Don Juan, Cue the Music: Let Me Count the Ways – Part Six

Valentine’s Day is finally upon us, there is no escape.

We all just have to make the most of it.

Whether you’re in love, that state of blissful self-delusion, or in a long term relationship, that state of blunt, monotonous reality, you will have to do something for your partner.

Those in the violent throes of new love will leap at the chance to express their irrepressible longing – they will go away for a romantic getaway, bungee jump or skydive in tandem, get their bottoms tattooed, make love for 48hrs non-stop and write passionate poetry with the blessing of mighty Venus…  The long married may drag their feet. The 12th, 13th and half of 14th of February may pass before the word Valentine is uttered. Once mentioned, however, they will feel obliged to do something.

There’s doubtless something in domestic doings
Which forms, in fact, true love’s antithesis;
Romances paint at full length people’s wooings,
But only give a bust of marriages;
For no one cares for matrimonial cooings,
There’s nothing wrong in a connubial kiss:
Think you, if Laura had been Petrarch’s wife,
He would have written sonnets all his life?

Lord Byron- Don Juan, Canto III

Married soul, you may still fight against the judgement of literature. You may buy your partner a card, a funny one with a picture of a chimpanzee kissing a frog. You may get flowers, though this may remind your partner that… you don’t bring me flowers… any more. (Bloody Streisand!)You might even go out to dinner together, though this could end in disaster if you wipe your mouth with the tablecloth again, or after a couple of drinks, give into temptation and pat the waiter’s pert buttocks as he goes by.

Fidelity in love for fidelity’s sake had less attraction for her than for most women; fidelity because of love’s grip had much. A blaze of love, and extinction, was better than a lantern glimmer of the same which should last long years. Thomas Hardy – Return of the Native

On Valentine’s Day the married do not have to suffer unduly. A glass of wine and a quiet reminisce may do very well. Lover’s have always shared stories, what better story is there than the story of how the pair met?

What liars poets and everybody were! They made one think one wanted sentiment – muses Lady Chatterley in D.H. Lawrence’s  novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

And having shared a story or two, and having drunk a bottle or two, for a brief moment the cares and habits of the domesticated beast can be forgotten. A wilderness has opened up before you and into it you may both stagger, to be as Adam and Eve, for a time, till morning comes, and with it, expulsion from the Garden.

Plato was right in deciding to banish you poets from his republic, for you have done us great harm. Your ambrosia has but added to the bitterness of our wormwood, and how much more barren and desolate our life seems to us after we have feasted our eyes on the vistas of the infinite which you have revealed to us. How dreadful is the struggle which your dreams have waged against the stark realities of our existence, and how ruthlessly did those rough fighters maltreat and trample on our hearts during the fray.

Théophile Gautier – Mademoiselle de Maupin

My short series – Let Me Count the Ways – has come to an end. Together we strolled from Romantic Love to Self Love, from Unrequited Love to Forbidden Love, from Love By the Book to Love’s Death, from True Love to Awkward Love and from Private Love to Married Love.

We have travelled far and wide but seem, after all, to have moved not at all.

But I shall not leave you with a bitter taste in you mouth, that would be cruel…

Dear Lovers! If it were not for you, how dreary the world would be! Never shall a pair of you pass me without a kindly discreet glance and a murmured wish, “Be happy”.

How my heart warmed to an old French poet as we walked slowly on the Boulevard, and the lovers in the soft evening air passed us by, hand so close in hand, bodies so amorously near, eyes so sparkling and alive! Now and then, in the intoxicating air of the spring and the tolerant kindliness of the Parisians, a pair would feel so exuberant and so enthusiastic and so moved with each other’s perfections, that they would have to stop and exchange a long kiss, perfunctorily hidden by a quite inadequate tree-trunk. Nobody interrupted them, nobody scowled, no policeman arrested them for indecency.

