My favourite book about love, is in fact a book about grief. More than just my favourite book, it is my favourite reflection on love, and positions love in a way that I feel resonates so closely with how I position love myself. Of how I feel love, myself.
The book in question is ‘Levels of Life’ by Julian Barnes, an author I first discovered during a module on Suburbia when I was studying my English Lit degree. I was browsing the authors’ section, looking for another title by Barnes when, in my typical, distracted student fashion, I picked up Levels of Life. I scanned the blurb and found out that the title was an essay on grief and love following the passing of Barnes’ wife, Pat Kavanagh. I spent the next couple of hours devouring every word, neglecting my original intentions and instead immersing myself in a heartbreakingly honest portrayal of what it is to live on after the one you love dies.
There are two quotes which, even when I read now, grip me for a suspended moment.
‘You put together two people who have not been put together before. Sometimes it is like that first attempt to harness a hydrogen balloon to a fire balloon: do you prefer crash and burn, or burn and crash? But sometimes it works, and something new is made, and the world is changed. Then, at some point, sooner or later, for this reason or that, one of them is taken away. And what is taken away is greater than the sum of what was there. This may not be mathematically possible; but it is emotionally possible.’
‘The heart of my life; the life of my heart.’
‘And what is taken away is greater than the sum of what was there.’ That I could be less than I was before, if I was to lose the one I love, articulates in beautiful simplicity the gravity with which I feel love. Love for me is all encompassing, and the man I love is indeed the heart of my life, and the life of my heart. I’m neither embarrassed to be so openly sentimental nor shy about the fact that I invest myself so heavily in another person; I’m introspective as it is, but seeking something deeper in somebody else opens up a whole new plane of understanding, both of myself and my partner in crime.
Tee - Topshop*
Necklace - Mi Moneda*
Belt - H&M
Photography - Michaela Tornaritis
WHAT I'M WEARING
I would always describe myself as an interested person. I’m interested in small details, nuances, little flavours of personality, and I love learning the the mechanics of another person. I want to know the strangest dream you ever had as a child or what you feel is your greatest flaw or which flavour of ice-cream you would eat everyday if you were forced to give up all other foods. I want to know those minute details that often get passed off as frivolous - forget Ring of Fire, I am the 24/7 Question Master/ I want to know the person I love inside out, and one of the most beautiful aspects of love for me - especially with Keiran - is that I now have a bottomless pit of answers. Even if it’s a deep-sigh, hand-on-head, tv-paused-out-of-frustration response, I’m still afforded that little nugget of knowledge from an endless pool of ‘I actually really think that’ and ‘this one time when I was seven’.
‘Young love’ - it’s so unique in it’s approach that it warrants it’s own name, but what really is young love other than being in love and happening to be young? It’s often regarded as naive, as overpowering, as short or fleeting, and yes, with age often comes experience and with experience comes the trial-and-error knowledge of what to and what not to do, but doesn't young receive a bad rap? In fact, isn’t there something that is lost after young love, having had our fingers burned by heart break? That naivety, that impulsiveness, that unquestioning devotion - those archetypal characteristics that make young love as painful as it can be, are also those characteristics that allow us to love deeply and without reserve. And I don't even think those are necessarily qualities of being young, either - many of us simply happen to be young when we fall in love for the first time.
It's the madness of it though, isn't it? When you're in the throngs of your first love - whether that be 'young', or otherwise - you completely lose yourself in this newfound and uncharted territory. Nobody has ever loved as strongly as you; fuck Romeo and Juliet, because this is the most absolute love of all time. I never thought I would quote U2, but as Bono once sang: "Love is blindness/I don't wanna see". That's what young love is - an abandonment to your own helplessness.
But it doesn't always last, and we move on, and we grow up, and we fall in love again.
In the café where Michaela and I shot these photos, there was a wall full of various collected spoons. Each were labelled differently, having been, I assume, bought, found and pilfered from many nooks and crannies across the world. Displayed amongst them was grouping of silver spoons declared as being gathered from exes, and it reminded me that even as we grow older, and we lose that hedonism and unparalleled adoration of young love, we always take a little piece of wonder with us, whether that be a greater knowledge of ourselves, or just a simple silver spoon.
Young love is often positioned in a way that suggests it's necessary for us to learn from our mistakes - that that was our free trial or our demo run, and once that's through with, the real loving can begin (if you were able to read 'real loving' without some kind of smooth American jazz accent, then hats off to you).
But it see it in a much more positive light. I don't see the blindness of young love as a mistake, but rather as an important lesson of what it is to love somebody without reserve, and to love somebody, all or nothing. It also teaches you that, should it come to an end, the world keeps turning and your life keeps moving.
I'm now in the second long-term relationship of my young life, and I'm as hopelessly besotted as I ever was. I can recognise the difference between my first love, and my second, however, in that the first time around, the prospect of it ending was so terrifying that I clung on for a lot longer than I should have. This time, having been through that period of "what comes after love" and not shriveling into a husk of a woman as I expected, the pressure is off and I can just love absolutely, in-the-moment and without question, free of the fear of what I'd do if it went wrong.
So let's toast to young love, shall we? It's maddening, it's beautiful, and it's difficult to capture with words, but may it forever steal our hearts and teach us what it is adore another person.
And to my young love - I love you, always.