It’s Valentine’s Day, 2006, and I’m sitting on a plane on my way to KC, a city I swore seven years ago I’d never return to. (This is my sixth trip here since that vow.) I picked up National Geographic while waiting for my connecting flight -- the cover article promised to uncover love’s chemical base. Inside were anecdotal experiments mapping common human conditions, e.g. infatuation and passion, to hormone levels. The author drew comparison between these conditions and mental illness (OCD), noting that dopamine levels of groups afflicted with either the former or the latter are the same. The article makes the case that love is comprised of biological and chemical reactions. My concern with the piece is not on the constitution of love (I can’t argue either way), but rather with the supposition that infatuation and passion are synonymous with love.
It’s only been in the last few months that I’ve started to understand love’s nature. When Hav and I broke up I felt such searing pain, I thought for sure the pangs were proportional and testament to how deeply I cared for him. What I’ve discovered in the time since is that yes, it was his absence I’d felt – but much of it was the dissolution of 30+ years of expectations, hopes, co-dependency, and denial all crumbling before my eyes. I had taken the disappointments of my own upbringing and youth, the tattered state of my parents’ tumultuous marriage, and built a picture of our relationship from these expectations. I felt so separated from them, from then, that surely it meant that I was different – that we were different. But retrospection is a looking glass, and in all my smugness, I repeated the same neediness and manipulation that I swore I’d avoided.
In the aftermath I started to understand what love was not: It is not love to feel like you can’t live w/out someone nor is it love to feel connected b/c someone needs you. It is not love to demand someone call you everyday they’re away on a trip, nor is it love to call someone daily b/c it’s requested of you. It is not love to distrust someone because of your own history, nor is love giving into the demands of a suspicious partner. It is not love to pretend that you’re not attracted to anyone else, ever; nor is it love to assume that another person can complete you or fill the hole in your own heart.
I’m still not entirely sure what love *is*, but in defining what it is not, I’ve stumbled into a sense that its foundation must be rooted in caring for oneself. A wholeness w/in, w/out looking to anyone else to stop the leaks; a faith; an inner worthiness; self-esteem.
I find it ironic that it took me becoming single to figure this out. Of course, that wasn't really a requirement, but I didn’t know that at the time.
In the back of the same National Geographic, there’s an old photo of two Italian peaks which share a rope between them. Crossing this gap is a mountaineer, hanging by twine. It is noted that the “least mistake in swinging between two peaks means instant death.” While that observation is likely true, I am more inspired by this picture’s metaphorical value. Last summer a friend told me a story of a girl on a trapeze bar, afraid to let go of her current bar b/c it felt safe, and yet without doing so, she couldn’t reach the next bar. The moral of the story was that we tend to think that life is the stability found in being on solid planes. Perhaps, as the story reasoned, happiness isn’t in the safety of the bars; rather it’s the apparent nothingness in the middle, in which we move forward in faith.
It’s in this picture that I’m reminded not of the possibility of death, but of the potential which lies between two solid states.