And the old poet paused, and laid his hand on my arm, and said : “Mon ami, I grow old! I am nearly sixty. And sometimes as I pass along the streets and see these warm young people I find myself thinking: ‘How impudique! Why is this permitted? Why do they intrude their passions on me?’ And then I remember that I too was young, and I too passed eagerly and happily with one or other of my young mistresses whom I thought so beautiful, each of whom I loved with so immortal a love! And I look at the lovers passing and I say to myself: ‘Allez-y, mes enfants, allez-y, soyez heureux!’” *

Dear Lovers! Let us never forget that you are the sweetness of the bitter world.

Richard Aldington – Death of a Hero

* Go ahead, kids, go ahead, be happy!

You may wish to revisit – Let Me Count the Ways Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five.

Story of O : If We Pull Back The Curtains, What Do We See? : Let Me Count the Ways – Part Five

(RATED PG – Parental Guidance Recommended.)

Valentine’s Day in the Suburbs – Private Love

Walking suburban streets alone at night can be unnerving. Not just because they can be dark, not just because they are often deserted, but because we come indecently close to the private world of our neighbours.

It can be quite disturbing.

In the absence of visible and audible signs of life the perverse pulse of private humanity makes itself known.

We might break into a trot and hurry on home, but what if we didn’t? What if, on Valentine’s Day, we walked up the front path and peered in the windows like a Peeping Tom – what would we find?

The banal…? A family lounging in front of the TV? A dinner party? A lover’s tiff in progress? Someone at the computer working late?

Or would we find the extraordinary, the abnormal, the devious?

Who are these people surrounding our days and nights? Who are the people who kindly slow and stop to let us across the pedestrian crossing? Who are the people whose faces we recognise but pass in the supermarket without a smile? Who, even, are those we know well enough to wave to in the daylight hours?

What do we really know about them?

Can they be trusted?

If the current spate of titillating tell-all memoirs and saucy exposés can be believed the answer is definitely, and excitingly, no.

Since the birth of time (I’m told time was born somewhere in the sixties), suburbanites have consoled themselves, while doing the dishes, or washing the dog, or downloading rudie nudie pictures, with the thought that someone, somewhere must be doing something interesting. But what they didn’t know was that that ‘someone’ was their neighbours,  Suzanne and Gregory, and that ‘somewhere’ was right next door!

The message of the modern memoir and exposé is -

There is love in the suburbs and its getting weirder!

This Valentine’s Day it might be time for you and your partner to break the chains of suburban respectability, to strip off the dowdy costumes of Mr and Mrs Normal, bathe in scented water and then climb into bed together and read about lives more interesting and daring than your own.

Private Love : The Short List

And one for… ummm… (Why do we slow down to look at a car crash?)

The Classics:

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Love is All Around: Let Me Count the Ways – Part Four

There is a moment in the film Love Actually when the old rocker, Billy Mack, played by Bill Nighy, realises that the greatest love of his life is his manager, Joe. And he tells him so.

This is a surprising admission, it surprises Joe, but it is also a wonderfully perceptive admission, because Billy Mack, peering through a cloud of silly prejudice and customary social expectations, has discovered the truth – Joe is the love of his life.

Finding the truth is something very few of us do.

What is more surprising is that, try as hard as I might, I cannot recall an occasion like it in any of the books I have read.

We know so many occasions when it might have happened – think of Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings. There was ample opportunity for these two friends to realise the true nature of their relationship and express it as completely as Billy Mack. Each is more important to the other than anyone else is or could be.

Think of the many missed opportunities - Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, Herbert Pocket and Pip, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Asterix & Obelix, Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte, Noddy and Big Ears…

Love is all around us but because we are so intent on finding love, we sometimes don’t see it.

This Valentine’s Day might just be the day when you open your eyes and see that George Clooney, or that Victoria’s Secret model you’ve set your sights upon, is not and never will be your true love.

And instead, you come to accept the fact that your smelly flatmate or your ethically challenged business partner, or your boorish best friend or your garage band’s tone deaf lead singer is, in truth, your true love and deserves to know exactly how you feel.

True Love: it’s never where you think it is.

Still Coming Soon – Let Me Count the Ways – Part Four

On Valentine’s Day we can celebrate love, but there will always those who use the day to remember those they once loved but now revile.

When I Loved You

When I loved you, I can’t but allow
I had many an exquisite minute;
But the scorn that I feel for you now
Hath even more luxury in it!

