My longtime readers have seen me express disdain for Valentine's Day more than once. Perceptive readers will have long ago recognized that beneath my disdain is a wistful longing.
Valentine's, let's face it, is for women. Men lack any comparable occasion, supposedly because men don't need romance. Maybe that's true: the male response to Valentine's Day is celebrated a month later, on March 14th. and is known as "Steak and a Blowjob Day". Charming. Yeah, maybe men don't need romance.
This man does.
I will hasten at this point to say that I know my partners love me and they know I love them. Neither Eva nor Kathy is particularly mushy, and both, in their time, had a bit of trouble learning what to make of a man who writes love poems. And I, in turn, have always been acutely aware that love is, as Extreme had it, "More Than Words". It's been a hard balance to strike at times, with both of them.
I've learned, and continue to learn, a lot about love. And surprise, surprise, much of what I have learned contradicts conventional wisdom.
LOVE IS BLINDNo, it isn't.
Infatuation is blind, to be sure. Lust is probably blind, too: we have a saying that goes "don't stick your dick in crazy", which implies people need that saying. (We also have a saying, "don't judge a book by its cover", and many people seem incapable of grasping that, either. The shallowness of so many people, and the way shallowness is encouraged by a media obsessed with all aspects of a person's looks and very little of their substance...I've been raving and raging against this since high school, and if anything, it's getting worse instead of better. The media are blind, too.
But love? I would argue that love has excellent vision. Heart vision.
To love properly, I must look beyond the surface. I must discard the dross of the everyday: passing moods, angry outbursts, confusion and fear. I must go deeper, through layers of defence mechanisms, unhealed trauma, and ugly responses conditioned by the same. Deep, deep below all that is a core identity. If the person is part of my tribe, loving that core identity is as easy as breathing. The rest can be a challenge, but when it is, I take a deep breath and remember it's all circumstantial...that is, a product of present or past circumstance.
Somebody once told me (the world is gonna roll me, I ain't the sharpest tool in the shed...)...no, that's not what they told me. They told me "I won't know what you look like until I love you". That really stuck with me: it's how I think.
Nobody says this out loud. In fact, out loud, we just have the one word. Cribbing from my sermon:
ONLY SEXUAL/ROMANTIC LOVE IS "REAL" LOVE
Isn't a pity that we've got this one, single, solitary word in English that describes how you feel about your life partners, your father, your pets, your children, your favourite sports team, Oreos, your closest friends, the colour purple, the movie The Color Purple...and on and on and on? Our language here is tremendously limiting. Greek has seven words. Arabic has eleven. Ancient Sanskrit supposedly had over a hundred. In the words of the Reverend Led Zeppelin, that's a whole lotta love.
Of course, English has adjectives, but even they fall short, and often. And we have context: outside a certain movie franchise, you can say you love apple pie and people understand it doesn't mean you wish to have carnal relations with apple pie. But I'd suggest our vocabulary is woefully inadequate and leaves us ripe for misunderstanding. Hell, the word "lover" itself doesn't even mean "one who loves", the way you'd expect: it means "one who fucks".
I find that depressing.
Beyond a certain age, it's downright odd when people live together but don't have sex. Why is it odd? Who can say, it just is. People think you're broken. (But then if you do have sex with your nesting partner, nobody wants to hear about it either. They're just content to know it happens, and distraught if they find out it doesn't.)
It's almost as if people believe that to love someone, you have to have sex with them.
This truly is an asinine assumption, so easily disproven it's not worth the effort. But: do you love your mother? Ah, you're a motherfucker, then!
So crazy. Your love for your friends is valid. Your love for your family is valid. Your love for your partner(s) is valid, whatever consensual form it does or doesn't take.
It's worth noting that when sex leaches out of a relationship, it can feel like love is dissolving along with it. Sex is one form of intimacy, one our society emphasizes far beyond what mere genetics would suggest is necessary. THERE ARE MANY OTHERS. I've spent more than one night helping a good friend through some awful pain, and let me tell you, there's a closeness that breeds which feels almost like...breeding. All of the so-called "love languages" -- words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time, and even (gasp) physical touch -- need not be restricted to those people who have, ahem, joined you in an "undercover" operation.
