed and we stayed in touch on and off. Then, two years ago, he asked me on a non-Valentine’s date, on February 13. Six weeks later he put a ring on my finger. A few months after that, we eloped. We have hosted dinners, shared bottles of wine, met old friends and made new ones, travelled the world. We have butted heads, gently. (Once, I accidentally elbowed him in the mouth in a sailboat on the Danube and drew blood. I still feel bad about it.) We have shared ridiculous joy. I have held him through terrible grief. It has been far more wonderful than I could ever have imagined.

Life never lets up, of course. I am writing this from a hospital bed of all places. During a routine visit, my doctor picked up high blood pressure and possible preeclampsia, which is very dangerous both for me and the baby. It started out as a very ordinary week, and ended up as anything but.

So it seems especially appropriate to reflect on love, and what I have learned about it, and to share it with the audience that has followed me since 2008, when I first started posting here. These, in no particular order, are the most important things I have learned since that non-Valentine’s date on February 13 2014.

Love is having someone to meet you at the airport.
Love is doing. Action. Being there. Cups of tea and kisses on foreheads. Knowing that there is someone to rely on, no matter what.

Love is both seen and heard. I grew up in a family that was – and is – really awkward about love. We say “lots of love”, never “I love you”. I will never get tired of telling my husband how much I love him. Even if it’s a quick WhatsApp or a lame emoji. We hold hands. We indulge in PDA and don’t give a damn. That is so not me and you know what? I don’t care.

Love is taking a chance. Deciding to get married after six weeks of dating when you have three failed marriages between you suggests either a certain dewy-eyed optimism or mad faith in your ability to beat the odds. Somehow, we knew we had found something good, and we went with it.

Love is generosity. If there is one thing I would tack onto my forehead for constant reminding, it is this. Generosity in the sense of being giving of one’s self and kindness towards others. Willingness to forgive. Walking away from the temptation to score points. Letting go of pettiness (hard as that sometimes is – I’ve always loved my grudges, and line them up like old friends on a mantlepiece). And also – this is important – being generous to myself. When the doctor first told me that I might have preeclampsia and the baby might have to be delivered 11 weeks early, my immediate response was to blame myself. It’s a hard habit to break, but I am working on it.

Love is effort. By that I mean that it is practiced every day. It doesn’t just exist on its own. It is acknowledgement. It is the best possible kind of work, even when it feels like you’d rather bond with a glass of wine.

Love is knowing what matters. In your gut, without question. I took a lot of things for granted before Tuesday this week. The possibility that I am a walking death trap and I have a condition that could kill both me and the baby is a reminder that everything else is just incidental, no matter how much I worry about it. Even timesheets.

Valentine’s Day is awful and commercial and mostly meaningless. Nonetheless, it’s an excuse to write about something that matters. Embrace the love you have in your life, and treasure it.

Happy Valentine’s Day, every one.

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    • PM1956

      2 things I’d add to your list:

      love is about vulnerability and risk. without these, it simply does not work.

      Congratulations, and good luck!

    • Suntosh Pillay

      Nice one!

    • Rob Greaves

      Some super reflections – may I send you my wife’s email addy please? 😉

    • Biloko

      Sarah, I wish you a safe and happy delivery. Seems to me that your baby will have loving parents, if your article is anything to go by ….