About Love

Everybody and their mothers have written about Love and maybe all of it is true, certainly much of it is recognizable to me. We write/talk about Love as we know or understand it, and even when we don’t have a single clue. It is a subject both ephemeral and concrete and one of which we seem never to tire. (I have a theory about why that is, but it’s for another chapter.)

In the here and now, what I find most central to Love and relationships (they are not always mutual) is simply being known in very specific ways. When you’re with your besties or a long term lover, what gives it life are the shared contexts, the easy familiarity. That you know each other’s foibles but don’t hold them against each other unless it’s agreed upon by both. That they can tease you and it’s ok because you know that they hold no malice and always have your highest good in their hearts. It doesn’t sting and you can laugh along, maybe even augmenting the remembered offense/embarrassment. They mirror you in a way that allows you to see yourself with the love they have for you. There is trust that comes only through time and experience. Your friends are those whose food you can taste and gently say “Yeah- no, man, this is not it” and they either go back to rework the recipe or shrug and tell you “ok, but you don’t know what you’re missing!” They’re the people with whom honesty (not cruelty in disguise!) is helpful and not hurtful.

One of my criteria for considering someone a friend is that we can belly laugh with each other, because again, there’s a level of intimacy that allows for the ugly crying or the snorting laugh that I certainly don’t have with everyone I might like or enjoy. A long term lover/partner has that extra level of physical intimacy, not only for sex, but in knowing your body as well as your minor habits that are learned only in close daily proximity (and maybe shared bathrooms!) These are different relationships, but all are important and work together to create a dialectic and language of love.

It may be a painful process that gets you there, because the processes of risk, vulnerability, exposure, and shedding previous beliefs-even about yourself- are the fires in which love may be forged. Childhood criticisms and hurts are often in the skins that we grow, and allowing ourselves to be loved and eventually see, recognize, and accept what the beloved knows to be true and real about us is just plain hard. Many reject it, even become angry at the beloved for seeing the vulnerable hurt child they’ve worked so hard to protect, hide, or even destroy for years. And you know why? Because at the bottom of that pain is the belief that it’s true and that anyone who truly sees you cannot love you, and if they do, there is something very wrong with them. At best, the beloved is seen as weak and despised, and the sweetness of possibility is salted down and infused with bitter herbs into an unpalatable mess.

(I don’t know who the artist is, but this one of my favorites and brilliantly real and funny.)

All your people know you in various ways, and that’s a great joy in life. But the few people with whom we choose intimacy and with whom we might consciously struggle to understand and accept more of each other are a special group and of necessity, few. It requires a balance of love and honesty that cuts through all illusions, and it requires complete awareness and surgical skill to know what instrument to use at any given time: scalpel, serrated or butter knife, blunt instrument. And it cannot be done with ego, a savior’s complex, parental complexes, or anything other than a selfless love for that person. We need people who will tell us when our noses need wiping and that our clothes can only highlight certain features and you have to choose whether or not “looking fat”negates your beauty: to remind us of our beauty and why we are loved and lovable.

Such relationships are not always pretty on the outside. People have the idea that true love/soul mates are straight out of Disney or the romcom ending: that once they have recognized and accepted the other, there’s never another argument or their annoying habits will now be cute or just go away. That’s not how this works, my loves, because between our screwed up social expectations and training, the complexities of life in general, and sharing space and growth with another already-made human- if you’re really about intimacy, spiritual development/growth, and long term love, I can assure you that it will be messy and maybe gut wrenching as well as deeply beautiful, because if you were already seriously “enlightened”you would no longer need or have any desire- and where’s the fun in that?

From The Book of Joy: Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, compiled by Douglas Abrams

The beautiful friendship between Rev. Tutu and the Dali Lama was one of soul recognition and delight, but those great masters weren’t living together and sharing their daily lives. There was no need at that stage of development. That is not where most of us live. We’re in the struggle- with ourselves, our work, families, and intimate partners. We’re wiping children’s butts and picking up the dog poo, trying to stay on schedule, and watching the clock at work, and maybe all at the same time if you work from home. We are in the trenches of the mundane, often alternating between gratefulness and resentment towards those closest to us, wishing for more time while wondering why everything takes so long. We are humans with all the contradictions and complications that come with the territory, and we live in societies that seldom value or reward the qualities that lead to deeply loving relationships.

So that’s all I came here to say. Just some musings, maybe a couple of clues. Y’all have to work out the rest in and amongst yourselves. It’s in the living of it all.

But you knew that, right?

From Wayne Edenshaw Haida’s Pacific Northwest Coast people

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