Tag Archives: love

Ideals in love

Teenage me didn’t just want to be understood. I wanted someone with whom I could entirely merge and in whom I could lose myself. I wanted my twin soul, my soul mate, my one true love, the one perfect person who would be all the things. It would be fair to say that I did not find these qualities in any of the people I fell in love with.

Twenty something me wanted a sense of connection, an intuitive bond that would bring magic into my life. At that point I was very much more interested in the possibility of a wild and fulfilling sex life, although a fair way from achieving that. I was much more interested in who I could love than who might love me in return.

In my thirties I started to learn what it could mean to have someone love me in return with the same kind of depth and passion I bring to my relationships. I stopped wanting the ease of automatic understanding and became much more interested in the work of understanding people who are not like me, and loving people in a way that includes much more room for difference.

A few years into my forties and I note how far away I am from that young human who wanted a magical connection to just happen. The separation from others that once felt so desperately lonely, now seems like the starting point for adventure and discovery.  I’m very relaxed these days about doing the work to former deeper relationships with people – in all kinds of contexts. I’m more relaxed about how I love and less worried what anyone will make of that. I’m interested in what can be shared and exchanged, not so much in what was similar to begin with.

I have no idea where this journey will take me next, but that’s part of the fun of it. I’ve experienced more recent shifts as moving into states that are more open and less loaded. Oddly this hasn’t dialled down the intensity, instead it’s made space in which far greater levels of intensity can be safely held and explored.


Sexy paranormal creatures

If you read folklore or fairy tales, you will find that the paranormal creatures are more dangerous than they are sexy. If they seem sexy, it’s just as bait to lure you in so they can eat you. Mermaids, sirens, alluring maidens sat near ponds – they’re just hungry. Vampires, werewolves and zombies used to be grim, grotesque and horrifying. What happened? Somewhere in the 20th century, the dangerous supernatural creatures of our folklore turned into objects of desire.

For me, those paranormal creatures have always suggested the wild and the wilderness. They may be the un-tame hazard inside us all. They are the things we find monstrous about ourselves as well as the things we fear in the dark, in the woods and in the wilderness. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that sexy paranormal stories come at a time when we’ve pushed wildness to the margins. With deforestation, everything mapped, and wild places exploited for profit, where is there left for paranormal creatures to haunt your imagination? And so, just as the wild places are commodified and exploited, so the paranormal creatures become sex objects.

There may be social aspects too. We’ve broken down a lot of taboos around the world about who can love whom. There’s still a lot of work to do. It’s no longer comfortable to present people of a different ethnic background to your own as the exotic, desirable mystery. Romance depends on the beloved being difficult to obtain. As the barriers to human love come down, keeping the story shape alive calls for new challenges. The paranormal creatures slot neatly into our desires for certain story shapes.

As we become more alert to gender politics, the bad boy archetype of many a romance novel becomes less attractive. Women writers may be less keen now to sell us the aristocratic male with issues of authority and entitlement. He’s a bit old fashioned. Werewolves on the other hand have much better excuses for anger management issues, and are the ultimate bad boy you might want to tame.

For me, there’s a process here that goes along with a lot of other human processes. We see everything as existing for our use, benefit and amusement. We no longer imagine anything is more powerful than we are. The monsters of our old stories can’t continue as monsters any more. We turn them into sex toys. If I thought this was a case of replacing violence with love, I’d be a good deal more comfortable. To me, it seems like yet another expression of how we like to knock mystery and hazard out of the world in order to better own it, tame it and contain it.


Scruffy for the love of the earth

Being scruffy is something we can all do for the good of the planet. It’s a low cost, low effort response to cutting carbon, cutting plastic use, cutting the impact of the fashion industry. I appreciate that in some jobs and contexts it’s simply too high a risk, and that the more affluent and comfortable you are the fewer implications there are in looking a bit ragged round the edges. If you are poor, people will judge you – but they will also judge you for not looking poor enough.

Scruffy clothes – anything a bit worn, or faded, marked from use or obviously repaired falls into this category. Wearing old clothes is something we can celebrate as an assertion of loving the Earth, and I think if we can re-enforce those choices for each other, there’s a lot of good to be found in it.

It’s also a way of pushing back against all that glossy new age rubbish full of improbable dresses in fields and things you’d never wear for a decent walk in a wood because it wouldn’t last five minutes. And for the guys, and the non-binary folk there’s very little visual content out there. That’s something else to push back against – if we are going to be spiritually glamorous, there should be room for everyone, not just young, thin, white, female-looking people.

I find that if I’m outside for a while, my hair becomes messy. I find that if I don’t wear makeup this impacts on how I look in photographs and videos alike. But, getting makeup without getting throwaway plastic is hard, and animal testing is back, and makeup is expensive, and I don’t think those chemicals do my skin much good… and maybe my face is ok without it. Your face is definitely ok as it is, I feel sure of that. I take no issue with people wearing makeup creatively and playfully and for fun, but if you feel like you need it… you’ve been had by adverts. (I have been had by adverts, but I’m pushing back).

