Over on the Book of Faces, I wrote a few Notes about Love. I’m republishing them here in one large post. Here goes…
A friend of mine has something in their profile on another social networking site that resonates with ideas and thoughts that have percolated in my head since, well, at least junior high school. Yeah, a long time.
It’s about love. To be specific, loving unconditionally. Here’s what was written:
“One of the most difficult-to-grasp concepts is the notion of loving and expecting nothing in return. That doesn’t mean you should make yourself a doormat or let people take advantage of you. (While real love is unconditional; relationships do have conditions.) It means love for the pure joy of loving. Love is a creative act, and like making art or music, there should be joy in the process. Does it matter if your doodles never end up in a museum or you never perform the song you sing in the shower at Carnegie Hall? If your love is not reciprocated, at least you’ve loved with an open heart; taken pleasure in making another person happy; uplifted the souls and spirits of people with whom your life intersects. Ironically, the more you practice loving without expectation, the more love you will receive…yet that can’t be your goal. (It’s a Zen thing.)”
I think the only thing I disagree with in that paragraph is the first sentence. The concept is not difficult to grasp. In and of itself, the concept is very simple. It’s the practicing that is incredibly challenging. I know—I’ve tried. And failed. And succeeded, I think.
Now, it’s probably fair to say that many parents feel something close to this ideal in relation to their children, if not for their whole lives then at least a significant portion of the child’s growing years. But unconditional love for someone who is not your child is another matter altogether. Even the most secure people can feel strong jealousy at times.
Jealousy springs out of possessiveness, though, not love. Love doesn’t want to hold onto the other person, though it revels in their presence. Love puts the happiness and needs of the other person before your own . . . and finds joy in that act. Those who love (or who are in love, which I view as a slightly different concept) almost always expect, or at least hope, that the person they love will love them in return. That is the way we, as a society, feel it’s supposed to work. But it doesn’t always happen that way. Thus, we have “unrequited love,” where one loves the other hoping to receive love in return, but is simply left hoping. There is rarely much joy in that situation.
Unconditional love removes that hope, removes the need for that hope. The act of love itself is all that is required to bring joy and satisfaction. But in our brains, love is almost always tangled with other things. Physical attraction. Want. Need. And we are confused, mixing these other things with love and mistakenly making them part of love. They are not. Love does not want, love does not need. Love is.
This is where the difficulty comes in. Divorcing need, want, and attraction from love is, again, a relatively simple concept. But just try doing it! Sorting out the tangle of emotions may be something that is beyond the abilities of most people.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t try.
Now, I mentioned above that I think of “love” and being “in love” as slightly different things. Until I wrote that down, I hadn’t really tried to quantify the difference. It got me thinking. “Love” has already been discussed, so that leaves the other.
Being “in love” is, perhaps, like a cocktail. Several things all shaken (or stirred) together. Its main ingredient is love, but there are other emotions and feelings involved. One of which, physical attraction, I mentioned before as being apart from pure love. I still feel that it is a different thing. But it is a component of the “in love” cocktail. A feeling of romance is also part of the cocktail, and is, in a way, a linkage between love and physical attraction.
The third facet is sex. These thoughts are driven by several things, but are mostly prompted by an interview (here: http://fanboy.gaymer.info/post/1252849523/lgm-exclusive-samuel-r-delany ) with my favorite author and good friend, Samuel R. Delany.
My thoughts here relate to a few of the many thoughts Delany touches upon in his interview. Especially his long response to the final question. And, in particular, these four paragraphs:
“A certain order of fidelity in a mate is supposed to make you feel good and of worth. But as soon as we learn a sex partner’s behavior has deviated from that, even if he or she is miles away in another city, you should feel hurt and disrespected—and anyone who hurts and disrespects you is supposed to make you suffer unbearably.
“Well, my personal worth does not depend on whom my partner fucks or sucks with, when he’s not with me. Nor does his worth depend on whom I fuck or suck with, when I’m not with him. We’ve been pretty happy together, now, for twenty years. I’ve been gifted with someone I love so much it still can block my throat, make my belly and chest feel like they just exploded with electric happiness, and my eyes water, at three o’clock in the morning, when I turn the light on and see him sleeping next to me, holding my hand.
“Or when he sends me an e-mail or leaves me a note signed with love.
“The primary want in my life is for him to be as happy as possible, and if having sex with someone else besides me would make him feel good, what else can I reasonably want other than for him to do it? He claims he feels the same way about me. Our own sex is one of the most reassuring elements of my own life, and it’s been that way for a couple of decades.”
That’s about as open as a relationship can get, and they’ve been together longer than most married hetero couples I know. My brain goes in so many directions when I read this. Certainly I do not question the validity of his statements. What comes to mind most, however, are questions. Is this the (or one of the) ultimate act(s) of love–to be happy with whatever makes your partner happy, regardless of what that might be? Is this something that only a few people are capable of? Now, obviously, Delany is gay and I have noted amongst my myriad friends in the LGBT community a certain departure from what most hetero couples would consider to be “faithfulness” in a committed relationship. I’m not trying to tar all with the same feather, just noting things I’ve heard from many friends. So, with that disclaimer in mind, is this more of a gay thing? Or perhaps it’s a male thing?
I am brought back to my statements above about jealousy and possessiveness. I wrote those original statements in 2008. Delany’s interview took place in the summer of 2010. Surely my thoughts were somewhat along the same lines; clearly I did not take it to it’s ultimate conclusion. I doubt I would have been able to.