love

Eight minutes, eight years: tale of a Victorian wedding

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It feels as eight minutes, but it’s been eight years. This afternoon, in 2005, I walked down the aisle to marry a guy I barely knew, having spent with him less than 30 days over a year’s time. It wasn’t love at first sight and we weren’t carried away by passion. Impulsive marriage was probably the only way out for the strongly independent, easily bored, constantly challenging characters we were at that time.

It certainly was the only way to go for me: after an endless list of unreciprocated romantic interests over teenage, my 20s were punctuated by a series of wrong affairs. They tended to be so wrong one could easily explain them with coffee-time psychology: I wanted them to be wrong, so that I could keep being on my own AND talk and write about my bad luck to anyone who’d listen. Just before meeting my husband, I remember confessing to a friend, over a Cosmopolitan (oh yes, I love Carrie Bradshaw’s favorite drink, I am THAT lame) that I didn’t care about love. And even less about passion or commitment. I just wanted someone to travel with, to eat and drink with at night and smart enough to keep me intellectually stimulated. It sounds like a checklist but it’s what 20s are after all: a list of things you think you need in order to be happy. I never found that person.

I did a bit of traveling alone in order to show off my independence: I hated it since I find no satisfaction in experiencing something I can’t share. But it was good to lose weight: I never ate at night, finding it depressing to have dinner alone.

Many of my friends discovered the pleasures (and sorrows) of being a couple early on: they started kissing on the school’s steps, went on going out together, partying, driving the first car, graduating. They lived everything with their companion. Then, usually, sometime after graduation all these happy couples started to get married. Some lasted, some others split shortly after tying the knot. It’s the story of the world.

I never thought of marriage as the natural conclusion of love, mutual respect, common projects and whatever you think a shared life should be about. I wanted it to be the beginning of love, and not its evolution.

In order to accomplish my plan, I had to marry quickly, trusting my instinct and without a safety net. Some called me crazy. Some others asked if I were pregnant (I was not). I loved the idea of knowing only a fraction of the man I was going to spend my life with: I knew he was decent but I didn’t meet any of his friends or his family till after we were already engaged. It was a huge risk, but one I rationally thought worth taking.

I don’t believe in marriages based on passion. Passion sweeps you away but it can’t last. None would survive longer than a few years with butterflies in the stomach, anxiety attacks and the constant fear of losing the person keeping us on a constant high. Passion tends to diminish over time, love tends to flourish. Love grows with mutual knowledge and understanding, it increases with the time spent together, it alleviates bad moments and underlines the most joyful ones. This being my personal take on marriage, I was extremely lucky in finding someone who shared a Victorian idea of all things related to love.

I knew my husband so little when we tied the knot that I ignored if he took his coffee black or with milk, what sport he played during childhood, where did he study and how was his childhood like. I had to learn all of this, and I still am.

It’s been smooth sailing, through so many different times. The early years’ freedom, traveling, dining, holidaying. The following first worries on work, getting our place, having children. The sleepless nights, the doubts, the extreme happiness of child rearing. Moments of grief, when we lost people dear to us and we learnt that life gives and takes in the blink of an eye, and so we better start savoring the present, without worrying about the future. Moments of relief, once the storm had passed and we realized we were still here and we were safe.

It’s a special anniversary, this 8th one. Thank you, my Victorian husband, for being with me through this amazing adventure that life is.

Dinner with an old flame: 5 days in Rome

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Have you ever bumped into an old love? Someone you spent nights talking to and dreaming with but that at some point you had to leave, because he wasn’t right for you? Do you remember the heartbreaking moment when you knew you had to move on and still it felt so good staying still? You picked up all the courage and braveness and strength you had, hidden somewhere between idealized early memories and everyday dullness and left. At first you were relieved, felt safe as you can only feel when you know you did the right thing. You actually moved on, saw people, went places. Then one day, years – centuries! – later you take the trash out and ta-daaaa he’s there. Staring at you. And you can’t remember anymore why he was wrong but just feel the sudden impulse to indulge a little bit longer in that wrongness. 

