Tag Archives: Love


Only a spoilt fop like the Duke of Orsino in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night could imagine music is ‘the food of love’. Had he ever turned a spit, or sung for his supper, he would have realised that music may nourish romance, and possibly aid digestion, but without grub there is no love.

If food and love aren’t identical, they’re near as fraternal twins. As Cervantes remarked, ‘All sorrows are less with bread’. Food and love are bare necessities, but also have potential to be as troublesome as Adam and Eve’s apple, since both mediate pleasure and power in relationships. Spoon-feed a toddler and you’ll soon grasp that without love’s seasoning providing food can be hell.

It’s amazing how efficiently cooks’ feelings translate to the tastebuds. Eating in motorway service stations, who can ignore the whiff of a chef’s minimum wage-indifference? Similarly, I knew where I stood with a boyfriend’s mother after she fed me a black roast spud that had sat a week in her oven before its second Sunday lunch. Not coincidentally, the shelf was her preferred destination for me.

Whether you fancy oysters or asparagus, the aphrodisiac quality is about texture, form, as much as any chemical. But even culinary erotica has a childish core, because food’s love-purveying dimension derives ultimately from the cradle, and parents’ devotion to the egotists Colette called ‘happy, unconscious little vampires who drain the maternal heart’.  The solace babies find in milk is the nourishment we seek in comfort foods. Just read Nigel Slater, our foremost lyricist of the sideboard, on ‘creamy clouds of blissful mash’ – ‘the sort you want to bury your face in’.

Breaking bread was once the essence of companionship (‘com’ meant with, ‘pan’, bread). Now many dine alone, serenaded by a microwave’s ping. Our emotional contract with food is different if it’s made by machines.

Cheap, fat-laden foods are marketed as convenient little luxuries – a form of self-love epitomised in the ad with the woman gobbling chocolate in the bath. Go on, have another love, says the supermarket; this week it’s buy one, get one free. But eating disorders seem a logical response to spoil-yourself consumerism. To food available 24/7, that doesn’t tire in its preparation and makes blood sugar soar then plummet – making us fat, yet leaving us hungry. Without love, such food is antisocial, and very inconvenient.

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Who are your family?  If you think the answer’s obvious, you may groan at reports that Pete Docter, director of Up, dedicated his Oscar to ‘the Pixar family’ and his wife and kids.  I groaned, then checked my fattest dictionary, and found this cheesy phrase couldn’t be more accurate.  The word hails from Latin’s ‘familia’, meaning ‘household’ and all in it (‘famulus’ was a ‘servant’).  Thus childless Samuel Pepys’s ‘family’ included his maids, but if his hands roamed as they dressed him, he was the right side of incest.  Just.

The idea that family can be custom-fit from any old bits may not be modern, but has gained urgency with rising divorce, and animates Pixar’s greatest films, especially Up.  This tale of a grouch restored to life by a boyscout, bird and dog salted my popcorn with tears because I’ve always believed that family bonds are inked in empathy first, blood second. Empathy led my parents to adopt a third daughter, and empathy held us fast when she unveiled the temper of a Tasmanian devil.  Today this once-damaged tot is an adoring mother whose sons have undammed unsuspected reserves of love in us all.

To make a family, via chromosomes, adoption, or ready-made people in your world, is always creative.  But how to tell who belongs?  Those friends whom I rebuke, not cold-shoulder, when they offend me, I consider sisters.   By contrast, my pal says he’d happily donate a kidney to a sister who didn’t invite him to her 30th birthday (in the next-door street) but he’d never ask her to dinner.  Yet if my friend-sisters required a kidney, what would I say? What if my sisters need it?

One thing is clear: family is the forcing house of identity, and at Christmas, as they goad us into acting as we did in our teens, we remember why we left. Yet if the lessons that family teach about our character can be painful, they’re worth mastering and applying elsewhere, preferably with the empathy afforded to nearest and dearest.  Intriguing research has found the happiest people don’t take home the principles they’ve learnt at work, but vice versa.  Treating your baby as a project is a pattern for woe, whereas managing a boss as you do your tantrumella toddler/husband is highly effective.  So whoever tends your hearth, root your heart at home and everything is easier.

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Did greedy doctors invent sex addiction to grab a piece of the divorce lawyers’ action?  I only ask because commitment anxiety is rising, and not just adultery is being diagnosed as a disease.   Fidelity, too, is suspect.  Are you married, cohabiting, eyes for no other?  Might you be – whisper it – co-dependent?


I am married and I am independent.  Or so I thought.  However, my spouse and I depend on each other.  So the increasingly common term ‘co-dependence’ worried me. It sounds vague.  But my dictionary says that a co-dependent couple features one who is an addict, and another who is addicted to their relationship with the addict.  So me and my husband are okay.  But then it struck me the definition is slippery.  What if the addict is addicted to the relationship?  And what if a co-dependency therapist had advised Victorian poet Robert Browning? Would he have eloped with ageing, invalid opium addict Elizabeth Barrett?  Would we have their great love story?


‘In a codependent society,’ warns therapist Robert Burney, ‘everyone has to have someone to look down on, in order to feel good about themselves.’  Sounds like human nature.  By this measure, love between any two imperfect or unequal individuals is unhealthy, and caring is suspect (caring could be ‘looking down’ in disguise).  Is there such a thing as a relationship without any power imbalance?  Isn’t one of the benefits of a relationship that you don’t have to be best at everything?


Burney is not the first to view love with a surgeon’s suspicion.  ‘My love is as a fever, longing still/For that which longer nurseth the disease.’  In this sonnet Shakespeare described a disorder called romance, which traditionally occurred outside dull marriage (which was for babies, money, and dynasties).  Only in the seventeenth century did married love come to be regarded the summit of human fulfilment.  In our crowded world, such a belief is less tenable.  


Twenty-first century romantics must commit to their job, friends, home, kids.  Even had we the time, it is harder to be confident about prioritising one relationship.  Fear of monotony, worry about monogamy, have increased our faith in other people’s right to talk us through our lives, and tell us how to live them.  But if we over-diagnose our emotions, our love stories may end before they’ve begun.



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