Tag Archives: love

Contemplating Love

Love – at least in the romantic sense – is something we tend to treat as a mystery. How and when it will happen, no one knows, and who it will direct you to is unpredictable. Although, when you look at most people’s partner choices, you’ll see comparable age, class background, educational level and more. We’re more likely to pick people who are much like us and of course in doing this we’re more likely to have a daily life that requires few changes.

Love is a choice, not an accident.

Lust can be a bit random, but I’ve never considered lust on its own a good basis for a relationship. So many of our films and books show us people experiencing lust and getting it together, with this presented as romance. Romeo and Juliet are a classic of the form – two kids who do not know each other but really fancy each other and act on it. Love calls for more time, more depth, more involvement with each other.

Love is the choice to be open to something or someone – because of course romantic love isn’t the only option. Relationships that remain good (not habits or battle grounds) depend on choosing to keep loving each other. It’s an everyday choice, expressed in the tones of conversations, the small, affectionate gestures, the making and doing together that builds a life. Love is not something that happens to us, it is something we do, and the more deliberately we do it, the better the results are.

If you treat love as incomprehensible mystery, you are at the mercy of your desires and you can’t build anything. If you treat love as a deliberate choice, you can create it day by day. And quite possibly you can find some one(s) to co-create that with, making a life, a family, a relationship, a home, a network, a community or whatever else you want it to be. Choosing to invest deliberately in the people who love in return, who enrich your life, who delight you and who want you to be part of their existence means you have more scope for more good stuff. When love isn’t a random act of God, you can more readily walk away from what doesn’t work out, and pick where to invest your energy. The results are much better than ascribing it all to fate.

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Grief and religion

One of the things that religions have in common is that they offer answers to human suffering. It may be in the form of strategies to relieve that suffering by living in certain ways. It may be through stories of divine oversight, grand plans, or afterlife recompense. This is one of the ways in which I’ve always found organised religions problematic. Not least because so often, those consolations don’t turn out to be that helpful for people experiencing grief and trauma.

When you have to ask why your God wasn’t there for you and why terrible things were allowed to happen, you either undermine your faith or start having to believe that terrible things are somehow part of a grand plan for your own good. It’s a bigger issue for omnipotent Gods who are supposed to be benevolent.

We suffer in so far as we care. Love and grief are two sides of the same coin. Everything in our world is finite, and will end, or die and if we care about that, or about ourselves we are bound to be hurt by this. To care is to be vulnerable to loss.

In my late teens, I first encountered existentialist thinking, which responds to the grief of life and the apparent meaninglessness by owning it. We may have to make our own meaning. There may be no other meaning. It was the first approach I’d found that genuinely comforted me and it did so because it let me own what I was experiencing. This may be all we have. There may be no grand plan. Everyone dies. If you care, it hurts.

Rather than follow a path that has anything to offer by way of more conventional comfort, I’ve lived with this on my own terms. I see loss and grief as part of life. I see them as intrinsic parts of my caring and loving. I’ve not sought a path that would free me from pain, rather, I’ve tried to embrace it as part of what it means to be human. I find more comfort in the idea that there isn’t a plan, that terrible things happen for no real reason at all sometimes, and that we certainly do not get what we deserve. I think it’s kinder not to assume we get what we deserve.

When we try to protect ourselves from pain, we may close our hearts to what’s around us. We may delude ourselves. We may not do today the things we will no longer have chance to do tomorrow. When you live knowing that everything and everyone is going to die and you let that colour your world view, it becomes more necessary to live fully. It becomes more important to tell people you love them. It becomes more important to try and sort things out here and now, and get them right in the first place.

I’m never very sure what I believe when it comes to deity and afterlife. What I am sure is that it works better for me to live as though there is nothing else but this life and this body I have to experience it with. To love as much as I can and to accept what that means and to embrace grief as an aspect of love makes the most sense to me.


A brief history of me offending people

I’ve had some startling things come into focus for me over the last few days. I have no idea if sharing this process will make any sense to anyone else, much less be helpful, but on the off-chance there’s another person out there struggling with similar things, here we go.

On a number of occasions through my adult life, men I have really loved have pushed me away for being too much. These were mostly not romantic or sexual relationships. I’ve carried it as my failing. I’ve carried it as something hideous inside me that is intolerable and unacceptable. These experiences have made me less emotionally open with people, less affectionate, less confident about myself. I want to be honest and open hearted with people, but being afraid that there is something horrible about me, I am cautious and not open.

