Tuesday, November 22, 2005

what is love?

I realized shortly after I began this endeavor that some of what I might want to write about I couldn’t since I told all of my friends and family my blog address and sign it with my name. I am sure I am not the first person to have this dilemma. I might start another blog and not tell them all about it. Again, I am sure many folks out there have anonymous blogs in which they exhaust their exhibitionist tendencies to share their deeper secrets and more risqué experiences without fear of those who need not know finding out information never meant for them.

I feel like that’s the kind of stuff I want to write about now. I wonder, who’s REALLY paying attention? If my kids’ dad is I might not feel could speak freely. As much as he’d hate for me to put him in the same category with Alan, I have to say if Mike, with whom I share an extremely complicated and non-traditional life partnership situation, were reading I’d be hesitant to speak my experiences openly, but for very different reasons. I trust I could say anything to my mom at this point and she would respect my choices and decisions. Since my adulthood she has developed a profoundly blind faith in me, which works for me. Thanks, Mom.

Today my friend told me she looked up polyamory after reading that that was something I might write more about. I felt slightly defensive, but only slightly really, because I feel so at peace with the reality that I love more than one person at a time. And just to qualify this, that doesn’t mean I am sleeping with more than one person at a time although I have in the past and may in the future. Right now it’s about the breathtaking expansion of my ability to love many while exploring the possibility of sharing my life with just one. Whether it makes sense to everyone or not I feel capable of loving in a very big way more than one person at a time. Or more than 2 people at a time. Right now I feel like I’m on the verge of loving more than 4 people simultaneously. Big, big love I’m talking about. Yes, romantic love, possibly the love of partnership.

I spend a lot time evaluating within myself whether or not this is actually true, whether it really is love that I feel for these different people. I fear it could be instead a desperate search for validation, some kind of dying to quench the incompleteness I feel out of a relationship, and that these needs are a result of some shortcoming of mine, the acting out of some neurosis born of childhood neglect or abuse. I feel really bold saying it so publicly like this. But I think I can be so bold with that theory because I am not afraid that that is what is going on. Just in case anyone was wondering, yeah, I’ve thought of it. Maybe the love I think is real isn’t.

However, I suspect that it is. For one thing, I don’t feel terribly incomplete being out of a relationship. I feel a little lonely and a little horny sometimes, but I have an outstanding community that reaches far and wide in which I feel well loved and appreciated and supported, and this meets the majority of my social needs. I do not feel that I am the desperate feminine yin side of the circle longing and craving for her masculine yang.

Also, it helps to have a definition of love with which to work. What is love? Oh, I’ve heard it sung in a thousand songs, seen it played in a thousand movies, and yet how do we as a culture actually define love? How do we personally? According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, love, the noun, is “1. A deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person, such as that arising from kinship, recognition of attractive qualities, or a sense of underlying oneness.
2. A feeling of intense desire and attraction toward a person with whom one is disposed to make a pair; the emotion of sex and romance.”

Love is a feeling. That makes sense. Whereas, love, the verb, means
“1. To have a deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward (a person).
2. To have a feeling of intense desire and attraction toward (a person).”

OK. That makes sense, too. Love as a verb is the state of having the feeling of love. And yet, I suspect we are selling ourselves short. There are an awful lot of people out there with these feelings they define as love who are abysmally poor at expressing, living, or acting these feelings in a way that truly embodies the emotion. But, since we as a culture do not apply a definition of love that expects or states what actions are involved with having the feeling of love we are all doing the best we can making up that aspect of things as we go along.

I really like a different definition of love. In her book “All About Love: New Visions” bell hooks makes a compelling case for our need to define love more actively thereby taking some of the mystery and fantasy out of the most necessary emotion and act on the planet. She writes:

“I spent years searching for a meaningful definition of the word “love” and I was deeply relieved when I found one in psychiatrist M. Scott Peck’s classic self-help book ‘The Road Less Traveled,’ first published in 1978. Echoing the work of Erich Fromm, he defines love as ‘the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.’ Explaining further, he continues: ‘Love is as love does. Love is an act of will—namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.’ Since the choice must be made to nurture growth, this definition counters the more widely accepted assumption that we love instinctually.”

I like this definition because it is a definition that takes all the “I have no control over my feelings” punch out of the concept of love. People do not just fall in love with no will or intention or choice in the matter. There is no special chemical reaction that takes place between two people that equals love. That’s not to say that people do not have intense energetic, emotional, and perhaps chemical responses to each other, but that in and of itself is not love. Hell, in one of the worst, most emotionally devastating and unhealthy relationships I’ve ever been in we had consistent and profound experiences of that nature. But in retrospect I know for sure it was not love we were experiencing.

People certainly fall into feelings of affection for others and may find themselves inextricably and powerfully drawn to other human beings, but that is not the equivalent of loving them. To love someone you must act.

As such, bell hooks goes on to say:

To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients—care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication.”

If we enacted love as a composition of feelings of affection for someone plus the acts of caring for them, respecting them, trusting them, recognizing their wants and needs and their innate humanity, committing oneself to them and their spiritual growth, effectively communicating with them while all along not compromising our own spiritual growth, well then a grander experience we would all have living and loving. We would get more done. We would spend less time in pain. There would be far less abuse of any sort on the planet.

I subscribe to this more encompassing definition of love. That said, this is how I have come to the conclusion that I can love more than one person at a time, even if it includes a romantic or sexual connotation to that love. It is possible for me to have affection for and simultaneously care for, recognize, respect, commit to, trust, and communicate with more than one person. I’m not saying it isn’t challenging, because it is. I am not saying that I might not make mistakes in my process, because I do. I also willingly admit that the deeper and more time consuming any one of these commitments become the more challenging it is to meet the terms of the commitment to an other relationship or relationships. But it is possible. But it is only possible with an extremely effective and ever present dose of that honest and open communication.

bell hooks did not write “All About Love” as an endorsement of polyamory or non-monogamy or anything like that. She wrote it to help us culturally and personally figure out how to love one another more effectively so that we may all quit struggling and suffering under the false suppositions we have learned about love. I highly recommend this entire book to everyone, everywhere.

So, from Fromm to Peck to hooks to Justina to you much love in your living and much conscious choice and will and positive action in your loving. I am working so hard to assure it is all in mine.

p.s. Happy Birthday Mom. I dedicate this post to you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

(from nicole)
i like the responsibilty and respect and choice thrown into the wording and action. i feel good when i read what you write.