Thus, whether we’re on or we’re off,
Some witchery seems to await you;
To love you is pleasant enough,
But oh! ’tis delicious to hate you!

Thomas Moore
(28 May 1779 – 25 February 1852)

Coming soon – Let Me Count the Ways – Part Four

‘Some cynical Frenchman has said that there are two parties to a love-transaction: the one who loves and the other who condescends to be so treated.

Perhaps the love is occasionally on the man’s side; perhaps on the lady’s.

Perhaps some infatuated swain has ere this mistaken insensibility for modesty, dulness for maiden reserve, mere vacuity for sweet bashfulness, and a goose, in a word, for a swan.

Perhaps some beloved female subscriber has arrayed an ass in the splendour and glory of her imagination; admired his dulness as manly simplicity; worshipped his selfishness as manly superiority; treated his stupidity as majestic gravity, and used him as the brilliant fairy Titania did a certain weaver at Athens.

I think I have seen such comedies of errors going on in the world.

But this is certain, that Amelia believed her lover to be one of the most gallant and brilliant men in the empire: and it is possible Lieutenant Osborne thought so too.’

William Makepeace ThackerayVanity Fair

Romeo and Juliet – Kiss By the Book: Let Me Count the Ways – Part Three.

I am no Romeo.

I haven’t the courage to live by my heart’s direction, I haven’t the self-confidence to assume my love will be accepted, that I will be desired in return…

Each of my actions is measured. I live by committee, a committee dominated by the anti-me league. I express a desire and they debate it. By the time an agreement is reached, the object of my desire has either moved on, married and had children, or died of old age. Not that it would matter as the committee invariably decides that due to my toxic personality or the pimple on my forehead or the squeak in my voice that I should not act on any desire ‘until further notice’.

…Whilst Romeo just throws himself into it.

When Juliet says: You kiss by the book.

Does Romeo crumble? Does he run away? Nope, he just keeps storming the citadel.

I on the other hand  instantly recall the neat line drawing on page 35 of The Art of Kissing and sigh, ‘Yes, yes, I do kiss by the book.’

We cannot all be Romeo, we are seldom ever, Juliet – we need a little help.

As we sail together towards Valentine’s Day, having explored the coasts of Romantic Love and Unrequited Love and having dodged a detailed exploration of the reefs of Forbidden Love and Self Love, we must pass by the desert island known as Love By the Book.

Many a Romantic Robinson Crusoe has been washed ashore here. When Friday comes, and you’re home alone, there is a temptation to pick up the self-help book your mother gave you, and flick through its pages…

The cry – Why doesn’t anybody love me!? -which, moments before, threatened to burst forth, is suddenly exchanged for a sigh of relief and then laughter as you realise that there must people far worse off than you if this guff sells and sells and sells.

The true power of a self-help book will not be found in its pronouncements, no, the true power of a self-help book is in its tone – it takes itself and the issue at hand very seriously, which means you don’t have to.

Love By The Book maybe the least glamorous of the many varieties of love – and one I do not recommend taking too seriously – but when the chips are down, and we all face these crises of confidence, an IKEA –  put tab A into slot B – book of love can lift the spirits when vodka and a repeat viewing of The Notebook have failed.

The best lesson they can teach you, is how to laugh at yourself.

Five Very Different Guides to Love:

  1. Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus
  2. He’s Just Not That Into You: The No-excuses Truth to Understanding Guys
  3. Nancy Friday’s Beyond My Control: Forbidden Fantasies in an Uncensored Age
  4. The Five Love Languages Singles Edition
  5. Textbook Romance

George Meredith – And When Love Dies? Stay tuned for – Let Me Count the Ways – Part Three

MODERN LOVE by George Meredith

By this he knew she wept with waking eyes:
That, at his hand’s light quiver by her head,
The strange low sobs that shook their common bed
Were called into her with a sharp surprise,
And strangled mute, like little gaping snakes,
Dreadfully venomous to him.  She lay
Stone-still, and the long darkness flowed away
With muffled pulses.  Then, as midnight makes
Her giant heart of Memory and Tears
Drink the pale drug of silence, and so beat
Sleep’s heavy measure, they from head to feet
Were moveless, looking through their dead black years,
By vain regret scrawled over the blank wall.
Like sculptured effigies they might be seen
Upon their marriage-tomb, the sword between;
Each wishing for the sword that severs all.

