‘She has brought them to her senses; they have laughed inside her laughter.
Now she rallies her defences, for she fears that one will ask her for eternity.
And she’s so busy being free.’
I first heard Joni Mitchell’s ‘Cactus Tree’ when I was eighteen. Her wistful, doleful song about a woman whose ‘heart is full and hollow, like a cactus tree’ struck a chord with me. It told an unusual story in pop music, and in our culture, of a woman who is a ‘commitment-phobe’. We normally associate fear of settling down with men, especially young ones. But when I was eighteen years old, and about two years into my first ‘serious’ relationship with a man, I was absolutely terrified of the thought that I might be stuck with him, with anyone, ‘for eternity’. It was refreshing to me to hear a woman voicing my fears, and voicing them so beautifully and poetically as Joni did.
My relationship broke down. My boyfriend went straight into another relationship, with a woman who, I believe, twenty years later, is still his wife (and mother of his children). So, maybe my fears were not unfounded!
I don’t think I need to worry anymore about anyone asking me for eternity. I have rallied my defences so expertly that it is quite a challenge for any man to even get me to agree to go for a drink. Sometimes an evening can seem like an eternity.
But I am grateful to Joni for painting a picture of womanhood that wasn’t all about romantic illusions and the desire to meet prince charming and live happily ever after.
The Government, however, has other ideas. In the UK the Tories and the Liberals are considering proposals to make gay marriage and heterosexual civil partnerships legal. This will mean everyone would be able to settle down and live in monogamous coupledom ‘for eternity’.
Except for those of us who know that our lovers will lose us if they follow, those of us whose hearts are full, and hollow, like a cactus tree.