I’ve had a several conversations lately, both online and in real time, with friends about love. I suppose it isn’t surprising given the nature of my life changes recently that I’ve been thinking about such things but I have really been thinking on the topic for a long time. Probably since the day I agreed to marry my ex.
I can’t honestly say that I’ve figured it out and I doubt I ever will. It would be arrogant of me to think that I’ve discovered the secrets of a phenomenon that has had the greatest philosophers , poets, prophets and lovers of the ages baffled since the concept was established. To paraphrase Socrates, a wise Latina sexgeek knows that she doesn’t know. ;-) I can however talk about what it is I have noticed and what my take on those observations are, though I won’t pretend my interpretation is necessarily superior over anyone else’s and these ideas are likely to change over the course of my lifetime because I’m flexible like that.
One thing I’ve noticed is that we are big believers in “types” of love and assign differing amounts of relevance, importance and expectations to each type. Familial love, friendship love, romantic/sexual love…so many different types. Now of course I understand that there are differences in the various relationships. Obviously we don’t want to make it weird by getting them all mixed up, right? The thing I don’t like about this though is that most people seem to assign priority to the love by what “kind” of love it is. More often than not, Romantic love takes precedence over any other to the detriment sometimes of those other relationships. Of course, I’ve also seen it happen with familial love or relationships too. Personally, I dislike the idea that any relationship automatically takes precedence over any other simply because of the “type” of love/relationship it is.
Reading back over that I realize that I am having issues with trying to decide whether I can correctly conflate the words “relationship” and “love”. Are they really the same thing? I’m not so sure but I think we do equate the two quite often. The only thing I do know is that regardless of the type of relationship I have with someone, if I love them, they will hold an important place in my soul and I don’t like to think that any of them is automatically more or less important than any other. I know more than a few people who would disagree with me and that’s fine. Again, this is a highly personal subject and everyone will think/feel/handle it differently.
My other problem with how we see love is the kinds of demands/expectations we place on the people we love and our relationships with them depending on the type it is. Romantic love MUST be an always and forever kind of thing that fulfills all our wildest dreams and fantasies and a good portion of our needs as well. Familal love, especially parental or filial, is also supposed to be an unchanging, self sacrificing thing. In fact, we often demand that our love, beloved and their love for us never change. If it does then great drama and woe follows and relationships are often ended or damaged beyond repair. I dislike this tendency. Humans are innately adaptable creatures, it is our most effective survival mechanism, this ability to change and yet for some reason, in our connection to each other, we fight that natural ability. Lovers refuse to acknowledge that the person they loved 10 years ago may not be the same as the person standing before them now. A parent may not want to face that the baby they gave birth to is not the same helpless child 20 years later. The tug of war between the actual human and the image the lover (I am now using this in the sense of someone who loves, not the romantic sense) has of them is more often than not the cause of the friction between people. It’s very hard to acknowledge those changes and yet if we do not, if we do not allow our love to change the beloved may very well decide they need to look for love elsewhere…from someone who does not have such a stake in them remaining an immutable, unchanging ideal. Of course, even if they move on the chances are that they will experience the same issue all over again and may themselves make the same demands on that new person.
Another issue I have observed is our fear of running out of love. The jealousy and possessiveness that we often feel regarding others love for us. We can see it in sibling rivalry, friend rivalries and, oh yes, most definitely in romantic rivalries. This idea that someone who loves us cannot possibly love anyone else besides us without us somehow losing some amount of that love. Now I am the first to admit that the energy it takes to care for someone is indeed a finite resource. My career has been all about caring for people and there are some days when my ability to care and be compassionate is just flat out gone. Everyone can experience burn out whether it’s in their job or in their relationships but I believe that loving someone, really loving them, can also be a source of energy for us. This is assuming that the relationship is a healthy one of course but if it is, then I do believe it’s capable of replenishing us rather than always taking from us. I don’t believe love is something that has to be divided. I know for instance that my mother loves me and my sister equally and I do not feel that my sister’s existence has diminished my mother’s love for me in anyway. Yes, when she was first born I did experience jealousy, as most kids do but eventually I cam to realize that I also loved her and in time, as she got over that whole Id-fueled selfish stage, she also loved me back. The love I was given did not in fact diminish but was multiplied. The same has often happened with my friends, I have found. When I meet the friend of a friend and we decide that we are also well matched we come to connect with each other as intensely as the original friendship and voila! I have the love of one more friend and so do they. No one has lost any love or a friendship and we have both gained in the process.
Now I cannot speak for how this works in romantic relationships, having not engaged in polyamory (or whatever other name you choose to assign to the idea of having more than one committed relationship at a time) but I do know that I have loved, in a romantic sense, more than one person at a time. Because of the circumstances I highly doubt either person would say that they felt my love for them was equally intense but I know that in my heart, it felt that way to me. From what I have seen of the folks who have made this work, it does seem to be the case. I’m not saying there aren’t issues in it all but when the people involved are able to work it out, they do seem to be capable of loving their partners with equal intensity. This is perhaps one of the trickiest maneuvers, trying to make this work. Human beings seem to be programmed for possessiveness so the idea of sharing something that is so seemingly essential to our wellbeing is an unpleasant one at first but the thing is, are we really “sharing” love? Yes we share time but is love truly something that is divvied up like food amongst people? Or, as the cliché goes, are we simply multiplying it to “feed” everyone who we wish to feed? I think I prefer this idea myself, the idea that it isn’t necessarily a finite resource but something we can continue to love and not run out. We may run out of energy or time but love? I hope not.