A Pagan aesthetic that is scruffy for the love of the Earth is available to everyone. Body shape doesn’t matter, nor does age, or gender or our ability to conform to ‘beauty’ standards. If you live closer to the Earth, you won’t be able to keep your clothes perfect anyway. Crafting, gardening, walking, doing things from scratch – anything physical like this causes wear and tear. You can only have pristine new looking stuff if you don’t do much with your body while wearing it!

For too long, a ‘Pagan’ look has meant velvet cloaks. Impractical shoes. Flouncy shirts. What happens if we start dressing as though we’re going to walk everywhere? What happens if we walk everywhere and start to look like that? What if looking like you spend time outside is the most Pagan look you can cultivate? What if you make actual crafts part of your Craft?

Changing the surfaces of how we present isn’t superficial. It calls for a massive change in what we value and celebrate and treat as appealing. Show me your dirty Paganism. Show me the love that goes into keeping clothes out of landfill, and I will show you mine…

Here’s an old photo of me in the kind of clothing I can walk in and sit out in. Not especially attractive, but I wasn’t doing it for the camera…


Love and understanding

One of the stories we tell each other around romance is that your true love will understand you. They will get you. If a person doesn’t get you, it seems like they are not your true love, or worse still, that they understood what you meant and didn’t bother. Leading to the two great clichés of hetronormative relationship  – the woman who says ‘I’m fine’ when really she isn’t, and the man setting out to have an affair with the words ‘my wide doesn’t understand me.’

In my experience, understanding another human being in any relationship, takes time and effort. You have to really listen to them, and you have to be open to the many ways in which they are not just like you. We find reassurance in similarity, to the point where some people will ignore difference rather than admit it exists. However, when we refuse to explore those differences, we shut down any real scope for mutual understanding, and the perfect love who understood us won’t turn out to be that at all.

What if we told each other stories about love involving a willingness to work? What if true love is the quest for true comprehension? What if understanding was something we built together for the rest of our lives? What if, within that we even had room to change, grow and re-negotiate? What if we didn’t feel threatened by not currently being able to understand someone we love? What if figuring that out looked like an adventure, not a threat?

I can’t count how many times people have told me that significant other people in their lives didn’t understand them. And every time, there’s been a feeling of total unwillingness to even try to fix that. As though working to fix it somehow defeated the object.

I’ve spent most of my life feeling like a bit of a social outcast. I’ve never expected anyone to understand me, and at this point I see this as a tremendous asset. I’ve always expected to work at things. I have found that many people do not share these expectations. With the ones who do, it is possible to form deep bonds and powerful states of mutual compression. Where there is no expectation that understanding will magically happen, there’s also more resilience if either party changes in any way.

I’m tired of stories that present love as something effortless and suggest that effort implies it isn’t real love. I think we need to change this. And they all dedicated themselves to doing what it takes to live happily ever after – even so they weren’t always perfectly happy because life doesn’t work like that. But mostly it was good, and they took care of each other and did not take each other for granted.


Romance, passion and consent

It’s a popular scene in romantic tales… One person is passionately in love with the other and acts on this. In a sudden, overpowering move (likely to involve kissing) the one who is in love emotionally overpowers the object of their desire and afterwards nothing is the same. The object of desire is persuaded to fall in love, too. They may change sides in the conflict central to the story. They may betray their family and friends, or give up everything they have known. I am seldom persuaded by this bit, but that’s a story to take apart on another day.

We’re all creatures of reason and emotion. However, our considered choices about who we are and how we want to be can be – especially in the short term – totally derailed by our emotional and physical responses. Is that love? Or is it just a short term chemical response to stimulus? I’m pretty sure it isn’t consent. We’re shown persuasion of this kind in films and novels, where it’s usually presented as a good thing. It goes with the story that women say ‘no’ when they mean ‘persuade me’, that women find it hard to say yes to sex and passion and need to have their boundaries overcome, and that overcoming those boundaries by force of desire is romantic, and not rapey. If a man seduces a woman it is most usually depicted as a good and romantic thing. When it’s the other way round, the woman is more often depicted as evil. I do not like these stories.

In a seduction scene, we aren’t often shown the focus of desire being given chance to properly express their consent. For me, consent is both romantic and sexy, and verbalising desire is exciting. I find willingness to wait rather than overpower is much more romantic than seduction and that emotionally overpowering someone who has expressed an interest in that happening is much more engaging than using sexual power to strip away someone’s defences.

Power of course is a big part of it. There is power in being able to make it difficult for someone to say no to you. There is power in being able to persuade, to get someone else to submit to your desire or be so overwhelmed by what’s happening that they can’t figure out how to say no to you. To have the looks or the skill set to compromise someone else’s decision making ability seems a lot less attractive when framed in those terms. What we often see presented as romance has a lot more to do with power and persuasion than I feel comfortable with.


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.


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?