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Monday, June 01, 2015

Love's Language's Lost 


I want to call you thou, the sound
of the shape of the start
of a kiss – like this, thou -
and to say, after, I love,
thou, I love, thou I love, not
I love you.

Because I so do – 

as we say now – I want to say
thee, I adore, I adore thee,

and to know in my lips
the syntax of love resides,
and to gaze in thine eyes.

Love’s language starts, stops, starts;
the right words flowing or clotting in the heart.

From Rapture (Picador, 2005), © Carol Ann Duffy 2005

We recently met for coffee. It’d been some while since we’d seen each other - the longest gap of time since we first met, years ago. At some point during the conversation, he called me by one of the pet names he used to use. His doing so wasn’t meaningful or significant in any way; I think it was just habit, him absent-mindedly defaulting to what had once been normal for us. It was this that got to me: how much I missed the words we spoke to each other, the language we used.

I’m naturally drawn to people for whom words and the utilising of language is of high importance. I wrote, many years ago, about being weak for wordsmiths, so it was no surprise that I ended up with someone with a degree in linguistics. His skill and understanding of language fascinated me, but it was his playfulness with words which won me over. I loved his silly puns, his ability to make a joke with purely the addition of a semi-colon, his structuring and restructuring of a tweet until it was absolutely perfect, because why say something unless it actually had meaning?

I don’t know if he ever liked my writing, but he always laughed at my clumsy attempts to create portmanteaus, he’d applaud my failed puns, and even when no one else understood the irony of something I had posted online, he’d get it; I had my own, private appreciative audience with never-ending applause: it didn’t matter to me what others thought.

I really miss that. But it’s the language of being a couple that I miss the most. I’m not talking about saying “I love you”, or the replacement of “I” and “my”, with “we” and “our”, or even the sexy things whispered (or shouted) when in the heat of passion. Those things are external, possessive and impulsive. I’m referring to the unique dialect that two people in an intimate relationship create: a new way of connecting that is entirely private and special and individual to those two people alone. That comes from a much deeper, internal place, where words bind the heart in a way that sex cannot.

The beauty of this language is its union and its isolated use between two people; it’s not shared with others, it thrives and develops through intimacy and private interaction. Words take on new meanings; sentences require special keys to unlock the subtext; an entire new way of communicating is born and just those two people have learned how to speak it.

We used to have a code, a particular phrase which when said by either of us meant: ‘It’s safe to say whatever you want now. This space around us, these people - they don’t exist. All there is is us, and no judgement. Speak freely.’ It’s funny how often that phrase still comes to mind, even now. Many times I’ve been on the verge of saying it with friends when deep in conversation, and even on a few dates; it’s a slightly painful reminder that no one else would understand: this is the language of just him and me.

And now that language is gone.

There are still so many elements of that discourse which I find myself about to say, phrases I want to use. It’s still so habitual - years of speaking it makes it so. It feels weird, and also sad, when you realise that it is you speaking it alone, as if it’s an ancient dialect no one else knows, or is able to learn; that the language is lost forever.

It hurts, somewhat, to think of him learning a new secret language, with its own private jokes, short-hand, codes, and terms of affection with someone else. But that is the thing: each relationship offers the beauty of this new dialect, a fresh and exciting way to communicate with just that person; so whilst I may still mourn the loss of this particular language, I really am looking forward to creating another one with someone else.

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