A couple of years ago, myself and my good friend David were walking through one of Vigo’s most beautiful parks; Castrellos. We were having one of our usual long winded, deep and reflective life chats. I’d just got rejected by a girl I’d been on a couple of dates with, David was in a relationship that he would soon leave. As we strolled in the summer sunshine, the question of what constituted being in love came up again.
I characterised it as being in the red zone, the amber zone or the nothing zone.
I guess a synonym for the red zone could be the "madly in love zone"; constantly thinking about the person, sometimes obsessively, excited to see them at any opportunity and willing to sacrifice others to this pursuit, in a state of euphoria when with them, almost like when you are together everything else fades into the background. Perhaps mixed with this might be, especially in the early days and weeks, feelings of insecurity and doubt; “do they feel the same? Will they?”. In the latter stages, the passion might lead to arguments, fights and intense make ups. Permeating the red zone is an intense feeling that they are the one and only – thee person. In the three cases where I’ve landed up there in my life, I’ve gone there within about 5 hours of chatting in a bar (at 20), after a month or so of dating (24) and after a few months chatting and a few face to face meet ups (at 33). Each person was very different, but the feelings were actually pretty similar. The first was unrequited completely, the second and third were relationships that ended. All three nearly killed me and the recovery process was in the year’s column. I’m still trying to recover from the latter.
Now, I’ve never been in the red zone and it work out longer term. I know people say that love evolves, calms down and then you grow together. Or, it lasts a long time, but then at some point you realise it’s gone and you mutually leave it. Fundamentally though, I have to keep believing that people enter the red zone and whether it continues on some level, evolves, fades slightly – the relationship and love develops and lasts. I see 90 years olds celebrating their 60th or 70th anniversaries, still holding hands, smiling at each other in a certain way that points, to me, to a quieter, calmer, and perhaps less physical red zone but a red zone nevertheless.
Take Joan and Roy King, 87 and 89 respectively, married for 70 years and celebrating their 70 years of marriage last week.
Roy said: "It was the last bus home and Joan had been to the Tech college where she was learning shorthand and typing. I was with my usual gang of friends and I had spotted Joan sat on her own. I thought she was a beautiful girl. Now, she's a very glamourous lady and I've had a great life." Were they in the red zone? Or were they happily in the amber their whole lives, never meeting anyone else in all that time where they’ve been in the red? Were times different in the 1940s and 1950s in the sense that expectations were lower for love and choices much more limited and therefore you could be happy with less? The theory goes that more relationships lasted but less were mutually started in the red zone. Of course, whenever you read about a 50, 60- or 70-year relationship, the words compromise, forgiveness and acceptance are never far away from the conversation. Holding onto love that’s amber or red takes a lot of effort, of that there is no doubt.
David wasn’t happy with my description of the red zone as the optimum zone, the zone to aspire to be in with someone. “That’s like a relationship I had that nearly destroyed me when it ended, and we used to argue a hell of a lot in it, the amber zone is much healthier”.
Ah yes, the amber zone. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been there, dozens?
Beautiful people, attractive, interesting, lovely, a laugh, intelligent, I could go on…. have all stayed parked in the amber zone. This is a zone where you might not miss the person like a hole in the head when they are absent, you might like their company but not love it. Sadly, I can safely say that I’ve been in the amber zone with some people who were probably nicer as human beings than those I’ve fallen slap bang into the red.
The longest relationship I’ve had in my life, which lasted about 3 years, was with someone I was in the amber zone with. We had a connection, we got on really well, we had a great laugh together, we rarely argued but I never felt that romantic fire. I convinced myself I did, that’s why I stayed so long. Fortunately, she was in the amber zone too, so when it ended in 2015 we remained friends and remain so to this day. She got married and is pregnant and I feel nothing apart from good will. I don’t feel a shred of jealousy or hurt.
One of my favourite quotes is the following:
“Don’t marry the person you can live with, marry the person you can live without”.
In my 20’s, I was determined not to “settle”, but now in my mid-thirties, I’m finding that path a harder one to follow. I guess hurt softens resolve too.
Now, of course, there are the cases of one person in the amber and one person in the red within an active relationship, sometimes a long term one. This throws up challenges for both. For the person in the red zone; a sense that something isn’t quite right in the way they are being treated, often overlooked due to the strength of feeling they experience. Perhaps a sense of inadequacy, feeling like things are very “routine”, above all else – the feeling that you can never quite get enough of that other person. There’s something frustratingly evasive about them. The desired intensity is missing but hidden to the point of the sub conscious by the feelings of love. For the amber person, they might think they love the other person, tell themselves and their other half the things that will help to convince themselves and the other person that they are in the red zone. They might swing from outward shows of loving affection to a certain degree of coldness. Some discomfort might come over them around a certain degree of numbness they just can’t shake, a sense of guilt perhaps. Nevertheless, they are happy, comfortable, they probably feel more secure than they did in some relationship they had in the past that may have been positively red zone for them, but utterly toxic too. This is better.
Now, the interesting thing is, I think amber-amber, red-amber and red-red relationships can all end up working out. I think red-red perhaps gives a solid foundation, those feelings serve as a long-term reminder, even if they fade in intensity of what “is”. But I think they can all work. I know of one couple, I am a friend of one of the partners, the relationship has lasted more than 10 years. She herself knows deep down that she is in the amber zone, but she doesn’t want to leave it, yet. Partly, there is the heartbreak that would inevitably cause to her partner who is undeniably “in the red”. But second, the routine of the relationship brings with it security and her partner treats her well, better than most men she’s met.
When I was in my amber-amber relationship, the one that we mutually ended, I knew there was a chance that I could end up being tempted to cheat in the future, something I’ve never done and would never want to. It scared me. I decided to have an honest conversation with that partner and thankfully we were on exactly the same page.
So, I guess my question to you, the reader, in conclusion is – are you in the red zone and is it working out? If you are single, would you only commit to a long-term partner if you felt in the red zone or just “go with the flow”?
The words of Joni Mitchell spring to mind for me when I'm feeling as confused as I am right now (and probably as confused as you are reading this blog):
I've looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It's love's illusions that I recall
I really don't know love
Since last summer, I’ve been struggling to come out of the hurt of a red zone gone wrong. Perhaps it’s time to be more realistic about what love is and isn’t and say goodbye to some Hollywood movie?
I love the movie Serendipity, it's probably my favourite all time movie, but are the ideas in it actually poisonous? Have I fallen in love with the idea of something that might actually be unobtainable or a mirage in the desert?
I set up edudate because I believe in Serendipity and when I hear from current couples who met through edudate, I hear the red zone in their words, it's encouraging.
I don't want to stop believing!
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