Sunday, August 16. 2009
It has all been written—yet there is so much more. Love is—but in saying that, you limit its meaning, its value, its deep feeling for yourself. Saying “love is”, written or spoken, implies a solidity, an existence, a “thingness” to a complex, chaotic, web of relationships and emotions that changes from instant to instant, day to day, year to year. Whatever is said about it, it will be incomplete, it will not be enough. Love can encompass so much—the love of husband and wife, man and woman living together, brother and sister, parent and child. This treatment stops at husband and wife, lovers… but recognizes there is so much more.
When I sat down to write this, it seemed to me that surely there was wisdom put to paper long before my feeble attempts. Plato has Socrates and Phaedrus(1) discussing the topic of love, and in that dialogue, love is seen much of the time as a one-way transaction, first as a desire to satisfy a physical longing for a sexual relationship, intertwined with the notion of physical attractiveness. Worth mentioning, but for our purposes essentially irrelevant, is that the dialogue concerns a man’s love for a boy, an essentially homosexual relationship that would now be considered pedophilia, but at that time was considered common or to be expected at certain stages in life. The basic translation can be found at an MIT website(2) and should be read with the above in mind.
Plato does get into the start of love with physical attraction; building from there to a warring of physical desire (generally but not totally, sexual desire), with higher notions of respect, brought through the ages to relatively recent notions of warring between the id and the ego. Plato does occasionally mention the reactions of the loved one, but generally he is focused on the feelings and actions of the lover. Indeed, on a first reading of Phaedrus, the predominant impression is that the adult male lover seeks to possess (though the word possess is not used) his lover seemingly with a sense of ownership bordering to our sensibilities almost upon slavery.
Much of what is referred to today as “love” echoes these twenty-five hundred year old notions. But to show that love is so much more than that, we have only to look at the poetry of Sappho(3) to note the depth of feeling that comes with love.
Love can be envisioned as a kind of spherical cloud, within which floats notions of possessiveness, of physical attraction (see above), but I believe more importantly notions of trust, respect, admiration, recognition of faults along with recognition of the relative unimportance of those faults. Inclusion must be made of the importance for encouragement of the strengths of, and support for the objectives of each of the partners in love.
The notion of possessiveness, of “he is mine”, of “she is mine”, may be seen as a part of love, but it is only the shallowest of notions. The immature mind does not recognize the complexity of the world, and lacks the empathy to see the world as the partner sees it. Thus, when the male sees his lover talking to another male, he may become jealous. Of course there may be cause for concern (even the paranoid may have enemies) but most often he doesn’t see the situation from his lover’s point of view (who may have a particular objective in mind). He lets his own insecurities build a sense of resentment in himself. He may resort to physical battery, the surest way to destroy love.
The notions of trust and respect in a loving relationship can give rise to a feeling of security, of self-confidence, so that the lovers could with justification feel “he is mine”, or “she is mine”; this would be beyond the shallow notion of possessiveness outlined above. While closely related, respect for your lover, and seeing your lover’s actions as based on her respect for you, is what gives rise to your trust in your lover. As an adult, you realize we live in a complex world, and your lover’s actions are not always going to be exactly as you expect them to be, but you are confident of your lover’s respect for you, so you see that almost always your lover is supportive of you, and in the rare occasions where it seems not to be so, you can discuss the situation and understand why the situation occurred as it did, and the discussions will be calm, because you trust that your lover would have been supportive if she could have been.
Trust and respect also goes to the interpersonal relationship between the two lovers themselves. Our culture teaches us that parts of our bodies are private; a physical loving relationship moves beyond the norms of privacy, to two individuals sharing very intimate knowledge of each other on a very physical level. Respect means that each lover will be concerned not to hurt the other, either physically or emotionally. And ‘hurt” can get to be a complex phenomenon, where she won’t tell him that he’s hurting her, but he senses it and wants to stop it, but doesn’t know what he’s doing because she won’t tell him, and by not telling him she’s hurting him emotionally, and round it goes, from either direction. So respect has to be in the relationship, building trust, so that communication can be seen as directed toward solving a problem, not toward hurting one’s feelings or insulting one’s lover. The physical sexual relationship can be the shallowest indications of love, yet with respect and trust, can bring the greatest depth to the loving relationship.
