My husband’s a romantic. He tells me he loves everything about me, but I know that’s not true. For example, he’s not a huge fan of me leaving my wet towel on the bed. I am not a romantic, so when he professes to love everything about me, I roll my eyes and tell him, “I love you, inclusive of everything.”
You see, there’s a difference. Loving everything about someone puts them in a precarious position: one flawed move, and they’ll topple off that pedestal. But loving someone, inclusive of everything, says “I don’t like that you leave cheese wrappers on the counter, but I love the you that does it.”
I’ve realized recently that loving a city is a bit like loving a spouse. Out of a thousand options that are 99 percent identical, we choose a city that has something in the other one percent that makes us want to build a life with it. And though that decision might seem set in stone, for most of us, it’s a choice we keep making every day.
When you love a city, and you get deeply involved with it and pay attention to it, you also learn its shortcomings. Maybe even a few dark secrets. There’ve been days lately when I’ve thought that maybe this isn’t the city for me after all. I know a lot of people who’ve felt and expressed their own second thoughts in the wake of decisions made recently. I think there is — somewhere — an upper limit to the flaws that can be included in one’s love for a city.
And I’ve learned some things about when love ends, too. When a marriage breaks up, people ask what happened, and sometimes whatever you say sounds like a silly reason to go your separate ways. But it’s too hard to express the cumulative impact of a hundred little things that made you not quite right for each other.
With a city it’s the same. When someone says that this last decision has made them think about leaving, of course what they mean is that maybe this one tipped the scales too far. But for those of us that are still too in love to let go, we hang on and try to find or create things that tip them back.
When I’m annoyed with my husband, I sometimes think of the day we met. His wide smile, his excitement to say hello, his nice suit. I remember that he’s still that guy. And that guy was always the same one who leaves the cheese wrapper on the counter.
When I’m annoyed with my city, I try think of the day we met, too. My toddlers playing for hours in Victoria Park, how friendly people were, how comfortable we felt. That city was always the same one with inadequate bike lanes, a penchant for overzealous risk management, and kind of a weird smell downtown when it rains. But also: strong neighbourhoods, great architecture, fantastic sunsets, and some of my favourite people in the world.
I hope this city will improve, and I won’t stop saying so. Some day, the scales might tip and it won’t be right for me anymore. I won’t feel bad if I make that decision, but I’ll keep trying to tip them back until it does. Because I still love London, inclusive of everything.