“To love means to open ourselves to the negative as well as the positive—to grief, sorrow, and disappointment as well as to joy, fulfillment, and an intensity of consciousness we did not know was possible before” ~Rollo May
What is love? The best way to blog about love is to pick certain aspects or characteristics of love like what being in love is all about, and try to explain them. You can never fully describe love without first settling on what type of love you seek to explain. Romantic love is different than loving your child, your family member, or friend. There’s a love too, if you are a positive person, that you share with total strangers because you love all human beings for the sake of loving human beings and all creatures that are alive on this planet. To blog about love for me is the hardest thing I will ever blog about and will continue to blog or write about because I am confident my opinions and insights will continue to change over time. This blog post explores how we define romantic love in three moods and how we define life and our stories in general.
Love as a Story.
It was 1974. Something unspoken, mundane, and undoubtedly profound was about to happen. A man was about to meet the woman he was going to be married to for the rest of his life, but he didn’t even know it yet. He was a short, lean, and white man with dark brown eyes and matching hair that was semi-long and shaggy. With a furrowed brow and a mind that was elsewhere, he ran into a black woman hard on his college campus in the student commons room. He apologized, she brushed it off. No one would have thought twice about the incident, except that she smiled at him. He later returned to the scene of the crime a few minutes later with a cup of coffee he bought for her to say thank you because he was having a rough day and her smile cheered him up. Later they’d become friends and share intimate moments. No one would suspect at that precise moment that they’d be married one day with three kids.
That’s how my parents met; as perceived by me in my mind whenever I reminisce about them meeting or think twice about what it means to be in love. My mother and father would tell the story differently and with much more accuracy, but with varying degrees of what was important about the day they met.
It was 1974. A black woman was meeting her white friend named Francine and a few others in the student commons room after Anatomy class. She decided to get a cup of coffee at one of the concessions stands and stood in line behind a man with long shaggy looking hair, bib overhauls, a white t-shirt, and an army jacket with a peace sign painted on it. He accidently hit her with something from his bag, not paying attention. He turned around and apologized. She responded, “No problem.” When she got her coffee and went over to meet her friends, her back was facing the rest of the room. On the opposite side of the table was her friend Francine. Something catches Francine’s eye suddenly and she then tells her, “There is some guy starring at you and he is now coming over this way!” When she turned around, that same man was literally walking across the tables to get to her in that small crowded space, with a cup of coffee he just bought for her. When he gets to the table, he says, “Hey. I bought you a cup of coffee because I was having a shit day and when you smiled at me that was the best thing that happened to me all morning.” They are introduced and the rest is history.
Multiple perspectives, one event. And yet we dare say the phrase, the rest is history. The rest of the story is never just history. We ignore the struggle, the sleepless nights, the seeing-other-people, the separation and anxiety. We ignore these crucial details when we tell our love stories (when the love/relationship works out and is healthy mind you) expecting readers and listeners to fill in the gaps. We paint pretty pictures that show some of the conflict of falling in love but never the conflict of actually being in love. I’m convinced that’s because no one, no not one single person, truly knows what the hell romantic love is.
We determine whether a relationship is healthy or isn’t in the exact same way. We place our experiences and feelings on a set of scales and see which of those tips in our favor and to what extent. For every relationship has its ups and downs, its dark moments, its screaming or crying, passionate fighting and love-making. What determines whether it’s healthy or unhealthy is the patterns we are making over time, and whether or not we are simply happy in those relationships often.
My father and mother’s romance did not end there. He later would blow her off and move to a different state, end up dating several other women before he was ready to settle down. He would later go back up to her street looking for her years later, not expecting anything, just hoping to see that familiar face, a return to a friendship with a girl he once knew. He would end up being extremely lucky that she lived only a few houses down from where she lived before, that she was unmarried, that she was still willing to talk to him and go out for a slice of pizza and a beer. Today, he claims she saved his life because he was on his way down into a wilderness of not caring whether he lived or died.
When we retell our stories about our love, we always paint such drastically different pictures than what it was actually like right when it happened. Everything flows effortlessly from one plot line to another and all things make sense even when it doesn’t. You can’t trust the characters of the story to tell the truth, to tell you what it was really like and what really happened because deep down they don’t even know all of it themselves. This is a fact for all personal story-telling in general.
