Tag Archives: love

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.

Unromantic poetry

I have a small, ongoing project around writing deliberately unromantic poetry. I’m on a mission to debunk things that are presented as romance, but are really toxic, or bullshit. Here’s the latest.

Refusing to die of a broken heart

I will not drink poison for you

I do not offer my last breath

Nor the blood in my veins.

I will not crawl over broken glass

For you. there will be no proof

Of faith in a death from grief

I will not cut out my heart

To place it in a box for you.

No slashing back of soul and self

To make offerings of wounds.

I will not become smaller for you

There is no romantic splendour

In the fatal cup, the ravaged life

The early death.

This is not romance.

I will not die for you.

I did not promise to suffer.

Tell me to live for you, to endure

To flourish for your sake also.

Love is measured not in torment

But in the co-creating

Of better days.

Stories about love

When you’re a straight, cis person in a monogamous relationship, being out is easy. My guess is that you don’t worry so much about how people will react to your romance unless there’s something else queer about it – a sizeable age gap for example,  or being in a mixed race or mixed religion relationship where the people around you might not be ok with that.

I’ve always been polyamorous, but I’ve not always been out as polyamorous. Early on I had no idea how to navigate around friends and family with this, so mostly I didn’t. The emotional expense of being honest about your relationships may be more than you can afford. For some people, owning the queerness is genuinely dangerous. Complicated, non-conforming relationships can be challenging enough without all the work of having to emotionally support other people in dealing with you well.

The worst part of all this, for me, has always been the breakups. The invisible, unspeakable endings of relationships I never made properly visible in the first place. When a conventional relationship breaks up, people tend to own it and the people around them tend to be supportive. When you’ve fallen out with your other lover… how do you even talk about that? Can you be confident  of expecting support, rather than blame, shame, judgement and more pain?

Many of my most important love affairs have been romantic rather than sexual, so I don’t entirely fit in what many people imagine ‘polyamorous’ means in the first place. I can get deeply emotionally involved with a person without it ever being a physical thing. So, what a relationship is and means to me is not necessarily the same as what it means to the other person – that’s always interesting to navigate. I know there are people in my history who, for me, were life altering love affairs, and who almost certainly never thought the same way about me. Which is fine – love is what I do, not what I expect.

So here I am, grieving the end of a love affair that never quite was. Letting go of something that, for a while, was pure enchantment for me, but that maybe only existed for me. Wondering what to say to who, and finding out who knew me well enough to have spotted it anyway. It’s a strange place to be. There are no maps for this kind of territory. There are no roles readily supplied to slot into, there are precious few stories to navigate by.

I’ve also got to the point in my life of being unable to be other than myself. I’m too tired to hide the inconvenient bits. I’m past caring about people judging me – and increasingly willing to shrug and let go of the people who aren’t ok with me as I am. One of the consequences is that I can, and will start mapping this territory and telling stories about love that are not the stories my society usually tells.

Worth and love

Talking with a friend last week, it was pointed out to me that many people do not consider themselves worthy of love. It is something I’ve struggled with, and for me it shows up around wanting things I think I can’t have and explaining why people haven’t treated me very well in the past. How this plays out is likely to be highly individual, based on what I’ve seen of other people.

For some people it means mistrust – if you don’t think you’re loveable, it is hard to trust that when people say they love you, they aren’t just after something. Anyone who has been manipulated in this way may doubt their own loveableness, and be wary of other people’s motives.

If you’ve had your worth tied to achievement, then your loveableness depends on what you can do. That’s exhausting, and demoralising. Mistakes and failures are incredibly threatening when your emotional security depends on feeling like you get everything right all the time.

For anyone who has grown up in an emotionally insecure environment, it’s like trying to re-grow a missing limb. We either learn to feel emotionally secure early on, or we don’t. For the person who has that fundamental experience of being loved and wanted, there’s some resilience available in face of other challenges life may create. For the person who was never sure they were wanted, never confident of an unconditional place in the world, all other challenges to worth are harder to meet.

No one can go back and re-do their formative experiences. However, we can take care of each other. We can look out for people who struggle around matters of love, worth and friendship, and look out for them. And of course it’s hard and scary if you’re both people with issues around love and worth because to say ‘I love you’ to a person is to open up all those fears about what your own unloveableness will mean. Of course it is harder for two people with these issues because it is so easy to read the other person’s wounding as a consequence of your not deserving to be loved.

When you don’t feel secure in your own self worth, it is harder to be vulnerable with someone. Harder to trust and to open your heart. But sometimes, if you can say ‘some people don’t feel worthy of love’ then you might get something back – even if that too is a bit indirect. Like a blog post.