This week, in an email exchange, I ran into the suggestion that having to think about someone else’s wellbeing all the time is restrictive and oppressive. It was a light bulb moment for me.

I feel honoured to have people in my life whose care and wellbeing I have some responsibility for. If I love someone, there is no burden in caring for them. There is no loss of freedom in being alert to their needs and feelings and trying to do stuff that would help and support them. If I am awake, then the needs of the people I care about are never far from my thoughts. I’m finding it hard to imagine how the opposite could be true, how caring could feel like anything other than a good thing.

Thinking about variously shaped relationships I’ve had with men, for a subset of guys, this apparently is a thing. I’m seeing patterns I’d not registered before. To care about people is to think about what you’re doing – off the cuff, in the moment, careless words and actions don’t fit with that. I recognise I’ve dealt with a fair few men (and some women) for whom thoughtless, off the cuff behaviour was how they felt they most authentically expressed themselves. By that logic, to care and pay attention is not be able to be authentically yourself. For me, my most considered self, my most deliberately chosen way of being, is my most authentic self.

I exist in relationship to other people. Who I am is in no small part who I am in relationship. I do not feel less myself if I make some modifications for someone else’s benefit. I am not less myself if I have to grow, flex or stretch around someone else’s needs. I’ve done some of my best growing this way. I don’t feel entitled to do and say whatever I please and expect everyone around me to be fine with that. I look back over my problem encounters and I see a theme there – how often white, straight, physically well, financially comfortable men feel entitled to have it all their way. My needing something that isn’t immediately easy and convenient to them is an imposition, an unkindness on my part. Unfair. Unreasonable.

Many women have been raised to be alert to and care for the needs of others, whether it suits their true nature or not. Anyone who is outside the mainstream learns quickly that who they are might not be accepted. If you are queer, or Pagan, or polyamorous, or disabled, or poor, then you know perfectly well that you can’t expect it always to go your way. And how much easier life would be if the people who expected to have it all on their terms were a bit more alert to what their freedom might cost someone else.

So I’m putting down the self blame. I am telling myself a new story in which the men who found me unacceptable did so from places that were all about them. Yes, I love more intensely than is normal. Yes, I feel things keenly. Yes, I rock up whole hearted. No, I have no interest in casual, superficial, empty non-relationships. Yes, apparently that does offend some people. No, on reflection, I am not sorry at all for being as I am.


A poem about love

I wrote this one to read at a local poetry event. I mention this because ‘you’ in a poem changes depending on how you present the poem. On a blog post it would seem impersonal, and the poem would read differently if I sent it to you personally via email. Saying ‘you’ in a roomful of people creates interesting ambiguity.

There’s a fighting chance that a few of the people who read this will be people I was thinking about when writing it – which is enough to indicate that this is not a conventional sort of love poem.

 

I may or may not be melting

 

I would love you unreasonably.

 

Unreasonably because it is in my nature

To love, but our culture treats emotion

As the opposite of reason.

 

So, I will present as an ice queen

Wearing my mask, cold to the touch

Expressionless. I will be clinical and calculating

And when I speak of feelings

Perhaps you will mistrust me, hearing

Cynical manipulation because we all know

That women who are glaciers do not feel,

We just grind our machinations slowly.

Crush things.

Do not ask where we melt

Violently into rivers, you won’t like

How that metaphor plays out.

 

I would love you unreasonably

Cast myself into your arms with a force

You could not ignore.

Hold for too long. Hold too tight.

Later perhaps you will call me creepy

Or unreasonable. Better not to melt

Into untrustworthy arms, better to hold

Cold still aloof in my glacial form.

Allow no heat to pass from my skin.

Better if we do not have the conversation

About what it means to love,

So there is never a chance for you

To tell me how horrified you are.

How I should not feel what I feel.

 

Should I take off the ice mask,

Show the scars from the many times

I’ve been cast out in the monster’s role

Because I dared to say that I care

And I dared to hug like it meant something

And my kisses do not taste of

Casual disinterest.

 

I would love you unreasonably

But most of the time I am too fearful

Of offending to be anything other

That cautious, cold

And a bit awkward.

Melting is a dangerous business.

 


How shall we love?

Who are we legally allowed to love and how are we allowed to express it? Who might we be punished, shamed or cast out for loving? Are we free to love openly and honestly? Are we safe in our choices?

