I recently had an experience that made me question everything I previously held to be true about intimate emotions. Before that, I told myself that I would never write about love, but then I convinced myself that the first two essays were worth it, but, that seemed to be all of the love-writing I had in me. I told myself I would never be a love poet, because it is easier to tear apart reality with words, to scribe suffering and sacrifice, than to attempt to align words in a way that seem to make everything worthwhile. So love is typically a topic I leave off of my idea list. But now, here, after fully understanding the power of truth, I feel the need to return to the topic of love.
I never write about love because there is a deep bias within me. Maybe because the jaded teen or fearful nine year old flinches whenever the word arises, but love seems to bring a negative connotation with it. But, maybe I never knew what love was….
In “Is There Loss in Love?” I wrote the lines:
“There is no standardized format, no check the box system on a “Have You Been In Love?” questionnaire. Therefore, it is up to us to know, and I think that love is what one those things that, if you know, you know. I spent the first 16 years of my life believing that love is the key to escape the cage I was encapsulated in, and the next 4 trying to purge my soul of the lingering effects.”
I was wrong. I never loved before, and despite what I thought I knew, or thought I felt, this realization is painfully obvious now for a few reasons. Recently, I promised myself that I would live in an ether of truth, where I attempt to fully manifest who I am and how I feel at all times. No facades, no smokescreens or fancy tricks. Just me, just truth. In my last essay I wrote about the process of extracting the truth from the Being, a process of dissecting every ounce of behavior and thought that arose. After I decided to do this, I decided that I would find out why I was the way I was. Why do I turn a cold shoulder to social interactions? Why does the idea of a mountain top seclusion seem so drawing, while the idea of returning home to live in a community of peers seem so repulsive? Why do I have a bias about ‘love’, or an ‘inability to connect with others’ (As I used to say)?
I went through (and still am) every aspect of my past, dividing the experiences into the smallest of details, living and reliving every one until I soaked up every piece of knowledge, every reason and understanding of why that I could. I spent hours every evening reliving a childhood that imprinted habits that I was not aware of, re-walking the halls of my high school where I learned to turn away, instead of turn to, peers. I re-lived, and thus, re-felt every rejection, every slight, every pain, every “no”, every hit, every joy, every laugh, every hug and every good-bye until there was nothing left in my past. Until I could walk the halls of my mind and stare at what used to cripple me with emotion, and feel nothing.
I write this, and I tell of this reflection because it led me to many realizations, but four relevant ones for this essay: 1. There was so much about myself that I never even knew. I didn’t know why I did any behavior, and thus I manifested habitual negativity, genetic predispositions of behaviors that I assumed were natural. 2. If there was so much that I was blissfully unaware of, then the person that I was was not authentic, just a painted facade of an ideal I was attempting to be, instead of a brutal, but true encapsulation of who I am. 3. If I had no idea who I was, how could I, if I was not truly who I was manifesting at the time, have ever loved someone? And 4. If the person I manifested was a lie, or at least was not the truth, then no one could have ever truly loved me (because the ‘me’ I am referring to was never present).
It took me a long time to come to this conclusion, to come to the realization that maybe every platonic or romantic relationship I have ever been a part of was just an impersonation, because it was built on a system of lies. But the beauty is, once I destroyed the faulty foundations, and crumbled along with every block of perceived reality, there was nowhere to go but back up, nothing to do but rebuild the foundations. That, and rewrite the biases of Love.
If I was embodying a lie, and thus every relationship was a lie, then, in theory, that would make every emotion I manifested in said relationships a lie too. I stumbled across this thought as midnight approached on a chilly Thursday evening. As I sat against the wall of a room 11 feet down the hall from mine, I began to allow my tongue free reign to let loose what it needed to. Instead of swallowing every resentful behavior and manifestation of distaste, I shared my thoughts in a way I have never done before. The reason behind my upset mind was probably laughable, and the way I sat down and shared it all was even more so, but walking out of the room a while after, I realized that maybe this is what being true feels like.
I couldn’t sleep, as I felt this brief and seemingly minor experience unravel a lifetime’s worth of preconceived notions of human connectivity and love. I had laid all of my thoughts and feelings out into the ether, as if I said, “This is me, and this is how I feel right now.” The listener may have hated it, she may have scoffed and rejected me wholeheartedly, but the feeling of pure honesty, of being truthful to myself no matter the potential consequences, maybe this is what Siddhartha meant when he said that love is the only tragedy worth striving, and thus suffering for.
The reason I have never loved, and I have never had an authentic relationship with another human being, is because I have never allowed myself to open up, to show the depths of my soul and have my being subject to deep scrutiny and rejection. I think we all do this at some points. We convince ourselves that the true us, the one that only we know, is deeply unworthy of love, and impossible to accept, so we reject it for others before they even have the chance to. Looking back, it is as if all of my previous behaviors begin to make sense. This is why I seemingly switched intermediate friends every few months, or found opportunities to continue to move around, to weddle my way out of relationships once the surface level crest was reached.
