Written by Julie Mayhew

Lifestyle

This Electric Love

What we feel when we fall in love has always been a highly-charged question, writes Julie Mayhew.

Title electric kiss credit Luca Aloia LCF Design

Electric Kiss by Luca Aloia, LCF Design.

What does love feel like? I’m not being silly. It’s not a rhetorical question, or even a dirty one. What does it actually feel like?

It’s a question I needed the answer to.

When you get married and have kids way before all your friends you become an unsuspecting guru on matrimony and procreation. How do you know?, friends will ask me, how can you be sure that this is the right person and the right time?

My answer is always that I just happened to meet someone when I was very young and because we were so young, with no biological clock ticking, no thoughts of marriage, we had plenty of time to fall out, make up, have fun and get to know each other. Marriage was a no-brainer. We put zero thought into planning our family, I just got pregnant.

But people don’t like that answer. It seems casual and incredibly smug. I must be holding back the secret formula. But most of all, people dislike this answer because I don’t allow for there to be a definite point of conscious decision.

Then, a couple of years ago, I stumbled across something that I thought might help me to develop a better answer to the question of what love feels like. It came, unexpectedly, via Melvyn Bragg. (Incidentally, Simon Le Bon taught me, indirectly, about sex. My schoolmate: “Would you like to have sex with Simon Le Bon?” Me: “What’s sex?” Mystery solved.)

We had a spark, people will say. It made sense then, that if these words had stayed in use throughout the years, there must be some truth in them. Is that what love feels like?”

When a subject gets me all chewed-up I usually set about solving it for myself by writing a book or a play. It’s a lengthy, cumbersome process that I’m not necessarily recommending, though for me, I have to say, it generally works.

I was in the car with In Our Time on Radio 4 – a listening experience that comedy writer Simon Blackwell has likened to being a caveman stood in front of a cash machine. Often, yes, but that morning a story came through loud and clear.

Historian Dr Patricia Fara was on the programme describing 18th-century salon performances that involved ‘Electrickery’. Back when scientists were known as Natural Philosophers, and back when they had just discovered how to harness the power of static electricity, those Natural Philosophers were searching for ways to show off their new discoveries. So they headed to the fairgrounds and the after-dinner salons.

One act involved suspending a small child from the ceiling on silken thread. Once charged with electricity, the child’s hands would make feathers fly up from the floor. In an age of no artificial light and a firm belief that everything was God’s work, it would have been a startling, and probably troubling, sight.

GW390H547Another act was the Electrical Venus. A beautiful woman was placed on an insulated block, she would be charged up and then men would pay to kiss her – receiving an electric shock when they did.

How funny, I thought, sitting listening in stationary traffic on the M25, because more than 250 years later we still describe love as electricity flowing between two people.

We had a spark, people will say. It made sense then, that if these words had stayed in use throughout the years, there must be some truth in them. Is that what love feels like?

When a subject gets me all chewed-up I usually set about solving it for myself by writing a book or a play. It’s a lengthy, cumbersome process that I’m not necessarily recommending, though for me, I have to say, it generally works.

So, I wrote The Electrical Venus, a radio play and coming-of-age tale (because isn’t that the time of life when we’re willing to work things out?) about a girl who is sold into a travelling fair and finds herself up on that block and kissing those men. If she had never seen or experienced love, in any form, would she know it when she felt it?

And the answer I arrived at..? Yes. Though, clouded by the relationships we see growing up, we can often miss real love. Or be scared to accept it.

And I also realised that, though we can easily describe the physical sensation of falling in love, of sexual attraction, there is no neat analogy involving zapping electrons to make us understand enduring love.

I found myself going back to a well-worn and frustrating answer to the question of what love feels like – you just know, you just feel it. And that feeling isn’t anything that will comply with words.

As a consolation, I did once find a possible other tangible answer. I was at an art fair with my husband trying to choose a picture for our living room wall that we could both agree on. Art by democracy wasn’t working out (proving perhaps that marriage is nothing to do with compatibility of tastes).

Then we turned the corner, spotted the same picture and burst out laughing. It was perfect. A giant red heart and written across the middle in a horribly perky font ‘You’ll Do’.

That was it. That was enduring love. Accepting that another person, the right person, is enough.

We didn’t buy the picture. Would people wrongly assume, seeing that on our wall, that we had just half-heartedly settled?

I wish we had bought it, though. It was the right picture. I could just feel it.

@JulieMayhew

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Written by Julie Mayhew

Julie Mayhew writes radio dramas about love and novels devoid of romance, most recently Nazi alt-history The Big Lie.