Love in the Time of Cholera – Love for Singles: Let Me Count the Ways – Part Two

Singles! The darkest day in the calender is nearly upon you.

Valentine’s Day!

The day when you are forced to look into the dusty heart of your singledom, the day when that brave smile will not come, when all your claims of happiness are exposed as lies, the day when Valentine cards from well meaning friends serve only to remind you of your large bottom or your wonky eye or your hideous fashion sense or your awkward walk or your venomous tongue or your dull, dull mind…

Valentine’s Day.

It will soon be here. There is no escape, but there is hope.

Love is adaptable, love is varied and love is as kind as it is cruel.

I am here to offer you a chance at love this Valentine’s Day…

I present :

Unrequited Love!

(Now don’t knock it before you have really given it a go.)

Once you have experienced the exquisite heart strain of an unrequited love, where the joy of loving cannot quite overcome the knowledge that you are not loved in return, you will recognise that such painful pleasures come with benefits.

What possible benefits are there to having a one-sided love affair?

For one, you are no longer technically single.

I know it’s only a technicality but it does serve as a buffer – if your friends know you are hopelessly in love with the woman/man of your dreams they can hardly set you up with someone from accounts.

Two, it fills up hours of your day. Even if you don’t turn into a stalker, even if you restrain yourself and turn it into a harmless hobby, unrequited love will give you something to do. Exquisite pleasure or pain – and trust me, sometimes you won’t know the difference – takes time.

And lastly, though I could go on and on, unrequited love is Romantic. So, without having to make any commitments, or sign any papers, without dull dates and awkward sexual encounters, without even having to leave your house, you can experience two separate kinds of love – both Unrequited Love and Romantic Love.

That’s a two for one deal you weren’t expecting!


Tune in tomorrow when we explore the social impediment that is Forbidden Love: exemplified by the ever criminal Humbert Humbert but also glorified by the exemplary Mr Knightly in Jane Austen’s Emma who says -

The good was all to myself, by making you an object of the tenderest affection to me. I could not think about you so much without doating on you, faults and all; and by dint of fancying so many errors, have been in love with you ever since you were thirteen at least.

Cyrano de Bergerac : How do I love thee? Let me count the ways – Part One

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching…

What to do, what to say?

Love is so complex!

In this age of Twitter, texting and ‘time poverty’ our capacity to communicate complicated feelings is in dangerous decline.

Sure, we can speak in short imbecilic bursts –  we can rant, we can reiterate, repeat and Retweet – but can we elucidate, extrapolate or explain?

In this, the shallow end of the 21st century, do we even have strong or deep feelings?

If we do, and I’m not so sure we do, can we be counted on to express these feelings fully to the person we love?

I think not – at least not beautifully, voluminously or even well.

(I could make an allusion here to Cyrano de Bergerac, but what would be the point… he’s not on Facebook – well, he is actually, but…. oh, never-mind.)

Books have always spoken for the tongue-tied and as we are all suffering from this inhibiting malady…

…this Valentine’s Day, let books speak for you.

As uniform as our desires appear to be (and as uniform as perfume commercials would paint love to be ie: men want sex, women want romance), in fact, we all suspect there are as many forms of love as there are strains of the flu.

So, this year, let books speak for you, but be sure to choose your books well… for Love’s library is vast and can be daunting.

Or better still, let me be your guide.

Let us count the ways together as we make our way towards 14th February.

Every day I shall offer up a handful of loves and the books which speak for them…

By Valentine’s Day I will have prepared a vast smorgasbord of delicious dainties and you can make your choice.

Let us begin at the beginning with the most obvious – Romantic Love:


How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning taken from Sonnets from the Portuguese

Tune in tomorrow when we explore the cul-de-sac that is Self Love: exemplified by the ever uncomfortable Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth.


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