What stories do we carry about what love means and the shape it should take? Do we fit into those stories, or are they narrow boxes we are trapped in? Do we love in the way we were told to love? Do we love in the way we think we are supposed to love?

How much are we allowed to show? How much are we allowed to say? What are we able to do for each other? What is too much, or unreasonable, or excessive and unhealthy? How do we know?

How afraid are we to love and how afraid are we to be loved? Does love seem like power, like loss of control, like sacrifice? What does it mean to love, to be open hearted and available in some way? What does it mean to be too fearful and to shut doors against that?

Do you think love will save you? Do you think it will make you whole? Do you think it is the job of someone who loves you to save you from yourself and to mend whatever is broken inside of you? Can you forgive the person who loves you but is unable to save you? Can you love someone you cannot save or heal? Can you love someone who is not magically transformed by the impact of your love?

Is your love a deal, a contract, a system of barter? Do you withdraw love when others don’t meet the terms and conditions? When is it a good idea to let go of love, to give up on one you loved, to change your heart? How much should you suffer for love, and how costly should it be? Is it right to measure love by its cost to you?

Have you read this blog post thinking only about one kind of relationship? Can you separate love from sex? Can you separate love from friendship? Is your love entirely about humans? Can you talk about love without thinking of a happily ever after endings?


If love is not a scarcity

We tell each other stories in contemporary white, western culture about love as a big, dramatic event. We are supposed to fall in love with one person, for the rest of our lives, and live happily ever after. It puts a lot of pressure on a relationship.

Desire can strike us like lightning, kicking off some intense body chemistry reactions that, for a few weeks, may give us all those feelings of drama and foreverness. This chemistry wears off, and sometimes leaves very little of use or value in its wake. Finding that it wasn’t the one big true love of our lives, we feel sad and move on. We have to stop loving one person to move on and have the next go at the love affair that will be the big one.

Imagine what would happen if we did not treat love as a rare and scarce commodity. Imagine how it would be if we considered it pretty normal for people to love other people. If it was normal to love lots of people. Imagine if to love one person, you didn’t have to first stop loving someone else.

Rather than looking for the movie style high octane life shattering romance, we’d maybe have different priorities. We might want to get into relationships with people we like – so many straight relationships seem like battlegrounds, but it need not be that way. We might get into relationships with people because we have similar tastes and interests, and get along well and suit each other – which is essential if you’re trying to live with someone. We might feel ok about having differently shaped relationships with different people who we love.

If we choose how to manifest love, it becomes an active process. Not something that happens to us, where we are passive recipients, powerless to resist. What if love is what we choose and what we do? Not some accident of the universe, but something we make, with our choices and actions?

It is pretty unreasonable to ask one person to be all the things in your life. Not everyone is good at all the things. Not everyone wants to do all the same things. Sometimes it’s useful to have a fresh perspective. If we put down the idea of the one big dramatic love, we might have a bit more room for the modest but very meaningful loves that enrich a life. It might be easier to get along in relationships if we didn’t have to try and be all the things for each other all of the time.

And then, the big love story arc tells us that we should be willing to die for love, Romeo and Juliet style. We should be willing to throw away anything, and everyone, for the prize of that once in a lifetime romance. We should be willing to go cold, hungry, barefoot if it means we can be together. This is utter shit, and does not make for a long term, viable relationship. Sacrificing everything for love puts unbearable pressure on people and does none of us any good. The room to be a bit more pragmatic is valuable indeed.

If love wasn’t viewed as a rare commodity, but as a normal part of how we interact with people, how much else would change?


Peace, love, light and backstabbing

Let me start by being clear that I take no issue with anyone who is drawn towards peace, love or light. These are all good things. Looking back, I see that many of the people I’ve really struggled with have been all about presenting with peace, love and light. The trouble with this approach is that it doesn’t give you any space to deal with difficult feelings or conflicts. What happens then seems to come out sidewise.

If you can be honestly cross, upset, frustrated, envious or anything else that isn’t lovely, then you can deal with life. It may be tempting to want to be some kind of higher, enlightened being that feels none of those ‘negative’ emotions, but that’s not realistic. Also, those emotions are there for a reason. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of them. They are there to protect us and help us learn. Try and suppress those feelings, and you won’t be a better person, you’ll be a person with a problem shadow side whose repressed aspects keep trying to pop out.

