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Relationships • Mature Love

Those Who Have to Wait for a War to Say ‘I Love You’

Some of the most poignant scenes in films are when – with death approaching – a person turns to someone they have been keeping their distance from and tells them that they do, after all, despite their formal manner, love them intensely and have done so for a very long time. The oxygen is running out in the submarine, German bombs are setting London ablaze, the troops have encircled the farmhouse, the cancer is throttling the blood supply, it’s five minutes until the thermonuclear warhead strikes and, in the final moments, comes a heartbreaking confession: I’ve loved you, I’ve always loved you, you are everything to me. There is a last kiss before the screen goes dark. Love had always been there but only against a backdrop of death do two people finally have the courage to admit to its awe filled presence.

What are we really crying about? Not just the fate of two particular individuals, but more broadly, about the appalling difficulty we have telling people that we care for them and allowing them to care for us back. That it should require the prospect of death before we can surrender to someone gives us an indication of exactly how frightening emotional unclothing can be. We speak a little too blithely of a ‘fear of intimacy.’ What we really mean by the pat phrase is a terror that we might require a Blitz to help us sidestep.

What are we afraid of? Why do we not dare to speak? Why don’t we pick up the phone and tell them right now? We are – of course – at one level worried that we will declare ourselves and be rejected. But that is only part of it, and arguably not the most important part. What is far more likely to scare us in our depths is the thought that we might – heaven forbid – be invited in and then be required to tolerate the utterly unknown idea of mutual love.

Despair is simple next to the threat of happiness. To be loved back means having to surrender our cynicism and our solitude behind which we may have hidden ourselves for a lifetime. Most of us hold advanced degrees in how to be sad and suspicious; the infinitely more precious and recondite skill is to let ourselves believe.

When we see couples fall part, we tend to ascribe the misery to misaligned temperaments. The reality is often far stranger. There are couples might have had every possibility of achieving ecstasy together but blew themselves up because this felt – in the end – conclusively more relaxing and safer. How calming to find fault, to squabble and to talk a situation down rather than face a happiness we don’t ultimately feel we are built for.

Declarations of love minutes before death may feel ‘romantic.’ They are in reality chilling reminders of how much of our lives we waste in postures of defensive alienation – and wriggle away from chances of contentment. Let’s stop pretending that it’s rejection we fear. What really frightens us and runs contrary to everything we’ve learnt is the prospect of acceptance, peace and love.

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