What if, (and I mean this as a true what if, as in a possible ideal that I highly doubt) none of this was ever love? What if only a few of us lucky individuals have ever experienced love in the truest sense? What if everything we thought love was was false, but love is instead this place, this point you reach with another human where the triangular peak of trust, openness, and careful understanding all meet? What if this is an ideal, a point worth working towards where we don’t feel the need to hide ourselves away, to paint over ourselves with fancy words and distracting behaviors? What if (and once again, this feels like a big what if) love is the place you reach where you (and your partner) feel total freedom to be yourself, to be open and true, to allow all wounds and scars to shine open, as if your insecurities and faults are no longer able to be hidden, and someone loves you not in spite of all of this, but because all of this? As if we don’t overlook flaws in love, but we love the flaws themselves.
I know this seems like an ideal, like a oversimplified, paradisal state of being between two humans that also sounds like a fairytale, but what if it is possible? What if this is actually what love is, and all else is a falsity? Love (and this is just my outside estimate) can’t be lukewarm acceptance, or mild preference. It seems, in order to make all of the work and mental angst that goes into love worth the effort, love must be a beautiful struggle, a deep entry into the chaos. A split between the order in your life, where every day seems to be its own battle, but a battle worth fighting (because what is the alternative?). If love doesn’t change you, if it doesn’t make you equally terrified and excited, if it doesn’t bring you to the sacrificial precipice of your old Being and your new, potential Being, is it love?
I have no answers to these questions, and I wouldn’t even know where to start to figure them out. Who knows what love is, besides those few maybe lucky enough to have found/created it? “Love is too large, too deep ever to be truly understood or measured or limited within the framework of words” (M. Scott Peck). While I don’t know what love is, I have a few ideas. Love is the embodiment of truth, and thus the embodiment of trust. Love is carefully executed reckless abandon. It is expedience and meaning all intertwined within the same moment. It is living in a way where you enjoy right now, but also set yourself you enjoy future present moments, while doing the same for your partner. Love is acceptance of change, of growth, of the understanding that the only reason this system seems worth it is that both parties will grow together, better than they would apart. Love is, as it seems, one of the few fulfilling emotions that make the nihilistic suffering of existence bearable.
At the same time, I feel I have a strong grasp on what love isn’t. All of the emotions that we seemingly pair with love are not love, they are separate. Jealousy, greed, anger, etc seem to come with the territory, but these are not part of the package in and of itself. Love is not the loss (as I tried to verbalize in “Is There Loss In Love?”), or the pain of the depletion of love. Lastly, love is not falling. The idea of falling in love seems to be a “idealized teenagers romantic dream” as Dr. Jordan B. Peterson says. Falling in love seems to be, in a sense, infatuation. It is brief and intense, but fades, leaving space for real love to develop (or for the couple to assume the love is gone, and to break up). While we may idealize and dream of falling in love, this is not the love described above, but instead a “honeymoon phase” of ease, a fairytale brought to life, only to make us understand why fairytales only seem to work in the movies.
Carl Jung presented the idea of the Animus and the Anima in his writings. The animus and the anima are the idealized, perfectly formed versions of the opposite sex (or same sex, depending on what the individual is attracted to). We all have one of these. We, as men, create the image of the perfect mate in our minds. We sculpt a goddess, essentially, and use that as a striving point in our daily lives. I assume females do this too, creating the perfect man in their minds, envisioning a union that has been on replay since they were kids. While this is great, and a baseline to start at, the animus and anima, the perfect idealized versions of the opposite sex do not exist. To be blunt, there is no idealized version of the perfect mate. We can search for our lives and never find them, because they aren’t real. Yet, when we meet a real potential mate, we find tension. This is due to the fact that we now have two embodiments of love in front of us. There is the idealized, perfect mate that we created, and the real, flawed, but human potential mate. The tension arises from the understanding that we can’t have both of these alive at the same time. One of them must die (metaphorically). You can’t accept your mate for who they are, flaws and all, while still holding tightly to a perfect representation of everything you idealize. You must let go of the animus or anima, in order to love the real potentiality that comes with imperfections. Killing of the animus or anima means that you accept the flaws and hiccups in this real mate (but you still strive for growth), and let go of the idea that this mate will become the perfect idealized lover (This means you accept them for who they are, and learn to love them for them, not that you accept them for who they are, and then slowly attempt to turn them into the Anima or Animus, because then that means you have decided to kill the real mate in your mind, and allow the idealized version to live. There is no relationship with reality if you make this choice).
I don’t know what love is, to be honest. But I have a few guesses. Love is selecting the potential in reality, and killing the perfect, idealized version of what will never come to fruition. Love seems to be a patient understanding, a willingness to not only provide the space to grow and work on the areas we need to work on, but a willingness to assist and struggle alongside. Love is truth, it has to be. I can’t imagine love ever being a situation where you are afraid to manifest your internal Being, your true self in the way that leaks authenticity. Along that, love must be trust then too. Trust that the person will not only accept (and thus not reject, harshly criticize, and become resentful of) you and your faults, not only love you in spite of these manifestations, but love you because of them. I can’t imagine love being anything else, but, then again, I’ve been wrong before.
“You must understand that love never keeps a man (or woman) from pursuing his (or her) Personal Legend. If he abandons that pursuit, it’s because it wasn’t true love.” -Paulo Coelho
“Of all cautions, caution in love is the most fatal to true happiness” -James Stockdale