TO LOVE SOMEONE, YOU MUST FIRST LOVE YOURSELFBullshit.
I don't love myself. There are parts of myself I hate, chiefly a depressive personality and a seemingly un-drainable swamp of complacency. Yet I love others, and deeply: I'd think even my enemies have to concede that much.
I was going to suggest that respecting yourself might be necessary for love, but upon reflection that's not true, either. We've all met someone who never learned the importance of boundaries. Usually it's a woman, in my experience, and I find that odd: you'd think, given the number of predatory men out there, women would be taught about boundaries starting in the womb, since nobody seems to want to teach men to respect women.
Just...if you don't respect yourself, for all the love you might feel for another, be very aware you're unlikely to be loved back. Used, yes. Possessed, yes. Those two things are the opposite of love. There's a certain type of person (male, usually, but not always) who makes a life out of preying upon those without boundaries.
Loving and being loved is the best way I know to accept you're loveable. It worked for me, when nothing else could.
YES, YOU CAN LOVE MORE THAN ONE PERSON AT ONCE. EVEN ROMANTICALLY/SEXUALLY.I won't harp on this, I promise. I've written more than enough about it already. I've stepped back from being an advocate for polyamory in large part because most (not all) of what I have seen of polyamory is better termed polyfuckery, and I think five years is enough sample size to save me sampling any more. But I do love Eva and I do love Kathy and nothing anyone says or does is going to change that fact. They are different loves because they are different people in different circumstances. Doesn't make either of them any less loved. You may not understand that; you may scoff at it. You may never accept it. That would be your loss.
LOVE IS A VERB.
An action verb. I don't find love particularly difficult for those who are in my tribe. I find it extremely difficult for those who aren't. It's really hard to love a Trump supporter, knowing that they want people I already love dead -- and will probably get their wish in coming years.
It is all too easy to retreat into your safe bubble where you are understood, where your beliefs are continually reinforced, and where you feel fully human, and venture off into places where none of this is true. I will confess I can't do it often any more: even if the hatred is just online theatrics, and I suspect much of it is, it's still a virtually immovable force that exhausts me in very short order. I just don't know how to convince these Trump supporters that they should care about other human beings. This is supposed to be a baseline for being human yourself.
CONSISTENCY IS IMPORTANT, BUT SO IS GROWTH
People change and grow, and sometimes they grow apart from you. Let it happen, because to restrict that growth makes a relationship a prison, and nobody likes to be jailed. I find that I have loved many versions of Eva over the years, and likewise several versions of Kathy. There are other loves, friends, not partners, who seem to be in the process of casting me loose, and I don't love them any less for it (although I do wish they would tell me if it's something I did, or if my presence in their world simply no longer serves them). There is a woman named Kate who might have been a partner of mine at some point, but whom I lashed out at in a moment of supreme insecurity and idiocy a couple of years back, and never heard from again. I still love her: in fact, her ditching me was so clearly empowering to her that I was left in the strange position of cheering her on through my tears.
I've had lapses, some of them egregious. I have acted out of fear instead of love. But I have never stopped striving for consistency, because that's what breeds trust...and trust is one of those integral ingredients for love, along with respect, joy, and interdependence.
LOVE DOESN'T ALWAYS LOOK LIKE LOVE.
Jack and Sonya Palmer got married in 1959. They're still going strong 51 years later. This video, which went viral a couple of years ago, shows Jack repeatedly, and repeatedly, and repeatedly, butchering a simple line: "baked in a buttery flaky crust". Sonya is increasingly exasperated, but she never once loses that twinkle in her eye that says, Jack, you buttery, flaky crusty old thing, I love you. Then when Sonya butchers the line, the shared laughter just screams love to me.
Love isn't always about the mush. Love is getting puked on when your beloved is deathly ill--or wishing you could be next to her even if it means you might get puked on. Love is cooking your partner an elaborate meal...or a simple one you know she loves. And yes, sometimes love is getting up in each other's faces and having an argument...so long as you remember it's not you against her, but you and her against the issue. Love is fighting for what you have built; love is also knowing when it's time to let go.
This is what I have learned about love.