It is, without a doubt, better to acknowledge what you’re feeling, however awkward it is, and then deal with it from there. Ignoring the difficult stuff just builds you a bigger problem.

If you buy into the idea that you are, and have to be, an utterly lovely person, you put enormous pressure on yourself. If that slips for even a moment, you have to justify the slip. You may be tempted to figure out how it’s all someone else’s fault – so that you don’t have to own it or feel responsible. This is how we get from peace, love and light, to backstabbing.

If you can’t own your own feelings and have to make someone else responsible for them, of course you give away power. You make it harder to change. You distort your own reality so that your anger is their anger, your resentment is their unfairness. Your jealousy is their manipulative and power hungry behaviour. If you’ve done a good job of your peace-love-light image, the people around you may support you in this rather than help you recognise what’s going on, and for the longer term, that just helps you dig yourself into a deeper hole.

With the benefit of distance, it’s a pretty horrible thing to have seen a person do to themselves.

Looking back, I’ve taken some emotional bruises from people who’ve acted this way. But, I learned and adapted and moved away from those interactions. I was able to acknowledge and deal with my own feelings about those situations. I can feel sad, or cross, or angry, or bitter or resentful without compromising my sense of self, and that’s a great help to me. I can recognise when I’ve been crap, inadequate, or just plain wrong. I’m able to have a realistic relationship with my own experiences. All of the good relationships I have allow me this.

I don’t know what happened to the people who got angry with me but couldn’t own what was going on for them. It’s been easy to let them go and step away. I know from periods in my life where I’ve not been free to express and deal with my own feelings (pain, fear, grief, shock) that it is really expensive. If you can’t live your truth, everything is distorted around that and it becomes exhausting. If they’re lucky, my absence freed them from that, at least with regards to me.

The thing about peace, love and light is that you can only really make them work if you’re also prepared to deal with conflict, loathing and darkness, because nothing exists in perfect isolation from everything else and everything casts a shadow sooner or later.


Lessons in letting people go

I’ve always been a people pleaser. I’ve always cared what other people thought of me, and whether they thought I was good enough. Demands (implicit or explicit) to give more, do more, be more useful, ask for less, make less fuss and so forth, have tended to impact on me. I’ve spent much of my life trying to be good enough for other people. As a consequence, I’ve spent more time than was a good idea in the company of people for whom I could never be good enough.

One of the things I’ve done this year is to ask at every turn, what’s in it for me? I’ve found it massively helpful as an approach. On a number of occasions now, I’ve identified situations where there really was nothing in it for me, but I was being asked to give rather a lot. I’ve learned to say no to that, and to walk away.

In the past, I would have felt guilty about not being good enough for someone. No matter how preposterous the situation, or how impossible the hoops I was being asked/told to jump through. Failing to do what other people wanted of me would leave me depressed, anxious, guilt ridden and trying to cut bits off myself so as to better fit through the endless hoops. It’s taken me a long time to learn that some people can’t be pleased. It’s usually the most demanding people who are the hardest to actually make happy.

Alongside this I’ve learned that I can have people in my life who just like me being around. People who don’t need me to do anything in particular for them. People who enjoy me being happy. It makes a lot of difference. Unsurprisingly, the more time I spend with people who accept me as I am, the happier and more relaxed I am.

The people who want me to be things I am not, have, with hindsight, wanted some weird and incompatible things. They’ve wanted things on their terms that should never be entirely one sided. They’ve wanted all the consequences of being unconditionally loved, while being free to act like they have no obligations. Conditional love is never enough for some people. The idea of reciprocal love, care, affection and support offends them. They’ve wanted the devotion that gets the work done, and the freedom to pretend that the devotion does not exist. They’ve wanted absolute care and attention while making it clear that it must never be apparent that I’m making an effort, so that they don’t feel awkward or pressured by it. And so on. Some games are not winnable.

I have learned this year that I do not have to feel guilty about the people I am unable to please. If I’m not good enough for them, they should let go and move on. It’s no good standing around telling me how rubbish I am, or how problematic, and expecting me to fix everything. Also, I’ve never yet got into one of these where it seemed possible to really fix anything or ever be good enough. The people who treat me as though I am the villain in their life story while at the same time asking for saintly levels of tolerance, forgiveness and indulgence, are people I don’t need. Onwards!


Who dictates the shape of love?

