Decades of Love


In Continents: A Love Story, Anja Snellman compares each stage of a relationship to a continent. Relationships evolve over time, and people grow and change. We asked the author how she thinks love changes with age, from your twenties to your sixties.

IN MY EARLY TWENTIES, I had no idea what a loving relationship means. My parents’ marriage cannot really be described as a loving relationship. They fought often, verbally and physically—my father was violent and unpredictable when drunk. He had been wounded in the leg in World War II, and his mind was also scarred.

Wartime was a traumatic experience for my mother as well, and the wounds of the long war took a toll on their marriage. Their relationship was marked by a certain deep-rooted bitterness: it was as if they were blaming each other for the life they never had, for all the opportunities they had missed.

I was curious, shy, and sensitive. I started dating much later than other girls, and my first attempts at a more serious relationship—or even having a crush—were wobbly.

IN MY TWENTIES, as a student at the University of Helsinki, I realized for the first time that I was easily infatuated. I was an introverted young woman, but I became at least a little bolder through my experiences of love and the overwhelming hormonal turbulence of youth.

When Sonia O. Was Here came out, I was asked many questions about love. Having grown up in an emotionally deprived and not-so-happily dysfunctional home, Sonia tries to find love basically in anyone who doesn’t run away from her. She has a deep-rooted need for someone to show her that she is worthy of being loved—and she resorts to sex.

Come to think of it, the questions were mostly about sex back then. Many people were not able to see beneath the surface, the carnal side of love. They were shocked: how could a young woman write a book like that, a candid book about a woman’s search for her true self and sexuality? Never mind that men have written such stories since the dawn of civilization.

If I met my younger self today, I would encourage her: “Don’t be so afraid.”

IN MY EARLY THIRTIES, my life changed completely. I had completed my studies at the university and had become an author and a public figure. I had cracked the code to my own life, as I put it in my first novel, and I fell in love madly and completely. This marked the beginning of my first long-term relationship.

IN MY THIRTIES, I learned that love has different phases. My first serious relationship ended and a new phase began when I fell in love with the man who became the father of my children.

Having children expanded my understanding of love. I learned what a mother’s love means, and a woman’s love for the father of her children. I learned you can share different dimensions and tones of love—so much more than just sexuality or hormonal lust.

IN MY FORTIES, I fell in love with Crete—something that will never run away from me. After all, we can also fall in love with places, countries, and cultures. My first husband and I were married on Crete. Since the 1990s, I have spent a great deal of time there, with my family and on my own—so much so that I like to call myself an “adopted Cretan.”

When you fall in love, you learn to know the person or place profoundly, perhaps even better than anyone else. You love more deeply, but you also tolerate more. Sometimes the differences between the two cultures drive me out of my mind, but then I’m again embraced by the overflowing love and the outpourings of emotion and cannot think of anything better.

IN MY FIFTIES, I fell in love with a man from my youth. We had been madly and passionately in love in my twenties, but it had lasted for only a short time. Commitments and circumstances drove us apart, and I thought I had lost him for good. Then he reappeared in my life unexpectedly, and we ended up getting married.

When you fall in love with the same person for the second time, there are many layers. You also fall a little in love with your younger self. The second time around, you try to avoid what drove you apart the first time.

Falling in love again with the same person is also a little tragic: it inevitably makes you think about aging. What is the same and what has changed about these two who meet again? I can recognize something of a recurring pattern in my life, through which I can also see a certain need for reassurance: you fall in love and reconnect with your younger self in that relationship.

IN MY SIXTIES, I have also learned to love myself. The traumas that have haunted me since childhood have finally lost their power. I have found my strength and spread my wings.

I’m more forgiving of myself, and I have discovered that I’m a highly sensitive person. I can now see and acknowledge how this trait has affected all of my relationships, including my relationship with my second husband and previous partners.

There is a new kind of closeness, invaluable friendship. I look back on all that I have achieved and received, and I think about how much life I have behind me and how much I have left to live. In the name of love.

TODAY, I’m also working as a therapist. Being able to help others as a therapist was my long-time dream, but I wouldn’t have been ready earlier. When I talk with couples, now I am able to convey love. It resonates between people, and it also helps me love and accept myself more.

A year ago, I bought a little island: a room of one’s own, an island of one’s own. I like to think that a certain dualism describes my work as an author. My career can be divided into two in many ways: books written before and after Kallio, my childhood neighborhood in Helsinki, where I continued to live until my thirties; books before and after Mother’s death; books before and after Crete; and books before and after I had children.

Now I have a little island, and books written before and after my island. And I have love.

Books and more . . .

Follow Anja Snellman on social media for journal entries, poems, information about new books, and other news.


For a list of all articles, go to the main page of the News section.  For a list of journal articles by Anja Snellman, visit the main page of the Journal section.

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Anja Snellman in the heart of Helsinki in mid-November 2019. Photo: Vesa Linna

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