Tag Archives: love

Soulmates and soul friends

In my late teens, I truly believed I had found my soulmate. There was a passionate, soulful connection that blew my mind and filled me with desire and wonder. It didn’t work out. I wandered into my twenties firmly believing that I had already found and lost my one true love.

However, it is in my nature to love, and so I went on to love a lot of other people as the years passed. Many of those people did not love me in return. Some of them did. Some of those connections were deep and powerful and some of those people remain important to me and part of my life.

I did it for a second time. I found someone who could touch my soul in ways I had never previously imagined. There was wonder and intensity, and also drama and heartbreak and I thought ‘this person is perhaps my soulmate’. We may well always be friends, but that wasn’t the relationship I wanted it to be, either.

The trouble with the idea of a soulmate is that it’s so singular. If you invest in someone imagining them to be your one true love, that one other soul to whom you belong… if or when that goes wrong it will hurt you to staggering degrees. What is there left if the person you thought was your soulmate doesn’t want to be with you, or doesn’t feel the same way, or for technical reasons you just can’t make things work?

To further complicate things, I’m polyamorous. My default state is to be in love with more than one person – not least because I’m not in the habit of ceasing to love people just because a new person has caught me that way. The singularity of the soulmate as an idea really doesn’t sit well with my plural nature. I find the intensity of it attractive, though. I have a need for intensity that has on many occasions drawn me into situations of drama because I can’t reliably tell the two things apart.

At this point in my life, I have put down the idea of the singular soulmate. It just doesn’t work for me. I am embracing the idea of the soul friend – it’s a more spacious notion with much more room in it for multiple people. It also doesn’t have the romantic connotations of the soulmate concept. Soul friends are deep, substantial connections where there is richness and love and sharing of meaningful things. There are a number of people in my life who I would call soul friends, and who I am fairly sure could apply that term to me as well.

It also means I get to change my story. At no point in my life have I found and lost the one person in the universe who was meant to be my true love. I’ve had some amazing experiences with people, I have loved deeply. Nothing in my history prevents me from loving anyone else with my entire being, on whatever terms that actually make sense.

Love and magic

Love is supposed to magically save you. The mere existence of the right person is supposed to make everything right. I’ve had people ask me in the past why being in a relationship hadn’t cured my depression. I’ve had people who love me distressed because they believe their love should be enough to fix me.

Love is magic, and can fuel magic, but at the same time it isn’t a magic cure for all ills. It also isn’t reliably enough. Love isn’t enough if you are cold, hungry, exhausted and in pain. Sure, love might carry you through a short bout of that, but it will not let you live there long term. Nor should it. Love is not a substitute for all your other basic needs. 

Depression has many causes – massive stress being a common underlier. Love won’t save you from a toxic work culture. It won’t fix your financial insecurity necessarily, or cure your health problems. It also won’t undo past trauma. Your lover is not your therapist, not your life coach, not your psychoanalyst, not a substitute for your parents… It is not the job of the person who loves you to make up for everything in your past, fix all your problems and sort your life out. 

When we think love is supposed to magically fix everything, we can end up putting impossible pressure on the people we love.

What love can do, is provide a safe space where people feel able to fix themselves. The love, belief and support of another human can help us feel resourced enough to square up to our problems and see what can be done about them. Love opens us up to the idea of helping each other and supporting each other. Rather than a hetranormative romance take where one person magically saves the other, we can have networks of support and care. Love doesn’t have to mean romantic love, and the idea that the person we are shagging is supposed to meet our every need is questionable. 

There are many ways to love. In that love, we can grow together and find shared solutions. Most of our problems are not individualistic. It’s just that keeping us focused on individual solutions that don’t really exist keeps us from making real change. I don’t think this is an accident. Love can save us, but not in the way that happens in movies. Love of life, of community, of friends – that can save us. Love of fairness and justice, compassion and dignity can save us. We can definitely save each other, but not by magic. It’s going to take work.

But then, it’s when you show up to do the work that both love and magic become truly possible and truly powerful.

Numbness, burnout and pain

Over the last two years I’ve had a particularly hard time of it with the depression and anxiety, often slipping into protective states of numbness. When I’ve not been numb, I’ve surfaced into pain, grief and fear and struggled to feel anything good. These are not ideal states from which to try and work out how to fix anything.

I’ve had a lot of pain to deal with, certainly. The last few years have brought some significantly wounding experiences, and I was hardly a cheery, untroubled person before all of that. Mostly I’ve been focused on the distress aspect of this in my efforts to find a way out. The numbness is about the only place I can go to escape, and that’s not a solution that lifts me. It’s just a coping mechanism.

