Everything. But also nothing. Depends on what “it” is. Marriage? Friends? Enemies? Children? Religion? Death? Torture? Redemption? Divorce? Disease? Life?
Love is infused in all of these things, these relationships, these events. But the duality of the darker side of human nature, of love, has been driving me crazy. I’m inclined to say “lately,” but looking at my entire life and not just what’s freshest in recent memory, it’s been a struggle since my first memories as a child.
I’m reading a book series that a dear friend recommended: the Kushiel Legacy. At first, it seemed a little more daunting and high fantasy than I usually read. But once I got into it, the world enveloped me and I found myself saying things like Blessed Elua! in my head instead of OMG. It’s possible it even once came out of my mouth. The heroine of the novel, Phèdre, is…utterly fantastic. But it is her relationships to her Gods and the people in her life I find the most fulfillment and truth with. Deep, core truth that speaks to my heart. That speaks eloquently, and still yet not definitively, about love.
Currently, I’m a third of the way through Kushiel’s Avatar (third book in the series) and it’s dealing very specifically with love in all it’s many forms. Far more than many people can even fathom. Of course there’s religion and the love of Gods, but there’s so much more. There’s the love Gods feel for mortals. There’s the fact that love can extend to more than one God. That different people have different pantheons and we can all find peace together and honor each other’s customs and beliefs. Of course there’s romantic love, like Phèdre has for her consort Joscelin. But within that relationship, there is so much else. Love is tested and tempered through the years. And it is acknowledged that she doesn’t just love Joscelin. That there are other people who have touched her life in romantic, non-romantic, and BDSM types of ways. There are people who’ve deceived her, abused her, sought to break her and yet, for most, she admits that there is a form of love involved.
In the book, Blessed Elua’s precept is “Love as thou wilt.” It conveys choice, it speaks of allowing your heart to love what it loves. Poet Mary Oliver says something similar in the beginning of her poem “Wild Geese”:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
The true nature of love is…elusive. Or perhaps it’s just too all-encompassing that it is difficult to understand. I sure as fuck don’t fully understand it. Maybe I never will. But I think it’s human to keep trying. So I do.
Sometimes, when talking about love, clichéd notions pop up and it makes me angry. During a conversation I had last night, someone said to me, “if he really loved you, he wouldn’t have cheated on you. He wouldn’t’ve even considered it. There wouldn’t be another person for him. Ever.” She went on to add that any therapist would back her up. Clearly, she hasn’t spoken to my current therapist.
I caught myself clenching my jaw, pushing down feelings of surly disagreement. Because here’s a big part of the problem. I don’t doubt my husband loved and loves me. That’s not the problem. It goes deeper than that. I believe that that people who love can do stupid, hurtful, cruel, deceptive, even abusive things to the people they love. My mother once said to me that my alcoholic father loves me as much as he’s able. It’s true. He’s a flawed, demon-chased, depressed man who grew up under the threat of knives and belts, terror and poverty the language his own alcoholic father spoke fluently. His mother, rather the woman who raised him as a mother, did so with as much love and creativity as she could manage with a 8 other children and not enough money. My own mother, despite her own life difficulties and questionable methods of dealing with them, loves me as best and as broadly as possible.
And just as I don’t doubt that my husband loves me, I also have come to the place where I don’t doubt that my ex-husband and ex-wife love me. In some difficult, intricate way that’s probably similar to the way I love them. But with that love has also come the realization and acceptance (hence the “ex”) that just because we love each other does not mean we should be married.
The bible says that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” And it does. But…nowhere in there does it advise on how to act when your fall-down-drunk father insists on driving his truck home and allows his friends and girlfriend to put ten year old you in the vehicle with him to “make sure he gets home okay.” What do we do, in this current day, when a family member is a pedophile, a friend is mentally abusive, a husband cheats? Yes, love will endure it. But that doesn’t mean anyone should stay in that situation if they are able to get out. Once children grow enough to get themselves help, to get out of bad situations, they…we…I will carry that terrible double-edged sword called love around for the rest of our lives.
However, here’s the thing. It fucks up our vision when falling in love. It can cloud our judgment with our own children. It’s something to be ever-mindful of. On one side is the ephemeral, giddy high of falling in love and on the other is the daily truth of actual love. It does exist, endure, believe, bear, hope…even while fucked up shit happens all around. Even while the floor drops out, disease takes hold, infidelity is committed, a loved one abandons you.
Getting to that point where of understanding that love can exist and endure prolific pain has been rough. Contemplating the other side of this realization is even rougher. It means figuring out what I can endure, believe, hope for. The future of my marriage, or any relationship I have, relies first on the boundaries I make.
I was eventually able to explain to the person that I don’t buy into the whole “if he really loved you…there wouldn’t be another person” bullshit. I’ve vacillated back and forth between whether I’m better suited to monogamy or polyamory. After I first found out about the infidelity, I felt strongly that the answer to all this strife was a nice, monogamous relationship. He agreed that that’s what he wanted, too. Just strip love down to it’s simplest form and things would be better. I’m beginning to see that was, personally, a fear-based reaction. People in monogamous relationships cheat. The fault lies not in the relationship type.
Judging by history, judging by how I feel and continue to feel about people in my life, I keep coming back to the fact hat polyamory makes the most sense to me. In it, there is no “if he really loved you….there would be no one else.” That becomes invalid. So once I started saying this, her response was, “then why were you so upset when you found out? Why did you pack up and leave? If he can go out and have whatever relationships he wants and it’s okay?”
This is another thing that’s always pissed me off: people don’t understand the difference between polyamory and cheating. They think that cheating can’t exist in polyamory. It flat out can and does. Whenever a lover goes outside of the agreed rules, it is cheating. You can have a rule that there’s no sex with anyone else unless you’re all in the room together. If your partner then goes and has sex with someone else when you’re not there, that’s cheating. It’s violating the rules of the agreement you’ve made together. It’s defiling trust. Can trust be cultivated again? For some people, yes. Because love can endure all things. That doesn’t mean cultivating trust again is the right thing to do for the people involved, though. Sometimes, the soil just isn’t rich enough to cultivate trust again. Figuring that out, assessing the soil and it’s possibilities is something love has much less to do with it than I previously thought.