Well, I have been to Rome these past few days and felt exactly like that. For the first time in almost 20 years I missed it. I couldn’t remember anymore why I hated it or why I was so certain it was all wrong for me. I could only see the overwhelming beauty of every single corner, the utterly simple and delicious food, the yellowish light that warmed up everyone and everything in a couple of minutes. All I wanted was to stay there, indulge in the thousand little pleasures I thought I was immune to and lose myself into the Pantheon, looking at the magic hole in the ceiling, every single day. It was like going to dinner with an old love: time and distance sublimate everything, and you fall in love all over again. 

Had I to live there again, I know I would hate it. But it’s always nice to have an old boyfriend you think you could go back to. 

Five things I learnt about love

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I spent more time thinking about love than probably Elizabeth Darcy (née Bennet). At the age of 6 I engaged myself to a boy named M. without him being aware of that. I would take him by the arm to show my classmates we were close and I would leave messages in his duffle coat pockets every single day. He was shy and initially complacent but after a while, when the other boys in the class started mocking him and he heard about my engagement story, he publicly dumped me with a note his fellow classmates had previously agreed on. It said more or less: “I think our engagement is off. Please stop bothering me”. It was the end of the world.

If this makes a cute childhood story where all the characters can barely read and count to 100, things got a little bitter later on. I was determined to find the love of my life but I didn’t have the slightest clue on the following points:

1. How to find him

2. How to recognize him, admit I would actually cross him at some point

3. How to get to know him and to look interesting

4. How to make him fall in love with me

I thought falling in love was the necessary and sufficient condition for anything else. And so love I pursued. For YEARS!

It hasn’t been bad. Looking back now, I wish I had more fun on my way to perfect love. I wish I took myself less seriously and were able to laugh more. But, you know, I have now made peace with my limits. There’re a few things, though, that seem now so normal and that I wasn’t so sure about then. And they would have saved some tears and some end-of-the-world drama.

  1. Give guys the thrill of the chase

Risking to sound as old-fashioned as the Dowager Countess of Grantham I really have to warn any good-willed young lady out there. Please, don’t play the conqueress. It may seem to you that the pale, skinny, smart boy you spotted the other day at the workshop is too shy to ask you out. Don’t help him. There’re not really shy guys. Not so shy they can’t ask a girl out. They can be goofy, or embarassed. They may even flush when looking at you. But there’re no interested guys that won’t go great lenghts to propose something. Anything. A cup of coffee, a movie, a walk. Even time sitting together in a library. Studying.

Of course, there’re tons of women who decided on marrying a man and eventually did. They imposed themselves and got their way. You just have to be fine with the idea that in future quarrels you will always be the one that forced him into the relationship. I always found that annoying.

2. Forget everything you’ve read and/or watched about love and marriage

Do you know the all-consuming love we all hope to live at least once in our life? The kind of love that makes you lose 10 pounds in a week, sleep 2 hours per night, feel every heartbeat as it was the last one and yet look gorgeous and young and bright? Well, let’s hope you never marry that guy. Because that is not love: it’s passion, madness, desire, a total eclypse of the heart brain.The minute you start doing the laundry or scrubbing the bathroom sink or – even worse – the minute you have a child together and experience the Guantanamo year(s) (sleep deprivation + house confinement + falling asleep by exhaustion on floors or sofas or wooden chairs) you will need more than butterflies in your stomach, breathtaking sex or cosmic connection. You will need a good laugh, then. Believe me.