It’s only recently that it struck me that pain was never really the problem. I’ve endured plenty of emotional and physical pain along the way. I know how to weather that. I can make good assessments about what sort of price tag anything has on it. If you care about something, then sooner or later it will hurt you and there’s no point expecting otherwise. I’d never been afraid of that in the past. 

What I can’t bear is paying a high price for something that gives me very little. I guess it’s the difference between being a moth lured to a candle flame and a moth getting stuck on fly paper. I’m not afraid to burn. I used to push my body hard and pay with pain to dance at an event, or do something extraordinary like the Five Valleys Walk. There were no such opportunities in lockdown and I forgot how to even try.

I’m most myself when I’m prepared to do things that are glorious and outrageous, with no great anxiety about the trade-off. I used to be the sort of person who could love fiercely – people, places, creatures, ideas… and not care whether those things hurt me. It didn’t matter whether I might break my heart over a lover, or an elderly cat, or a home I couldn’t keep. What mattered to me was throwing myself in wholeheartedly in the first place. It means that I’ve mostly depended on my own ability to be enthusiastic and to make things happen.

I’ve come to the conclusion that burnout is my biggest issue, not the things that have grieved me. What I most need is to be more resourced, and to have opportunities to be enthused and uplifted by other people. Lockdown certainly didn’t help with that as it cost me most of my access to live performance.

I’ve been looking after myself by reading more fiction. I’ve been moving towards people who cheer and uplift me and who bring me enthusiasm. We’re looking at this as a household – how to be better resourced and how better to support each other. It’s a work in progress. I eyed up something recently that is probably going to hurt me, but should also be wild and wonderful, and I remembered how I used to be someone who wasn’t afraid of what it might cost me to truly feel alive.

Jealousy is not love

All too often, when jealousy is presented in stories, it’s portrayed as being related to love. Jealousy is not a facet of love, it is a very specific emotion in its own right, and one that often is in opposition to love, care and respect. It’s a really destructive emotion.

Jealousy often involves wanting what someone else has. Envy is the healthy take on this, because with envy you can look at what someone else has and say ‘I want that too’ and go after it and everyone can have nice things. Jealousy wants specifically what the other person has, and wants to take it from them. It pushes the person feeling it to destroy someone else’s joy out of resentment.

Jealousy is the desire to make the other person smaller. The person who is jealous of attention paid to their partner, or of anyone their partner invests in, is not protecting love with this feeling. Jealousy can be the emotion that justifies controlling behaviour. It’s jealousy that prompts someone to try and limit, punish or control the person they claim to be in love with.

Equally, trying to cause jealousy is not about love, it’s about control. Flirting with someone else to make your partner jealous is emotionally manipulative and hurtful. There’s no love in that.  Parading success or property in the hopes of causing jealousy is about wanting to make other people feel smaller, and inadequate.

Violence justified by jealousy is not an expression of love. We urgently need to stop telling stories in which male jealousy is in any way romanticised – especially when it also involves violence towards women. (This is particularly a romance genre issue – jealous, violent women don’t tend to show up as part of stories claiming to be focused on love although you do find them slapping faces in older films). Anyone hitting someone on the basis of feeling that their romantic relationship is threatened… should not be excused in any way. We also need to stop telling stories where jealousy is portrayed as a reasonable justification for murder. Anything in the same vein as Tom Jones singing Delilah. Anything justified as a ‘crime of passion’. It’s not passion, and it isn’t love.

What does it mean to love?

It’s been a curious few months with regards to my emotional life and some of my key relationships. Not least that one of those relationships is starting to look like it was never that real anyway. What even is love? It’s a key question to ask, and not just when things are bumpy in a relationship.

For me, love is rooted in the everyday. It’s about dedicating to share your life with someone – in whatever way you choose and to whatever degree you’ve settled on. That sharing can take many forms. Love doesn’t always mean romance. Romance doesn’t necessarily mean sex. Sex doesn’t automatically equate to love. Any of these things might, or might not be combined with cohabiting, or co-working, or co-parenting. Love means investing in someone else. It means caring about them, and giving time to that.

For me, mutual understanding is an important thing in a relationship. I need to understand – I don’t tend to cope well with things I can’t make sense of. I will invest copious amounts of time in trying to understand other people’s history, experience, perspective, way of being in the world and so forth. If I care about someone, I will do my best to be the person they need me to be – mindful of their needs, preferences and issues. 

Sharing yourself with another human can feel incredibly vulnerable. But this vulnerability is itself the basis for deep connection and mutual understanding. Tom and I have been exploring this in earnest for a while now. I have work to do around being better at saying when I’m uncomfortable – I have history around this. I can do better. At the moment I’m working on being honest about small discomforts and making space for that. I hate eating loud food. Some kinds of touch really stress me out – hair in my face, especially. That kind of thing. Stuff I’ve ignored and overwritten for other people’s convenience. But, if I’m honest about it, I make more room for a better quality of relationship.