“Ye’ll have to accept that part of being loved means ye’ll have to accept that folks have concerns about ye as well. And have the right to does so. Ye cannot jes’ want the parts of this arrangement that ye likes…” (From Dance into the Wyrd, by Nils Visser)

It’s a quote that jumped out when I read it and that has stayed with me because it nails so many things. I’ve been round this one repeatedly and seen it play out in all kinds of situations. People who want some part of the love and care on offer, but want to say exactly what form that takes, and reject the bits that don’t work for them. In my experience, the care and concern of other people is often rejected. It also seems common that resenting people who care for you for wanting some of your time and attention is normal, too.

There’s often a gender aspect to this – what I mostly see is male rejection of female concern. Female concern is labelled smothering and restrictive, it is treated as an imposition, and intrusion, a limitation on the freedom the man feels entitled to. The man in question will usually want emotional labour when he wants it, sex, food, and other domestic benefits – if it’s that kind of relationship – but not to have to say when he will be back…

Of course we all need the freedom to decide what shapes we want our relationships to take. No one is obliged to do anything because someone has said ‘I love you’. However, if you are willing to take what you see as the benefits of someone else’s love, while demanding they don’t do the bits you find awkward, that stands some scrutiny.

It is easy to use apparent concern as a form of manipulation. However, simply wanting to know that someone is ok is not an emotionally manipulative activity. It’s a need to ease real anxiety. On the other hand, shaming someone for their concern is horrible. Wanting some time from a person who benefits from your love is not unreasonable, otherwise you just end up feeling used. If they take your work, your money, your support and disappear off once they’ve got it, it doesn’t look much like love returned. In a parent/child relationship, you may decide that’s just how it goes. In a sexual partnership, it may be part of casting one partner as the parent and the other as carefree and without responsibility. Again, there tends to be a gender bias here.

For myself, I have decided that I’m not doing this again. Anyone who treats my care like an imposition, does not get second helpings. Anyone who wants my emotional labour on tap, or any other forms of service from me is not going to get away with acting as though they have the right to have the whole relationship purely on their terms.


How to experience love

Most people want to be loved. However, feeling loved is not entirely straightforward, because of course we can’t in the normal scheme of things feel an emotion someone else has about us. We can experience their care, warmth or passion and infer from what they do something of how they feel, but we only have as much information as we have a capacity to love.

It annoys me immensely that there are so many people out there touting the idea that to experience love, you have to love yourself. It simply isn’t true. I say this with the confidence of someone who has felt self hatred while being able to deeply love other people. It is the ability to love that gives us the experience of love. What we primarily feel of love, is our own love for others. It is also the basis from which we can infer what others may feel in turn.

If you don’t feel love, you don’t have that warmth and joy permeating you in response to something else. Feeling blissful, blessed, enriched by the experience of the other, comes from inside us. The easiest way to feel love, is to love.

Every now and then, I run into someone who finds the idea of love threatening. There’s a recurring theme of hearing the word as pressure or demand. The idea that ‘I love you’ reduces, demeans or otherwise harms a person is something I’ve repeatedly been confused by. The conclusion I’ve come to is that these are people who do not experience love as I do. Whatever happens when they consider that they love someone, has a very different shape. Or their experience of what happens when someone else loves them does.

If what we experience is a mix of desire, and fear of losing a person, then love can indeed be threatening. If love is a bartering tool – if ‘I love you’ means you have to do something for me; that would make people weird about it. If there only seems to be a finite amount of love in your heart that you have to ration out carefully and someone extra demands a piece by saying ‘I love you,’ that might be hard.

I’ve noticed along the way that people who are warm, affectionate, open hearted and generous don’t tend to manifest this fear. They don’t tend to resent expressions of fondness and affection. People who consider themselves unloveable can be highly resistant to being loved – perhaps in part because they have a story to maintain. People who have stories about love scarcity are much the same.

I experience a great deal of love primarily because I feel a great deal of love – and not just for people. If I can see in what someone else does something that mirrors how I love, I can appreciate it. It is not possible, from the outside, to pour love into a person who doesn’t feel love. There is nothing that can be done by loving that will plug up the feeling of not being loved that comes from not being able to love. I’ve dealt with people who never felt loved, who always needed more proof, more demonstrations, more… more… because I realise now they were looking outside for love to come to them. There was a feeling they craved – and perhaps had once in the form of unconditional parental love – and they crave something to fill them up. But no one else can give you that. You can only find it by feeling.