Saturday Night: Am I in love again? No, not me

All things considered, it was the perfect farewell. A mist of rain, gentle as a lover's kiss, caressed us as we embraced for the last time before she climbed into the minicab for the airport. No tears, though; it was an unspoken rule we had established at the beginning, nearly four weeks ago. Sadness is so much more eloquently conveyed with a smile, n'est-ce pas?

Not that there was any reason to cry, but the conditioned response to romantic involvement is so strong that few of us can surrender willingly when the time is at hand. Instead, we cling and grasp at love and, in so doing, kill it. We suffocate tenderness with the weight of our desires and expectations. We harness all that is dross in our lives - ambition, pride, anger, jealousy and cowardice - to our lightest, most ethereal emotions, and end up wondering why love is not enough to save us from ourselves.

But not this time. For once there was room to breathe, a sense of space and relaxation, a lightness of touch, physical and metaphorical.

Most lovers, imagining their passion to be infinite, toy carelessly with each other. Thinking their time together boundless, they play petty games that too often become spiteful, such is the familiarity that breeds contempt. Having less than a month together made us more appreciative, more attentive, less determined about what we wanted, more willing to accept what was on offer. There was no need to question what was clearly a novel and enlightening experience for both of us.

One might ask why such uncomplicated and effortless affairs are the exception, not the rule. Perhaps we need to introduce a metering system, or a season ticket for love. Imagine: you have four weeks to get the most you can from a relationship before your ticket expires. It can be renewed, but only after a two-month hiatus, and the decision to renew cannot be made unilaterally. Consensuality is the name of the game.

Working inside a fixed time limit would produce more realistic expectations, and fewer disappointments. Arguments? No time for them. Mind games? Can't be bothered. Whose fault? It doesn't matter, forget it, let's go back to having fun while we can. There would be no long, tortuous trudge towards a distant promise of blissful serenity: like Zen enlightenment, it would come instantly or not at all. If joy were not forthcoming, at least freedom would be visible on the horizon; even the most hellish neurotic would be tolerable. Now, who cannot think of at least one relationship that would be enhanced by such parameters?

The most chaotic factor in heterosexual relationships, of course, is procreation. Fear of pregnancy has the same effect on a relationship as a hand grenade has on a picnic. We kept our heads, though. Having disengaged and found that our little latex friend had gone missing, panic spread through us for the first time. She fished around and finally produced the errant rubber, dangling from her index finger, turned inside out and conspicuously empty.

'Morning-after pill,' we muttered to each other. She would have to stop off at the surgery on the way to the airport. 'Sperm can survive for up to five days in the vaginal canal,' she said. 'You might get me pregnant when I'm in South America.' We laughed at the conscious effort now required to ensure our separation, and about condoms being blasted off by industrial-strength semen. 'If it doesn't work, you can collect the baby in Machu Picchu,' she said. Then we went to sleep.

And so ended our wondrous, one-stop affair. We had dodged the most difficult moments with comparative ease, simply by recoiling from attachment. All temptation to plan for the future had been scrupulously avoided, with the result that we lived in a magical, spontaneous present. It doesn't matter whether or not we were 'in love' the way people in pop songs or Hollywood movies are meant to be. We found another way of doing things, and proved to ourselves that it is possible for two people to treat each other as precious, unique and sacred beings, without expecting some reward. You cannot treat love as an investment. You cannot barter with your affections. As they say in the Nike ads, just do it.

It was not easy, saying goodbye without tears. But it wasn't that difficult either, and the time spent together was no more strenuous than flying a kite. The formula is simple: just avoid thoughts centred around the terms 'I', 'me' and 'mine' - all of which are otherwise absent throughout this piece. There, isn't that a happy ending?

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