A while ago, I posted a piece on forgiveness. Today, the day of my birth sixty-five years ago, I will attempt to write something of love.
What is this emotion, this feeling, this thing we call love? Is it something we can define, touch, or taste? How do we enjoy it? Or is it something that enjoys us? Love plays with us, transports us, binds us, grips us, releases and torments us. But why? It can be so strong as to be visceral, not simply a fleeting emotion, as it sometimes may appear, but rather something experienced deep in the gut. Is it grounded in some need, some indistinct desire to become whole, to fill in a missing piece of ourselves? A visceral recognition of that primal need for genuine engagement with the Other?
If we love someone, is our capacity for love thereby used-up, exhausted, diminished? Or is it something expansive, always giving us the capacity to love more. Of course, most any mother already knows the answer to this question. Our capacity for love keeps expanding, she would argue, to envelope all her children and then some… and more.
What does Jeff Buckley mean when he sings, “I’d give all of my love for a kiss upon her shoulder”? What is it about this condition of the heart that calls forth such yearning, such devotion, such torment? I feel I am better at asking the questions than providing answers. But I diverge.
Does love simply emerge one day, like a sore throat or the flu? Or is it something that always dwells, often silently, deeply within the soul of humankind; something to be ignited by the presence of a beloved. Or, perhaps it requires no object whatsoever? Is it rather a force of nature that may be aroused by the most tender of circumstances. But once aroused, it is something to be reckoned with; and in some cases cannot be stopped. Except by death.
The poet says that love is what “inter-animates” two souls. But, what if one of those souls turns out to belong to nature; or an apparently inanimate object. What can we say here? But, in any event, where one becomes intertwined with the other (human or otherwise), there is a basic recognition of life in its most untrammeled and raw modality.
Or perhaps love is what allows us to escape the boundaries that define the ‘self’ against the ‘other’ and his/her apparent ‘otherness’, allowing us to enter into communion with that which (or whom) we love. It allows us to overcome that sense of separation, of separateness, of being the Other, ourselves? Perhaps love is where the outline and the inline fade, the one into the other, so that at-one-ment becomes a possibility, nay, a reality? Love, like a drug, transports us out of ourselves while all the while grounding us. Itself a conventional term, love allows us to overcome convention, the convention of objectification, literally losing ourselves in the otherness of the other, merging with the other… in short, to become one with the other, a dissolution of the boundaries that objectify. Love can be gentle or profound. But, in either case, it should not be dismissed as merely conventional. For it is not.
But let us now discuss the challenge of love between two partners, and that which in the history of civilized culture is most predominant, the monogamous love between a man and a woman. It is typically believed and reinforced by convention that this love is fundamental, exclusive and sacrosanct. Or, at least while you may have some residual or non-cupiditous love for more than one person, it is ‘natural’ to provide your love and lovemaking to one partner exclusively. That is what a real marriage and having children requires, so it seems. There may be some very compelling arguments for such exclusivity in this regard, but even these assumptions have been challenged by alternative cultural traditions globally throughout the millennia (Sex At Dawn). But, let us not minimize the frailty or benefits of first loves, of marriage and child rearing under these more exclusive arrangements. But, in a world of post-post divorce and post-post child rearing, what restrictions still pertain to the love of your partner, and to one another?
Is love not something expansive, as we above agreed? Does it not continuously grow when required to accommodate the inclusion of another loved one, be itself sibling, child, friend, or lover. OK. I get it, so we have reached the edge of polyamory.
As one woman, Kristal Baugher, has written of the challenge:
What I find most challenging is that the concepts of polyamory feel right but I have been socially constructed to think and react in the monogamous default. Perhaps the first step is to unlearn everything I’ve been taught regarding how relationships are supposed to function and relearn/re-write the script as I go along. (Elephant Journal)
Obviously there is a raw physical coefficient that comes with romantic love, an intimacy that cannot not minimized, and certainly not ignored. There is also the real question today of safety. Of being responsible. But that as well, is not the fundamental problem with having more than one lover. The real issue is emotional capacity, the ability for those involved to feel genuinely secure, even when the polyamorous one is dealing with two loves who are themselves monogamous.
I have argued elsewhere that touch is essential to human communication. Perhaps that is correct, and we only need the intimate touch of another. But, perhaps not. I do not have an answer. It’s just a question. With much love, Sandy