Passion is a thing. A crazy, sublime, unforgettable, necessary thing we need to live at some point in our lives. Even more than once. It’s great. But married love is another thing. And it’s more precious, and rare, and longer lasting. It’s the kind of love that comes with time and it’s made of time spent together, intimate knowledge of each other families and friends and secrets. Yesterday I watched with the boys the video of my wedding day. I barely knew my husband then and yet I had this huge smile stamped on my face the whole time. I was crazy. And lucky. Because I had no idea of what life was going to be made of. I couldn’t think much further of having breakfast together or travelling or having friends over for dinner and watching films. I didn’t know that real life is made also of less glamorous things: losing one’s parents, battling illnesses, caring for other people, spending hideous Christmases with families who’re not yours and whom you don’t even feel connected to, having children and wanting to kill your husband because he is looks useless and you need so much a shower and a 7-hours uninterrupted night.

3. If he gives you goosebumps, then check that he can laugh as well

I loved bad guys. Complicated, smart, dark characters. Ideally with a troubled past. It looked SO sexy to me. No wonder I am crazy now about Damian Lewis/Nicholas Brody and Homeland. But I bet the moment I’d start cooking Congressman Brody his dinner or waking up with a migraine in his bed, I’d love him to be able to just laugh.

4. Find the one that likes/loves you just as you are

We all loved Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’ Diary for that. Remember? He liked her just as she was. It may seem obvious but it is not. I have overweight friends that go out with guys who publicly declare that they despise overweight women and that their beauty ideal is Kate Moss. Now, if you like Kate Moss, then you don’t go out with Nigella Lawson. Or, if you do, you don’t ever say that she should lose weight because you prefer the skinny, androgynous type. Ditch that kind of partner. If he doesn’t like you as you are, than he’s not worthy of your attention.

5. Never give up on love

I have friends who panicked around their 30s and got married. To someone they were used to but that they didn’t admire, or trust, or actually love. They thought at least they would have a life, kids, holidays. A past. There is nothing worse than a marriage you don’t believe in. Don’t let age trick you into one of these plans. Never give up on love, you will regret it eventually.

The return of primary school society

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Do you remember that time when girls would play with girls and boys with boys? That primary school class where little girls, with pink ribbons, would sit all together in a corner, already gossiping and exchanging clothing tips and bragging about the latest Barbie? Well, I do. I do remember it vividly. Probably because I never had the coolest Barbie or the trendiest outfit. I was already a stranger. The end of childhood marked a moment of enormous relief. Closed in a girls’ world I had few chances to succeed, too much pressure to bear. In a teenage world, where boys first entered the picture, I could reach a larger audience, and one that wasn’t necessarily interested in conforming to the Kelly Taylor (of Beverly Hills 90210, FIRST edition) ideal. Well, to my greatest surprise, I am back in that primary school class. I have been to more than a dozen birthday parties in the past year and a half and the girls (in their 30s) always decide to have a girls-only party. So I’ve been to manucure parties, cooking class parties, pole dance class parties, cocktail making parties…and yet there were only girls. Why is it? Is it because twenties are the mating years, when we have to find the love of our life and settle so that in our 30s (and beyond, unless life puts us on the market again) we can go back to the joys of sisterhood? I haven’t still figured it out but I have to admit that in spite of my rocky primary school past I do prefer to celebrate  – anything – with other girls. Past the partying-as-crazy years, we don’t have time anymore for girly talk: we live very short days and weeks and years trying to figure out who we are, and taking care of pets, partners and children. No more time to brag on the newest Barbie. Once settled the “Finding the Love of My Life” thing, which occupied a big part of my thoughts during my early 20s, I frankly have a much better time having a drink with a girlfriend, toasting on what we have become compared to who we wanted to be some years ago and exchanging opinions on our multiple lives. it’s liberating, it’s easier and normally funnier then sitting next to the regular guy at the dinner table discussing what we do and where we live and how many children we have and feeling the distress  – on both sides – to have a polite conversation with a stranger.

I had always thought that humans were so evolute and smart and intellectually sophisticated and then the question unsettles me: is the innate human reproductive urge the only reason why men and women enjoy a conversation? Would we have parties and beach resorts and New Year’s Eves and cocktails if there was no mating instinct?