“Loving is in the living” and here too, trust and respect are key notions. Every individual has to feel that he or she has a mission in life; sometimes these are deliberately thought out, and sometimes it seems to be a case of “life happens”. But, day to day, how does each lover help the other in his or her life? In the drama of daily life, there are tasks of varying complexity and importance that have to be done, some by the lovers together, some as individuals. Inevitably some assessment of the quality of “job performance” will occur. Here, Dale Carnegie(4)(5) had good advice: never condemn, complain, or criticize. When you condemn your lover’s actions or self-worth, all you succeed in doing is repulsing your lover, and the disrespect you have shown will be reflected upon you. A litany of complaints and whining will also be destructive of the loving relationship. And most often, criticism is seen as merely insulting. If you’re driving along the interstate, and miss a turn-off, quite likely you don’t need a crow in the back seat cawing “you fool, you missed the exit…” (this of course is different from a reasoned partner noting you were unaware of passing the exit, and simply calling your attention to it, without the implied “you fool…”).
This all goes back to a loving relationship being one of mutual trust and respect. Over time, this builds to deep friendship and affection.
Two lovers living together without friendship with each other can hardly be termed lovers. Friendship is that art of comfortably living together, where trust and respect has built a certain predictability in each one’s knowledge of the other’s behavior. The lover may do unpredictable things, for example maybe sign up for a night course of study, which brings new problems of scheduling and so forth to both individuals; but in so doing, it is based on the confidence that the lover’s mate will react with calm and support, and address any problems, rather than panic about unanticipated consequences of the action.
It is of course true that two people living together as friends with trust and respect for each other do not necessarily have to be lovers. Absent the physical sexual aspect of intimacy, two friends living together can simply be friends living together. I do have my doubts about using the popular television sit-com of a few years back, “The Odd Couple”(6), as an exemplar, however.
Another notion to build into this “cloud of love” is the idea of shared values and beliefs. “Values and beliefs” covers such a broad range of subjects, that generalization can always allow one to point to exceptions, but still… The farmer who marries a city girl may be surprised when she rebels at wading through cow manure; but he shouldn’t be. Usually, getting to know one another includes sharing experiences and backgrounds and histories. Deep dark secrets, unexplained periods in one’s life, goes back to the matter of trust and respect, and the murkier the background, the more likely trust and respect will be diminished, and suspicion increase, and friendship will fail. On the other hand, as lovers become more deeply knowledgeable about each other, trust and respect, and friendship, will deepen. An afternoon walk beside the lake, conversation on the beauty of the scene, sharing delights as together you view exhibits in the art museum, or view flowers in a public garden, all can serve to deepen the loving friendship.
While not always true, often religion is a fundamental bedrock of one’s personality, and for two individuals to differ significantly in their beliefs about God and still become lovers may be problematical. Such lovers may simply choose to ignore that aspect of the other’s personality, calling a truce when the subject comes up or achieving some other accommodation. This dimension can become important when facing some of life’s toughest stresses—the death of a loved one, parent or child for example, the eternal cry of Job, “why is this happening to us?”.
Love is the deepest, most sincere, and sometimes most painful when each feels the other’s objectives, missions, actions, even life is more important than their own. Even a temporary absence of the lover may be depressing and disturbing, and the death of a lover is a pain like no other.
I don’t believe one can “accidentally fall out of love”. In every instance I’ve seen, trust and respect have been violated. The presence of the soon-to-be-ex-lover becomes an occasion of uncertainty, of doubt that the respect and trust of interpersonal interactions will be upheld, or actual dread of the other person’s actions. “I can’t love someone who hits me!” “He seemed to be deliberately revealing his affair by leaving his e-mail open on the computer.” And of course the workaholic who loves his work more than he loves his family. Much more could be written about the matter of respect for each other, and to include a healthy degree of self-respect. Still, saying one no longer loves the other does not mean much; to fully understand what is happening, one needs to know how the mutual trust and respect is being destroyed. With such a determination, problem-solving may help determine whether the bonds of love can be rebuilt and restored, or should be simply relegated to past history.
He Is More Than A Hero
He is more than a hero
he is a god in my eyes—
the man who is allowed
to sit beside you – he
who listens intimately
to the sweet murmur of
your voice, the enticing
laughter that makes my own
heart beat fast. If I meet
you suddenly, I can’t
speak – my tongue is broken.
A thin flame runs under
my skin; seeing nothing,
hearing only my own ears
drumming, I drip with sweat
trembling shakes my body
and I turn paler than
dry grass, At such times
death isn’t far from me
Sappho (c. 610 b.c.e.-570 b.c.e.)
(5)Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain – and most fools do.