I’ve also learned, in an entirely different interaction, about the importance of being able to hold boundaries. I have refused certain kinds of treatment. Being ignored is not ok. Being blamed and made responsible for things I did not do, is not ok. Without honest and respectful communication, there is no relationship. I’m not interested in being used, especially not as an emotional punch bag. I’m waiting to see if this person has it in them to do better, but I am not optimistic.

Love is not an event. It’s not a grand gesture. It is not what happens in films. What it means to love is very much about what we do day by day, how we treat each other, how we invest in each other and what we share.

Love is an Ecosystem

For some years now I’ve made green hearts for the climate action #showthelove campaign.

This year’s heart is more conceptual than usual. It’s all about ecosystems. It’s both a celebration of the natural world and a pushback against some of the toxic norms around romantic relationships. We all need to be part of ecosystems, and this includes emotional ecosystems. The idea that two people should be everything for each other is a really damaging one.

In a wood, branches and roots are in communication. The dead feed the living. Fungi interact with trees, and every tree supports a profusion of other beings. A human community should be very much the same. For humans to flourish, we need to be part of our surrounding ecosystems, too.

Love is life rejoicing in life.

Being in love is not enough

Tom and I have been married for over eleven years now. We can say with some confidence, that love is not enough. Feeling love alone doesn’t sustain a relationship. It doesn’t magically solve problems. It doesn’t heal you all by itself, although it can help with that.

We both came to this relationship with a lot of baggage. We’ve both had a lot to get to grips with – old protective behaviour to understand and let go of. Triggers to deal with. Assumptions to wrangle with. We’ve had to do a lot of work separately, and a lot of talking to each other. We’ve had some very bumpy times, because of the baggage and considerable external pressures along the way. But we’re still together, still invested in each other.

Love isn’t an event. You don’t fall in love with someone and that, magically, will be your relationship sorted for all time. I am advantaged around this because my background includes both kink and polyamoury and those things require negotiation and communication. Tom came to me from a much more conventional, hetronormative background so he’s had quite a steep learning curve just to make sense of me, and to get round to seeing why my way of doing things might be better. One of the problems with the hetronormative stuff is just how normal it is for a marriage to be an uncommunicative battlefield. 

There are two things I think stand out in all of this. Firstly, we talk about everything. All the time. Every day. We check in with each other, we talk about how we feel or what’s impacting on us. We raise problems as soon as we can. We work together on finding effective solutions. We get better at this all the time. We try not to assume things about each other but instead to ask. We both have issues around how our heads work – and sometimes don’t work – and we’re getting better at flagging up to each other when things should not be taken personally. 

Thing the second, is that love is not an idea. It’s not something that lives in your head, or for that matter in your heart or your genitals. Love is what you do. It’s not about the big gestures, either. It’s the small, every day stuff. The sharing, the taking care of each other, the supporting and encouraging each other. Love is learning how the other person(s) thinks and feels, what works for them and what doesn’t. It’s finding new things to be interested in, new sources of joy and delight. Every day. Marriage is being committed to that non-dramatic every day involvement in each other’s lives. 

Love in other shapes may involve different levels of commitment, but the gist is the same. It’s about showing up for each other and being available to each other in a genuine and wholehearted way, at a frequency that works for the people involved. You can be a queer platonic hosuehold on those terms. You can sustain deep and enduring friendships that way. You can have a messy polycule with some people you don’t see all the time. It’s the commitment to being involved and the showing up for that which makes the difference and makes love into something real and significant.

The feeling of love is not enough. Wandering around in an oblivious cloud of romantic feelings can be largely meaningless. The love that makes a difference is the love that acts.

Love is not difficult

People are not hard to love. Children especially are really easy to love and in many ways we are biologically programmed to respond warmly to children. Humans find round faces with big eyes cute and appealing and this isn’t any sort of accident. Or at least, many of us do.

I’ve never met a person whose woundedness made them unloveable. I’ve never met someone who was too badly hurt to be worth caring for. Some of the people I love can be hard work, because of what they’ve been through and how difficult it is for them to trust, or open up, or accept help. There are quite a lot of people on this list, and they aren’t hard to love, they just don’t always know how to let anyone do that. 

Along the way I’ve also met the people who complain about how difficult other people are. How difficult I am. People who have told me I am hard to love, or too difficult in other ways. These were often people who wanted things from me – my love,  my work, my energy, my support… but were very clear about why it wasn’t reasonable of me to expect anything in return.

It took me a long time to stop thinking that the problem was me. 

The issue isn’t about whether a person is hard to love, the issue is more often about whether you are able to be open hearted. What is hard to love is coldness, selfishness and disinterest. I hit my limit when it comes to deliberate cruelty as a sport. I can stay in for people who do dysfunctional things because they are hurt and not handling it well. I can love people who find it necessary to test me, although that can be complicated and it isn’t ideal. 

