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Although Lucy liked to call it her love map it was a graph really. ‘Still, it has the power to guide me to lifelong love and happiness’ she kept telling herself.
Lucy was 37 and had grown up in Calgary, Canada. She came to the UK to find work and ended up in a job as a charity manager.
She was told about love maps from John, a work colleague, on a drunken staff night out. It was the only time before or since she had really spoken to him. He was at least 15 years older than her, married with kids, and their work paths didn’t really cross. But on that night they had ended up sitting next to each other in the pub. Lucy had drunkenly moaned about the absence of a long-term partner in her life, and he had cheerfully responded by saying she needed to draw her love map.
The details of what John had described were a bit sketchy when Lucy tried to construct her love map the next day but it seemed to hang together. She started with her first proper boyfriend after she turned 18 (qualified map reading age she decided). She put his name at the left hand end of the horizontal axis, on a big piece of graph paper, and then listed on the vertical axis, one above another, all the features of his personality, lifestyle, body, and anything else that was relevant, which she could most easily, and happily recall about him. She then did the same with her next boyfriend, ticking off above his name where he had similar features as the first, and adding any additional features to the list on the vertical axis. Where she could remember them, she also added the occasional fling or one night stand.
By the end of the afternoon she had 14 names and 35 different ‘love markers’, but it was clear from the frequency of ticks what the most common features were, linked together like contours – wiry frames, quiet, intelligent, thoughtful but capable of being opinionated, not materially obsessed, a bit of a wicked side, slightly geeky but not nerdy, frequently short-sighted, not north American, and a few others. The common markers are a navigational aid to identify the perfect partner, she thought. Where the correct longitude meets the right latitude.
So she followed it religiously. Every one night stand, boyfriend, lover, she immersed herself in, she charted onto the map. Each character co-ordinate, emotional triangulation point, interest, hobby, idiosyncratic belief that seemed of significance to her, was added to the chart. ‘This map will lead me to the right man’.
Yet to her surprise, and disappointment, still the destination she desired remained elusive. Relationships still ended the same way. Feelings overthought, forensic surveys of the emotional landscape – where he was and where she was – too often revealing them to be in different places.
It took Lucy more by surprise when she found herself in a relationship with another woman, Hannah, who mapped almost perfectly onto the main contours of the chart. ‘Wow’, thought Lucy. ‘I never thought of maps as being gender neutral. They always seemed such a boy thing (one boyfriend had once said to her that for a lot of men, ‘maps were second only to porn’ – not an opinion she thought worthy of the map). She had assumed they would always guide her to men. ‘But that’s just fulfilling the awful stereotype that women can’t read maps’ she thought.
But it turned out she couldn’t read maps, or at least not this one, because she had forgotten an essential instruction John had told her on that drunken night out. She had made a catastrophic cartographic mistake. It was revealed when Hannah discovered the love map (none of Lucy’s boyfriends had ever found it – ‘they may like maps but they weren’t great explorers’, she thought subsequently). The relationship had been going downhill for the same old reasons, thinking about love, not being in love, located at different points on the compass. Finding the map didn’t help. They had a row and as Hannah left Lucy’s flat for the last time she shouted, ‘Anyway, you don’t even know how to read a love map properly. It shows you all the places you shouldn’t visit because they keep on leading you to the wrong destination – being on your own again! The way to read a love map is to identify the exact opposites of its most common features. It’s what’s not on the map that are the places you should be exploring, you idiot’.
Emotional topography inverted. Lucy turned her map, and her world, upside down. She found true love with a big Canadian cabinetmaker, who had lots of money and excellent eyesight.