Hello. Today is February 13th. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.
I’ve learned a lot about love in the last 10 years. I’ve learned some about what it is, and some of what it isn’t. I’ve done well, and failed, I’ve made good decisions and bad, I’ve had noble intentions and no intentions. A decade ago, I had an idealized notion of love, that kind of left me out of the equation. I thought, maybe, I could be good at loving someone without particularly liking myself. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work well.
After spending thousands of dollars on therapy, hours stacked upon hours in thought, prayer, grief, and meditation, I began to see things a little more clearly. The last year has felt like a remedial course in love.
Disclaimer: I’m not a guru, I’m not about to dispense The Truth of The Ages about human relationships. But I am about to tell you what’s true for me. You can take it or leave it. Also, I’m not here to rain on your Valentine’s Day, or your new relationship, or whatever your situation is. If I’m aware of your situation, I’m probably genuinely happy for you. This isn’t about you, but it might be true for you some day, so remember it.
Love is shit. Love isn’t butterflies, or giggling, or promises. It is promises least of all. Love is awful, in its every aspect.
What you’re asking for, when you ask for someone to love you, is for a person, with their own history, their own desires and problems, to care enough about you to tolerate your bullshit. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels like I’m stumbling through life, messing up everything that I put my hand to. I fail more than I succeed and for every good thing I manage to do, I wanted to do the bad things along the way more often than not.
Love isn’t a kiss between two people who just started dating, love is a kiss between two people who both know all the lies the other has told them. Making love isn’t a beautiful physical culmination of joyous and unblemished admiration. Making love is this only: deciding to give yourself bodily to someone who has asked you for something no human deserves: to have their emotions regarded as equal, worthy, and acceptable, by another. Making love is knowing someone’s ugliness, and giving them your holiness.
Love isn’t to blame. I am the problem. I know myself, how petty I can be. How angry, how vengeful. How wrong. How insecure. Love accepts this flawed person, unreservedly and with no thought of recompense. What answer can there be to that? Shame, guilt, and fear are possible answers. Fear that love is conditional, predicated on the subduing of those baser instincts. Shame at accepting something for which I am not worthy, something that I’ll ruin. But to even get to these reactions, it’s necessary to receive real love, which requires some revelation. The revelation of my darker parts, the admission and ownership of them. Without which, I’m walking in a different kind of fear, the fear of discovery. And I haven’t allowed for the possibility of love at all. It’s possible to be in a relationship, and claim to be in love, and never allow for its birth.
No, that isn’t love. You can have lifetimes of that, and think it love. We’ve built entire genres, film and book and song, around the idea that it is love, to care for someone without knowing their darkness. The lie is that superficial things like “meet-cutes” and talking about art or beauty, or having families, are love, or are themselves alone enough to stimulate and sustain true love.
An episode of Sex and The City has the main characters deriding the foolish “Complete honesty in love” that they identified as a trait of 20-somethings. Maybe in 10 more years I’ll be writing a blog post that says, “Lie your ass off. Just do anything you need to do to make sure the person you’re sleeping next to can tolerate you!” It’s possible, but I doubt it. I think there’s a point, or a million points, where we’re faced with Turning Away. We can abandon the dream of finding true acceptance and love, and the reward is that we get to stop risking rejection of ourselves and of our emotions. We can stop trusting the ones who love us, we can stop needing to, we can just pretend to be worthy of love because we’re fine, and we buy flowers on Valentine’s Day, and we do the things they want, sometimes.
That sounds pretty mediocre. I’ve had that, and it sucked. It leaves you wanting, doubting, alone and afraid.
Love is the worst, because being loved requires me to be honest about who I am.
Love is simultaneously the best, because giving Love freely is a feeling with no parallel. Seeing someone in their darkest moments and giving them your heart is the counterpoint to all of love’s shittiness. You risk being hurt in different ways, in new and unique ways, but you gain this: The only opportunity in life to truly surprise and bless someone.
The fairy-tale love that Disney sells, that Valentine’s Day cards talk about ad nauseam, is pretty. The electric buzz of falling for someone and the overwhelming power of infatuation are certainly part of a lovestory, but they’re only meant to be the first part. They should just take the edge off of the hard work, the dark stuff, the revelation. Those things are not themselves love, though we call them love.
I said all of that ridiculous, self serving nonsense so that you could understand the “lovesongs” that I chose for Music Monday. I don’t think true love is true if it isn’t apologetic, a little ashamed, and a little broken. That doesn’t mean that relationships based on true love can’t be happy. I think they’re the only relationships that have a chance of being happy, but they’re hard, because love itself is hard.
I have for you, three songs, which I consider true love songs. I guess all that means is that they’re love songs about flawed people. I’ve linked the lyrics, because lyrics are what make a love song.
First up, “Reservations” by Wilco:
Next, “Time Has Told Me” by Nick Drake:
Finally, “Of Angels and Angles” by The Decemberists: