The song played on a loop in our house. It was 1991 and no one could get Bryan Adams’ Everything I Do (I Do It For You) off the number-one spot. I was six years old, and the only thing I can really remember from that year is my mum, standing on our black-and-white kitchen tiles, yelling that Bryan Adams was a liar. That there was no way everything he did was for another person.
It was the same a few years later, with Never Ever. AllSaints weren’t liars, but they did have to “stop being so whiny and get over him”. “Your purpose,” she’d tell us, after scolding the radio, “is not to give a man ‘attention’ and ‘affection’.” These were discussions she had with me and my sister all the time, using pop music as a vehicle for her advice. She wanted us to forge our own lives, independently of whoever we fell in love with. She knew the power of a strong, supportive relationship – she’d been with my dad since university – but she was also very keen not to let that, or her role as our mother, define her.
When she was offered the chance to walk the Great Wall of China, she took it – even though it meant leaving us for a month. Childcare and housework was always split 50/50 with my dad. She had a life full of adventures, friendships and learning (I often went straight to the library after school instead of going home, and sat quietly beside Mum as she studied for her PhD).
Knowing how rich her existence had been brought me great comfort after she died from a brain tumour when I was 19. She made sacrifices and compromised, but she placed her dreams high up on her list of priorities. She knew that to achieve them, she had to be headstrong and not succumb to the traditional roles often associated with the labels “wife” and “mother”.
Now, aged 35, I live my life as independently as she did. I’m married, but that’s not who I am. If a friend is in Paris and I want to go and see her, I’ll jump on a coach that afternoon, only messaging my husband once I’m settled in my seat. We live together but so much of our lives are separate.
I work late, I party for days without him, I have a vast network of friends. Of course, we still spend time together – and when I’m with him, there’s no one else I’d rather be with. Doing our own thing doesn’t have to mean drifting apart – if anything, it just means we have so many interesting things to talk about when we are together.
I think the prospect of getting everything you need from one person, your life revolving solely around them, is not only impossible, but boring. If I had to be in a relationship where that was expected of me, I’d have left it long ago.
By teaching me to live how I wanted to, mum also showed me how to love wildly, on my own terms. And yes, I do – just occasionally – find myself shouting at the radio.
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