Everlasting love?

Having just returned from a child- and dog-free break with my husband, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I’ve begun to wonder if after eleven years and two kids, it is necessary to abandon all dependants and splash a thousand euros simply to remind ourselves to take notice of each other.

We’d had date nights regularly and the odd weekend by ourselves at home, but it wasn’t until we were on a plane speeding down the runway at 200 miles an hour that we felt free to be us again.

The sun was fierce, the streets were shady. There was no dog lead to grip, no noses to wipe, no timetable to adhere to. We wandered the cobbled paths of San Sebastián, with no more pressing obligation than to pick a place for lunch.

At first it felt strange – we checked our phones, we talked about the house alarm, the Thames Water refund. Then we stopped for coffee, then tapas. We browsed the shops, and began to look around, and at each other.

We climbed the Urgull. We walked along the beach. We breathed in the hot salty air.  He made me laugh. I made him laugh more (because I’m funnier). We held hands.

We talked about life, our dreams (oh yeah I’d forgotten about those) and when each of us spoke, we actually listened to each other.

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We swam in the sea, dived through the waves and body surfed like teenagers. We ate croquettes, we drank Tempranillo, we had sun downers and night caps. We found a dive bar and danced like loons. The bed was lumpy and the air con rattled but we slept like babies, in each other’s arms.

We remembered who we used to be. I remembered that he wasn’t simply an annoying presence in front of the fridge/sink/or wherever else I needed to be. Or the perma-exhausted workaholic who neglected to fix stuff around the house and put the bins out. We didn’t bicker once. No competition over who’d had the least sleep, who was working the hardest, whose job it was to discipline the kids or deal with the dog’s impacted anal glands.

On the last day, we both felt strange, as though we’d travelled back in time to check in with our old selves, but we knew that wasn’t our life anymore. Of course we’d missed the kids, we’d missed the dog, we wouldn’t want to change any of that, but there was a heavy silence, almost a mourning as we wheeled our cases towards the carpark.

At the airport, his iPhone came out [he had work to catch up on], my eye-rolling resumed [we’re still on holiday you know]. I bought a magazine. He typed emails and checked voicemails. I felt a sulk brewing.

On the plane, I thought about all the research I’d conducted into how to make love last. Few people have the luxury of nannies on tap/family support or a five-star budget. And most couples are so weighed down by the admin of life, it’s hard to differentiate our relationships from our shared responsibilities. Maybe we’ve overcomplicated matters. Maybe we need to stop working so hard to build a future, and instead like the millennials, live for the moment.

I glanced out the window to see the sands of Concha Bay slipping away into the distance, the surfers bobbing up and down in the waves, fading to nothing, and realised that what’s special about romantic love is the very fact that it’s fleeting.

Like catching the perfect wave, we have no control over the ocean, but it helps to be in the water, be present and ready to ride that mother f*cker when it comes.

Or at least just as soon as I’ve called Thames Water…

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Valen-tired-day

Apart from our wedding day, no day is expected to be as perfect as Valentine’s. The man was a saint after all, risking his life to marry Christian couples in the face of the mighty Roman Empire.

For centuries, lovers have exchanged gifts, confectionary and hand-written notes to celebrate their affection. So instead of simply  purchasing a card with a teddy bear on it, some chocolate brazils and scheduling a candlelit meal, why is it I feel obligated to don tacky red lingerie, an uncooperative suspender belt and bend over the dining table, licking my lips and declaring that I am the dessert?

With two kids and a muffin top under my belt, I thought my days as a wanton nymphet were over.  I suppose I can at least be grateful  my husband’s recent conversion to a macrobiotic diet rules out the mutually humiliating ritual of painting each other’s genitals with chocolate spread.

Instead of being force-fed oysters, which I was rather looking forward to, the four-course love feast he is planning, I’m told will involve an unseasoned avocado, steamed vegetables and spelt. I think they might look a little out of place amongst the fake rose petals, heart shaped napkins and red plastic champagne flutes mum added to my trolley at the supermarket, along with a stern warning to ‘keep the passion alive’.

To accompany the occasion, my husband suggested I might like to wear a dress. This in itself seems a reasonable request. However, when dining at home by ourselves I find the idea quite ridiculous. Back when we were first dating, it made sense. I spent my days submerged in narcissistic self- indulgence and would think nothing of enjoying a four-hour prep before appearing on his doorstep like Aphrodite from the sea. Now, however there is a window. Anyone with children will understand this timeframe. It’s the extremely brief interlude between putting the kids to bed and collapsing with exhaustion. If I do any more than simply peal off my biscuit encrusted tracksuit bottoms and pull a creased-not-quite-fitting-anymore dress over my head, there is a good chance he could be asleep, or drunk by the time I present myself, wobbling on a pair of scarlet, feathered mules.

If I make it down in time, and haven’t lacerated myself with a speed-Brazilian shave, and if Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing, interspersed with tandem toddler recitals via the monitor isn’t enough to offset the wine soaking through our spelt rammed stomachs, we might actually get down to it. Maybe even on the dining-room table, if we can work around the travel cots and kiddie car seats. The act itself will be hurried, not through passion but through fear of interruption. Demands for dummy retrieval, an urgent business call, or as occurred on one occasion, a canine nose probing an orifice, in search of chocolate spread.

The truth is, like most couples with young children, we’re exhausted. We’re lucky if we have time to remember to love each other, let alone write a note expressing it. However, this Valentine’s, along with the rest of the world, we will endeavour to rekindle the flame of love. Though chances are, it will be on a Peppa Pig candle.

Read more from Haley Hill in her bestselling novel ‘It’s Got to Be Perfect: the memoirs of a modern-day matchmaker’