"Do you love me?"
"Yes, I love you."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure."
"But how do I know that? How do I know you love me?"
There's not much you can say to that, is there?
Trailing off into silence like a string of dots.
"Because... I do."
"But how do I know it? I mean, really, you have to say you love me so that I know that you love me."
"Oh alright then. I don't know if I love you. I admit it, since you ask, I don't know if I love you or not. Does that satisfy you?"
"So you don't love me then."
"I didn't say that. I said I didn't know. Anyway, I do love you, I told you I love you."
"But how do I know that?"
And on and on and on, chipping away at the edifice until it really falls down, until love really crumbles.
Me, I've had a few relationships in my time. Sometimes it's me as the wheedling dependent - always insecure, always testing - sometimes it's her. Whichever way it was it's always ended the same way, in failure.
When I first met my son's Mother she was seventeen and I was twenty-five. I was the worldly wise older man. She was a lovely, thoughtful girl. I was fascinated by her from the first. We both broke up relationships to get to each other.
The first few months were bliss. I wanted nothing more from life than to be making love with her. I would've given anything up for her. I almost lost my friends because of her. I was utterly obsessed. I remember walking in the park one Summer's day and seeing all the tender young leaves on the trees, so fresh, so new, so alive. That's how I felt. "This is my time," I thought. Later, when the autumn set in, and then the winter, a sort of gloom descended. I seemed to suck in the seasons. The winter's gloom had settled in my heart.
She became pregnant. I think I made her pregnant on purpose. I wanted to trap her, to have her caged like a wild bird. I never wanted to lose her. I was so scared of losing her.
The following year, when she was already huge with the impending mystery, we went on a holiday to the Orkneys. It took us six days to hitch-hike up there, and then we couldn't afford the ferry. I bought a half bottle of Orkney Whiskey instead. We walked along the beach at Scrabster looking into the strange black waters and across to the Old Man of Mull. We talked to a lighthouse keeper, and I dreamed strange, lonely dreams. Then we set off for home. I had to be in work by the Monday. Six days journey for one day on the beach. We got a lift with a man in a fast car who managed to get us most of the way home in less than a day. He played Cliff Richards tracks all the way down. When we arrived at her Sister's house everyone was drunk, and they finished off my half bottle of Orkney whiskey in a few short minutes.
I had a dream. We were trying to get to Orkney, but we didn't have any money. A tall, bald man in a dinner suit with a ruffled shirtfront and cuffs gave us a gold coin. He was covered in slime like a new born child. He pointed and we looked up and saw a towering cliff of green and russet moss glistening in the sunlight. He said that it was Orkney. I was transported by the beauty of it.
The dependency of love is the worst dependency of all. Love means revealing your vulnerability. Every woman falls in love with a strong man and then sets out to find out what lies underneath. More often than not she's disappointed. Love is the test we're obliged to fail at least once.
After the child came we settled into a routine. We were always squabbling about time. "This is your time and this is mine." Whose turn is it to get him up, to change his nappies, or to try to get him off to sleep? The boy - much as I loved him - seemed to command most of her attention. Then she became paranoid about getting pregnant again. We never made love again as often or as happily as we had in that first blissful year. It became a furtive, infrequent longing. By trying too hard to hold on to her I had begun to lose her. The more I needed her the more dependent I became, and the more dependent I became, the more independent she insisted on being. It was as if she was feeding off me. In the end we were no longer sure if we were together for the sake of each other or for the sake of the child.
She grew away from me. She longed to have her young life back. Eventually she went to college and met someone else. We'd been going through a bad patch and hadn't spoken for months. Then she walked in one day and I suddenly realised how much I wanted this woman. I tried to take her hand and she pushed it away. I knew something was up, but she wouldn't say what it was. "Can't you guess," she kept saying. I finally got her to tell me the truth - six years to the day after we had first got together - and then I cried for days. I had been an uncompromising Atheist for years by then. But now I found I needed to pray. There is no sadder thing in the whole of Creation than an Atheist's prayer. To replace a dependency on a woman you have loved with a dependency on a God you can't believe in. How humiliating.