If someone tells you that you are hard to love, consider that they have just confessed something important about their own insufficiencies. Ask them who they think it would be easy to love, if you’re feeling equal to challenging them. Deliberate cruelty is the only trait worth outright rejecting a person for. Anything else is just the messy consequence of being alive and dealing with the shit that brings. A person can be messy, complicated, challenging and difficult and still not actually be hard to love, because love is a very natural response between people who are involved in each other’s lives.

Love is also not the same thing as having the skills or resources to properly support someone who is struggling. You can love someone without being able to help them. You can love someone and need your own boundaries for your own reasons. The person who tells you that you are hard to love has some serious issues, and you may not be able to help them with that. If you love the person who cannot love you, don’t be persuaded that the problem in this is you, because it probably isn’t.

Matters of Pride

Coming out isn’t something you get to do once. It’s something you may have to repeat, many times, always with some anxiety about how people will react to you. It doesn’t help that it’s the people who get close that you will most need to come out to. The people you need to have understand you, and who may be impacted by the way you are and the kinds of relationships you have. It’s high stakes and a lot to lose if they don’t turn out to be ok with who you are. But, how close can you be to someone if you have to hide significant parts of yourself?

I take great comfort in my queer friends, and my kinky friends, and the folk I know will not judge me or think less of me on account of who I am. The people I am close enough to that I can be honest with them about the other people I am close to.

I get off fairly lightly. There are far too many people in this world who are not free or safe to love the people they love. There are too many people who are not free or safe in expressing themselves sexually in consenting ways with other adults. The consequences of coming out, or worse still, being outed, can be dire. Sometimes fatal.

Many human cultures have stories about who is allowed to do what with whom, what is moral, what is evil, what is acceptable to various gods, what’s abhorrent. Those stories are based on value judgements and priorities, and some of those stories are cruel, and toxic. If it seems more appropriate to kill someone than to let them love who they love, something has gone badly wrong.

Love is good. Love is always good. No one should be afraid of loving whoever they are moved to love. Sex is a good, beautiful thing and anyone who wants to do that in any way that works for them should not have to be afraid of how other people will respond. That there are so many people who are more horrified by what consenting adults choose to do together than they are by rape does not say good things about us as a culture.

Cats and Comfort

Cats have always been a tremendous source of comfort to me. My experience of cats flags up many of the things I find problematic in my dealings with people.

Most cats are really uncomplicated. If you treat them with care and affection, they will reward you with care and affection. And sometimes leave mice in your shoes. Cats have never been bothered about my face, or my body shape, or how I dress. They just want to snuggle, or play, or eat my toast. When I have been sad, the cats in my life have generally been inclined to comfort me. They bring their warmth and their purrs. When I have been ill, they have sat with me. When I’ve been unable to sleep, they have kept me company.

Cats just respond one body to another, one living being to another. There’s a beautiful simplicity to it. In that gentle acceptance, I find peace, and I get to feel a bit better about myself. Cats generally find me ok. They find me adequate and tolerable and reasonable. I know many people have similar experiences with dogs, and horses and other creatures.

I wish humans were better at being creatures together. I wish we were more straightforward about needs, and the need for comfort. I wish we cared less about appearance and more about closeness and what we can share. You won’t impress a cat with a fast car – rather the opposite. So long as there is food and shelter, a cat really doesn’t care about your bank balance. It is not that difficult to be a good enough person for a cat to like, or love.

Animals generally aren’t interested in the kind of posturing humans go in for to try and impress other humans. They’re much more accepting of our diversity than we are. They are entirely willing to find us good enough, regardless of age or wrinkles, or how well we conform to human notions of beauty. They aren’t afraid to be excited when they are pleased to see us. They ask for food, and walks and affection and so forth with the confidence of beings who know these are needs that should be met and that asking is fine. And we don’t mind them asking, where we might feel put-upon or otherwise uncomfortable if a person asked us so bluntly for things they needed.

Creatures we live with are quick to forgive us our shortcomings and mistakes. They don’t bear grudges very often. They don’t save up grievances to air at some future date. What they want from us is simple, and they express it as clearly as they can. There’s so much they generously do not care about that we take such issue over when dealing with other humans.

If I was a cat, I would not need to ask for your attention or affection. I could just climb into your lap, and the odds are you would be pleased, in a really uncomplicated way. You would feel warmed and affirmed by my presence, not uneasy, compromised or threatened.  I wouldn’t seem difficult, even if I wanted a lot of affection and attention.  We don’t second guess cats. We don’t worry about their motives, or what they might expect from us.

If only we better knew how to be creatures for each other, how to accept each other and take joy in those small interactions.