Lately, I’ve been pondering the abstract beauty of love, how multifaceted it can be, how it evolves to mean so many different things to so many different people. Part of it is living through the grueling process of divorce, where you begin to question why love suffocates, withers, dies. Another part is reflecting backward through my experiences with love to present day, and seeing how much of my own perceptions have been tested, altered, and stretched in new dimensions. Or as writer Tom Robbins stated, “Love easily confuses us because it is always in flux between illusion and substance, between memory and wish, between contentment and need.”
I think we have a distinct cultural desire to place love on a pedestal and make it the star of any romantic relationship. And I feel that creates an impossible standard by which we strive to maintain those connections. In any relationship, there are so many different aspects to consider: affection, friendship, intimacy, compatibility, desire, to name but a few. Yet, the one we laud and cherish above all others is love. But what is love, if not the combination of all those other areas working in a syncopated harmony to give us that euphoria? What happens when we ignore the parts, thus inevitably sacrificing the whole? What happens when our expectations, so high from our cultural pandering to this one thing, can’t be sustained or met? It seems we fall apart at the seams, relationships falter, and we are left wondering why things didn’t work.
I believe one of the roots of this problem is our presumption that the people who incite love in our hearts need to be, or have, a certain something: a certain height, weight, look, personality, age. We come to the table with our long checklist of what we are seeking, and sometimes ignore the beauty that screams at us to be noticed. How much emphasis is placed in society on finding the ‘right’ person? Are we not trained from a young age to seek the ‘fairy tale’? Often, I think we overlook feelings of affection because they do not fit a template of what we have been conditioned to believe we should want or need. In the process, we ignore what could be meaningful, passionate relationships, merely because our expectations get in the way. Rather than living in the moment and taking love as it comes, we wait in reserve until the right conditions are met. And yet, sometimes our most amazing opportunities manifest themselves in ways we couldn’t conceive or imagine, and it throws us off guard. Usually these situations require us to delve into the unknown, and sometimes into uncomfortable spaces, that stretch who we thought we were, to know the beauty that can be. If we can get past the tiny voice that whispers we must seek endearment via a formulaic design, then those openings we might have otherwise disregarded may be exactly the portals we need to truly enliven and touch our hearts, if we are brave enough to enter. Tom Robbins eloquently sums it up, “We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love.”
But what is the ‘perfect’ love? I’ve especially been mulling over the notion of non-traditional dyads, or what I like to call ‘Alt-Love’: those couples who test our own comfort and boundaries by shucking the societal norms that we use as a perimeter for our relationship ties, yet who find a way for love to endure. I think of Anais Nin and Henry Miller: he was married, and she not only carried on a passionate affair with him for years, but also felt enormous affection for his wife, June, often showering her with trinkets and gifts. Or Frieda and Diego, whose stormy and passionate romance ended in divorce after he slept with her sister, only to find them remarried for the last years of her life. Reading her journal, she is very clear in her belief that Diego completed aspects of her own self, despite both of their dalliances, that no one else seemed able to fill. Perhaps it was those affairs themselves that gave them the breathing room to reconnect, and find each other anew, reigniting their passion for each other. Anais and Miller also allowed for the freedom for each to come and go as they please, with great affection and respect. There is something daring and graceful about having enough security in your affection to grant your partner the freedom to wander of their own free will, confident they will return.
Although I’ve never cheated in either of my marriages (being fiercely loyal is a blessing or curse- discuss), one of my most passionate and long standing relationships found me playing the role of the ‘other’ woman to a man who was in steady partnerships over a span of several years. It’s not something to boast, but for me, that liaison was like a torchlight burning in my soul. I carried so much physical and intellectual passion for him (and I believe he for me) that perhaps us connecting in the everyday, banal world would have seen us burn one another to smoke and ash. The intimacy we shared was unlike anything I’ve experienced. He was the first man to help me overcome a lingering sexual frigidity from the childhood trauma I had experienced. I could confide in him things I had never entrusted another living soul with, and he didn’t judge me, nor betray that confidence. He was beautiful, charming, intelligent, and sexy, and despite naming it otherwise, in hindsight, it might have been its own unique version of ‘love’ I’ve not experienced with anyone else.
I flogged myself for years for that relationship, mentally and emotionally, staggering under the guilt and negative karma I saw myself racking up. I felt awful for my behavior, and questioned my morality frequently, despite how blissful it made me feel. I quit him, then returned, several times over: there was an undeniable magnetism, a dynamic push and pull, and it could be deeply fulfilling even if I was left wanting more. When we finally parted ways, it happened organically, with distance and life pulling us in separate directions. But he is that man that could reappear in my life and it would be as if time stood still, not a beat lost between us, my want of him as strong as ever. He was as much my Superman as he was my Kryptonite, and in my more mature years, I have made peace with what we were, despite its unorthodox nature.
Love is so complex in how it operates, and how it designates why you fall and for whom. There seems to be no true rhyme or reason, despite scientific studies and our persistent need to attach answers to every mystery, and no ‘perfect’ answer. Some days I feel I could fall in love with everyone I meet, and others, the world seems to be cold and frosty to my bleating heart. I can see potential in so many, yet potential never seems to be enough. It is elusive and slippery, this thing called love, and I am slowly discerning that cultivating it within myself seems to be the best thing I, or anyone, could really do to try to garner its attention and grace to capture it. As Tom Robbins surmised, “Let us live for the beauty of our own reality.” I believe, and hope, if I can do just that, then maybe love will follow suit.
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...