“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven
When I first read the above I didn’t give much thought to it. Maybe because, at first glance, it appears to be a blandly general insight: for love to last, you have to put effort in. Not exactly ground-breaking. Then again, maybe I didn’t give much thought to it because I’m not one of those people who properly make bread from scratch, the aroma of a freshly baked loaf just waiting to be slathered in butter or honey or jam, permeating their house, signalling to the visitor that this person really is the bees knees, for they can make bread. You see, I cheat. In general, I buy supermarket bread, or use my trusty secondhand bread maker when I want something fresh and hot. So maybe I immediately considered myself out of the loop. Metaphorically speaking, I was the someone who cuts corners in the effort required to make a relationship work. And no one really wants to be the corner cutter. Humph.
Over time, I mulled over the insight and considered how much I do make from scratch every single day. How so many people make stuff from scratch every single day. Particularly those with lots of little mouths and growing bodies to feed. Breakfasts, lunches, dinners. (Gawd I make a lot of those! Sometimes it feels as though I’m only ever five minutes away from serving up more food.) Snacks. Desserts. Birthday cakes. But not only is there the food, there are the stories and poems, the little artworks that are seemingly magicked out of thin air, courtesy of that curious thing called imagination.
So okay, I’m not a proper bread maker (oh how I yearn for that particular talent!) but I – like so many others – do know about making stuff from scratch and about being in a long-term relationship. Last year my husband and I reached a milestone: we’d been together (21 years) for the same length of time we hadn’t been together. So from this year onwards we will have spent more of our lives together than apart. Which, if you think about it, is a little bit strange, but also a whole lot of wonderful.
Ursula Le Guin’s words about love (whether or not you want to use bread or something else as the metaphor) are absolutely true. But this insight isn’t often discussed. Probably because it’s not as exciting as the first phase of a relationship. If you’re a limerent like me then the beginning of a romance is all fireworks and shooting stars, a pounding heart and a deep, deep yearning. However, that first stage of limerence passes. It simply has to. And then, what are you left with? You’re left with the reality of two people trying to make a go of staying together, of keeping their love fresh throughout the years. And like anything that’s worth doing, it can sometimes be hard to do.
There are times when you just coast along, almost living parallel lives (this is particularly likely to occur in midlife/when children come along and pull you in different directions) and you think (to return to the bread making metaphor) that hey, you know, that’s okay, because everyone needs to cut corners in a while, and so what if you haven’t made any fresh bread recently? It’ll happen soon. When this task/event/work thing/kid’s thing/family thing is done and sorted, we’ll have more time to connect and be together. But you see, if you keep putting off the reconnecting, it makes it all that harder to reconnect. Also, while you’re busy living parallel lives there’s the possibility that you might get pulled closer to someone else. Or some other life goal that doesn’t involve your partner or family. Then the reconnecting that you always meant to do simply doesn’t happen at all.
So Le Guin’s insight is both banal and wise. After being together for 21 years my husband and I could coast along, but we both know that in the long-term that’s not a wise plan. We have to make time for each other, and for those many small – yet, ultimately, big – gestures of love: a cup of tea in the morning. A favourite packed lunch. A chat over coffee. A hug. A simple show of our belief in each other, ‘You can totally do this!’ Or an expression of genuine interest, ‘How are you? How was your day?’ accompanied by real, proper listening. Sometimes, it’s about saying ‘I’m sorry’ when you know you’ve messed up.
For us, this Valentine’s Day, there won’t be fireworks or shooting stars (or handmade bread!) but there may well be a dinner that someone else cooks for us, and best of all, there’ll be love and laughter and a renewing of our resolution to keep making our love fresh, every day.