In my previous blogs titled “Regarding Sex”, “What I’ve Learned Regarding Infatuations with Unavailable People,” and “Relationships,” each story, each retelling, is just a small part of a much bigger painting. Not every aspect of the situation from my own perspective is shared. Those whom I describe and write about have no voice or perspective to the story either. It’s like making a quick decision without knowing all the facts. We do it all the time and we do it too when we tell our stories. Stories only can share parts of the tale at any given point in time. For the writer to push the plot forward, many things are inevitably trimmed or left out for the sake of the end result, the grand scheme and portrayal of the piece itself. To include all facets and dimensions of what actually happened would be to confuse and disillusion the reader or listener.
Love as a story is always half honest, a glass of water half-full. We never can truly know what happens between two people, we can only know whether love is present, active, and there to bless us or curse us—to bring us down or to bring us to the light. Some love stories are depressing. Trapped in an internal battle where the love we once had has gone or the love that we do have is also personally wrecking our lives. Sometimes love is simply not returned, and a relationship falls apart because of its one-sided nature. Love as a story is simple, but love as it truly is or can be, is boundless, indescribable, and truly unknowable. It is either there in its full glory or just isn’t. Whether or not you tell the story as it happens or try to describe what it feels like—it’s presence, it’s existence, is the only key that matters. No story, no song, no re-telling will ever truly capture all of what love is.
Love as a part of Life
Like love, life doesn’t have a set definition that accurately defines what it is or us for that matter. Life is simply describing what’s happened to us, like love. To help define what love is, you can quote 1 Corinthians chapter 13 from your bible, or quote Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Yeats, Emily Dickenson, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, or any other artist, singer, song-writer, or poet to define love, but everyone knows those words and phrases don’t explain love, they describe it. The way it feels, the way it confuses and baffles the soul. Those words only help us to determine whether or not we were or are in love, or if we loved someone in a pure or honest way or loved them in a selfish and spiteful way. But we don’t need words to describe our feelings, for they are usually very inaccurate and leave much to be desired. When you love someone, it’s like being attracted to someone, you just know it. The irrationality of it only becomes rational when you try and capture the object you desire. You start to then compare and contrast each other, what you have in common, what’s different, what will it be like to be with this person, your fantasies about the person… your thoughts will wander.
As time unfolds, choices are made. You date or endeavor to have a relationship with this person. You get to know one another and then to love takes on a whole new meaning. It’s about watching him or her throw up in your toilet when their sick or say just the right thing in the kitchen when you had a rough day at work. It’s having those enormous fights, the times when you stop talking to each other for days because you are still angry, and then that moment of forgiveness because at the end of the day, when you wake up in the morning, you want their face to greet you and not someone else’s. It’s in that quiet moment, that sense of belonging you share, when neither one of you is talking and just being around them feels like home.
It’s these contradictions that we as human beings can’t wrap our heads around with the idea of love. We know that finding the right person always just comes down to luck and circumstance, but continuing to love them always takes work and sacrifice. It’s not like a job where you go out and choose the one you want, and then you work and compromise or make your sacrifices from there. You always just sort of find each other interesting and deepen that interest by choice and time. You both find a space and place to be with one another until it hits. What hits you ask? The wall. The wall of desire’s end. You then are not necessarily together because you desire each other, this is where the work and sacrifice begins.
Sometimes you hit that wall after your first real argument. Sometimes you hit that wall after your first real disappointment. Sometimes you hit that wall when you feel betrayed. Whenever and whatever shape it comes in, it inevitably comes, because love is just another part of life. Life is full of disappointment, risk and reward, and heartache. Love is no different than life. Just like every relationship has problems, every romantic love is going to have some sort of struggle at some point. When the struggles are passed, and the trials have ended, I always find it fascinating too how couples seem to forget they even existed.
My parents don’t remember the same scream matches they’ve had that I remember. They don’t remember how many times I watched my Dad go silent for weeks and how my mom used to take me and my sisters out for long drives while she just cried and listened to music. We forget the struggle when we realize that the person we are with is worth fighting for. The struggle, the disappointment, the hurt feelings are just a part of life and part of being in love in this life. You will never escape it. When people are obsessed with being in love and never stay in their relationships, I think this is what they are truly trying to run from. Being vulnerable to someone means knowing someday they will hurt you. We all hurt each other one way or another. It’s accepting that we will get hurt and hoping that the love we have and the choices we make, together, will make it all worthwhile anyway in the end. That is what we strive for. We go into the act of falling in love knowing we will be disappointed someday. We know that if we want to grow as an individual and find a person to be with, it is choice, another kind of sacrifice we must make. For life is filled with moments of unhappiness and despair. We can either have those moments alone, or share them and possibly have more of them, if we choose to share our lives with someone other than ourselves.
