“Every pot has its lid,” my mother used to tell me when I was 40 and still single. I had a messy kitchen full of pots and most of them had lost their lids. My mother was wrong. There were pots that would always be lidless. Did it matter? My many single friends and I were happy enough, in lid-free, unwedded bliss.
We travelled the world, we loved our work, we still looked good, we didn’t talk about school catchment areas, or have the humiliation of children turning into teenagers and telling us we were embarrassing.
It’s just a theoretical lust and they wouldn’t actually swap you for a minute
There was no reason to think that good friends, interesting lives and a lot of laughter wouldn’t carry us contentedly through life. It was an achievement not to succumb to domesticity. We’d held on to our youthful determination to be unconventional. And yet…
There was something I needed. Leaving the 40 mark far behind, I didn’t think it was biology. I had only had the occasional baby pang anyway, but it felt as compelling as something in my DNA. I needed a soulmate, what Carson McCullers called “the we of me”. I wanted, just sometimes, to say “we”.
Perhaps I should have been less stridently independent when I was still a shiny 25 if this curiosity about being “we” was going to keep haunting me. Wasn’t it far too late?
Suddenly, lounging against the wall at a party I nearly didn’t go to, was this man. Tall, dark, handsome, funny… and it was all as romantic as if we’d been shiny and 25.
Too inexperienced in our youth
We live together now. We’re together nearly all the time. But we would have been too restless when we were younger to look at each other closely and recognise each other.
We would have been too inexperienced to know how rare it is to find someone you can really talk to or be happy with when doing absolutely nothing. We would have been too full of the messed-up-headness of being young to be any good for each other.
I noticed several friends were plunging into late loves.
“It’s better because I know who I am,” one late-loving man told me. “We don’t need to define each other. We’re two whole, separate people. I think when you’re older, you understand that nobody really knows anyone; it’s the otherness you appreciate.”
What about all the things we read about biology driving men to keep going after younger women? “What would we talk about?” he said. “What would she know that I know?”
Securely knowing how people are seems to be part of what makes these late loves, mine included, such happy affairs. You know, for instance, not to ask the irritating “What are you thinking about?” question, because you now know the average human being can stare into space thinking about absolutely nothing for an inordinate amount of time.
You realise that if the other person sighs at the sight of Rafael Nadal or Scarlett Johansson it isn’t a slight, it’s just a theoretical lust and they wouldn’t actually swap you for a minute.
A lifetime of stories
What about your friends, accumulated and cherished over decades? What if your newfound love doesn’t like them? It doesn’t matter. You’re enough of your own people not to stick to each other like glue at parties, and you don’t feel hard done by if the other sometimes needs to socialise in a separate gang. You have lives you go out into and bring home stories from. You have a lifetime of stories to tell each other.
Women worry that their looks have faded. Men worry that they’re over 50 and never got that sports car. Nobody’s perfect. And you’ve seen the world enough to know that that is one of the few true lines ever spoken in a movie.
Having a good time, maybe even being happy, has nothing to do with the perfection we were looking for at 25. Life is more interesting than that. There are men who like to see character in a woman’s face, and the women who are interested in sports cars – who are worth meeting – will probably have bought their own by now anyway.
I worried I had become set in my ways and bad habits. But it seems it is possible to carry on being as peculiar as you’ve always been; there’s just someone around to appreciate it.
All the failed past relationships, you realise, haven’t made you a failure at relationships. They’ve given you an expert knowledge of how not to fail this time round. By now, you know what love is, so you don’t even have to ask if you’re in it.
In fact, for me, the only drawback is having to admit that my mother, with her pots and lids, did know best.