It’s the time of year when everyone’s thoughts turn to love. Whether you like it or not, you are surrounded by hearts and flowers and meal deals for two. I have been endlessly prodded by retailers to create lists of things we should buy to prove to our loves how treasured they are. And as I’ve been drafting emails in reply, explaining why I’m not running a “50 things to buy your Valentine” post, it’s made me think hard about what love means at this stage of midlife.
(Note: before I go on I should say that I am extremely aware of how lucky I am to be in a relationship that is still a happy one. My Midlife Fairytale post from 2015, explains why. No relationship is always better than a relationship that makes you unhappy).
Of course in our house, as you know, this is a particularly love focused time because it is the week of our wedding anniversary too. We celebrated in spectacular fashion this year and I will tell you about our Transylvania trip next week. But before I do, I want to say something in honour of midlife love. Who knows if I’m oversharing… maybe I am… What I’m trying to say with this post is that I believe that we should always celebrate Valentine’s Day but it doesn’t have to be in a commercial way.
We all know that when you’ve been together a long time, life seems to turn into a spinning top, veering in different directions until you’re dizzy. It’s easy to lose focus on the one you love. Mr MC and I work together every day and so we’re rarely apart. However we never seem to have time to just ‘be’. Recently our trips away have been work-related and punctuated by meetings, events, the taking of outfit photographs or other things that steal our attention from each other so we were determined that our trip to Transylvania would be just for us.
I promised that as soon as we got to the airport, I would turn away from everything else. However on the long car journey down there was one more thing I had to do. I needed to catch up on the podcasts from Radio 4’s Menopause Week because they were one element of my recent research that I hadn’t managed to cover. I know he’d have preferred back-to-backs of “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue” but Menopause Week it was!
As we sat back in our seats on the plane and poured our first glass of wine, he turned to me and said he wanted me to know how interesting he’d found it. All he’d had in his mental store were hot flushes and mad furies… and he’d been thankful that I didn’t seem to having any of those. Plus because I’ve never lived in thrall to my hormones, he’d partly thought that ‘it wouldn’t happen to us’ and certainly in terms of most of the physical symptoms, it hasn’t. A low dose of HRT has smoothed away the sleepless nights and helped to restore my fading confidence.
He said he now understood just how subtle and insidious menopause can be. That it invades each woman in a different way and affects her without her knowing it. So I asked him what he thought had happened to me without my noticing. He told me that the main thing was a new intolerance. Whereas I’ve always been a very patient person, that seems to be changing. Of course I had no idea what he was talking about so I asked for examples.
He immediately came up with my most recent bugbear – his repeated leaving of the cellar lights on. I replied that it annoys me because it’s so wasteful and it means I have to keep standing up to switch them off. He looked at me for a moment and then said quietly “what you’re forgetting is that the washing machine is in the cellar. Maybe you haven’t noticed that now you’re so busy with Midlifechic in the evenings, I do 90% of the washing. Most of the time I remember to switch the lights off but if I don’t, and you have to stand up to do it behind me, think of the full load that I’ve just processed, carried back up the stairs and put away.”
And really that’s the thing about midlife love isn’t it? It’s about the loving gestures that are wrapped up in the everyday that often go unnoticed. The washing, the cooking, the shopping, the parenting, the hand on your back at the end of a hard day. Maybe I’ve become less tolerant for hormonal reasons or maybe its because I’m busier than I’ve ever been. Either way, I’m so glad we found a catalyst that helped him to bring it up. We carried on to unpick a few other things on that three and a half hour plane journey. They were all small but like weeds, they had the potential to take root and grow. We went on to have a brilliant, action-packed weekend but we both agreed that in fact, the conversation we had on the plane journey was one of the highlights. We both felt so much better and closer for it.
Of course it’s lovely to be given flowers and chocolates on Valentine’s Day… and a card with a few chosen words is very important. What I’m wishing for you though is that a long leisurely breakfast or dinner à deux gives you the chance to have a good conversation too. Maybe your other half is noticing changes in you but finding it hard to broach. In the same way that New Year is always marked as the time for a “new you”, maybe Valentine’s Day should be the time for a “new us.”
I’ve been surprised by how many of my friends have said they’re not bothering with Valentine’s this year. It seems a shame to me because a long time love is something to be treasured and like most treasures, it needs a bit of conservation and polishing every so often. I will be covering the breakfast table in chocolate hearts from M&S which will no doubt be swiftly devoured by the boys. And in fact because Valentine’s falls on a Wednesday night this year, our dinner will be coming from M&S too – we never do their meal for two but we’re going to give it a try… and wash it down with a bottle of their amazing Marksman.
As longstanding readers know, we have a wallpaper roll that we wrote all of our hopes and dreams on years ago. Each February we roll it out after dinner to see if we’ve ticked anything off – or at least come any closer to it. And whether we have or not, Mr MC I want you to know that you’re cherished. I’m sorry about the cellar lights and I’m now looking at each freshly washed sock with new eyes. For everything that you do and everything you are, I love you.
So, I’m posting this today rather than next week to encourage you to plan a little something for your midlife Valentines. And instead of a long list of things to buy, I’m leaving you with a poem that you may or may not know… but I think it says it all.
There is a kind of love called maintenance
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it
Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget
The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;
Which answers letters; which knows the way
The money goes; which deals with dentists
And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
And postcards to the lonely; which upholds
The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living, which is Atlas.
And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing
To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;
Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers
My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps
My suspect edifice upright in air,
As Atlas did the sky.
Disclosure: ‘Some thoughts about our midlife Valentines’ is not a sponsored post.
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