Love as an Element
Love is everchanging, ever-moving, ever-present and ever absent all at the same time. When you are in love you cannot deny that you know what I am talking about. Love needs to remain this way because we as human beings are also constantly changing and shifting as people. We grow in one direction and become hindered in the next. We change careers, we change jobs, we change schools, we change our living environment, we move constantly. Love has to be flexible and move with us or it is not love or certainly not a love that will last. I loved someone once unconditionally and it lasted long after our relationship had ended because it was flexible. There is no greater love than a love that is unconditional because it will last throughout time, even when the person you loved has long since perished and is deceased. I believe it has an inherent connection to our first love we ever experienced, the love between caregiver or parent or mother and child. We know what pure love feels like the second we suckle at our mother’s breast. It is simply there, to care for, to watch out for. When I find broken people out there who struggle in their relationships and struggle with love, there is always a lack of unconditional love in their childhoods and to me that is not surprising. A love that is meant to last is meant to be unconditional.
Relationships have conditions and indeed they should. Whether it is monogamy as a condition or to remain present in the relationship in other ways, relationships have conditions. If those conditions are not met, the relationship will fail and end. However, love does not play by the same rules. This is why you can cry yourself to sleep every night weeks after a break-up. This is why you can still shed a tear over a lost love years later or simply cry over the potential of a love that never came to fruition. This is also why love is not enough to keep a marriage or a relationship going. Conditions keep you together, love just gives the whole thing justification and meaning. Like children are to a marriage, love creates a memory and space between your souls. It justifies why you forgave even though you felt deep down inside that you shouldn’t and recognized that you didn’t want to. Despite the urge for self and your sense of survival, you forgave them for whatever offense they did to you. You also did this because you understood your lover or spouse. You had compassion on them and recognized that you too are not perfect. You understood their mistake and justified it the same way you understood and justified your own mistakes.
It’s tiresome to me that some people don’t understand this—that people are meant to be constantly changing and love is bound to change with it. Mistakes and change are just bound to happen. You are not going to be the same person you met all those years ago at that bar, restaurant, party or whatever. You won’t even be the same person to your significant other in a few weeks or months of knowing each other. One of my ex-boyfriends believed that if we were still together after so many years, and we did the same things together, that we had not changed, that our love had not changed. Like deep ocean currents are rarely felt at the surface, there is a current flowing through us and between us that is always moving and changing our present state of being.
You see, I had a dream once, when he and I were together. I was swimming from pond to pond, but each pond was very deep and had sea monsters. These monsters rarely bothered me, most were my friends. Only one frightened me. I would swim from pond to pond intermittently as I would also walk on small islands in between. The dream was dark, surreal, like a gothic painting. On one of the islands I step out of a pond and ask my ex (who at the time was my lover and friend) for directions. But he never swam with me in the deep ponds.
I had this recurring dream two times. The last time I had the dream it changed. While I was swimming in one of the ponds, it transforms. The dream starts to become lighter, the water becomes clearer, and then it shrinks and turns into a chlorinated pool, part of some large house on some cliffs most likely in California. I get out of the pool and seemed to be following or trying to talk to a girl. The girl could have been someone else or me but in a different form. Then the pool completely disappears, and I was alone in some house before I woke up.
In the first dream I was fearful, it was dark. I remember feeling incredibly lonely every time I dove down deep into that dark pool. The second dream took place at sunset, in a beautiful Californian home, facing an ocean. I still hear the waves crashing on the rocks below if I close my eyes and think of it.
My ex-boyfriend didn’t understand that I had changed, and that what I wanted out of life had changed. What I wanted from a life partner had changed. He didn’t understand that just because you are on the same path doesn’t mean you are on the same journey.
Love is a current in a fine wine. It has its stories, its moods, its histories. Right when you think you know it, you don’t. Right when you think you have it, you’ve lost it. Understanding love is like understanding ourselves. Each day is a process, each day a journey. Each day something new. By naming it and trying to define it, we restrict love into being something we want and not embracing it for what it actually is… everything and nothing, but meaningful, tragic, beautiful. Love simply just exists.
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away” ~1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
“I met a woman. She had a mouth like yours, she knew your life. She knew your devils and your deeds and she said ‘Go to him. Stay with him if you can, but be prepared to bleed.’ Oh but you are in my blood you’re my holy wine. You’re so bitter, bitter and so sweet oh. I could drink a case of you darling. Still I’d be on my feet. I would still be on my feet” ~ Joni Mitchell ‘Case of You’ Song lyrics.