“I want a painful, difficult, devastating, life-changing, extraordinary love.” – Olivia Pope, Scandal.
A friend told me once that she read somewhere that the idea of romantic love is actually what causes us pain. That somewhere along the line as the poets and playwrights and storytellers were talking and writing about love, they taught us that part of real, true, deep, passionate love is longing, and love being unrequited, and subsequently the belief developed that if we aren’t tortured by love, that love isn’t real. Certainly anyone with a flair for the dramatic has held that belief at one point or another, but I think it’s hard for even healthy people in our Hollywood/fairy tale-driven society to escape the idea that love must be something of a roller coaster or it doesn’t count.
One of the problems with this line of thinking is that most of us don’t even notice it. It’s a deeply-rooted belief passed down to each of us culturally and sometimes by our families, if you come from a family that also taught you love equals pain and pain equals love. Once your mind ties these two forces together and brands them as one, they are seemingly inextricable, and many of us have to bottom out on hurt before we can make a change.
Luckily for me, I hit that bottom just about one year ago, and things have been looking up for me ever since. I’ve realized what I think everyone who has gone through the process of healing has, which is that using romantic love – tormented, painful, passionate romantic love – as a way to fill the gaping hole in your heart (whether that hole was caused by childhood wounds or not) is never gonna work. At some point – if you’re going to fully heal and make truly substantive changes not just in terms of romance but in every area of you life – you have to be radically honest about your deep feelings of inadequacy and examine the behavior patterns resulting from that feeling in order to overcome the pain addiction and/or repetition compulsion that leads to toxic or failed relationships. It’s that simple, and that hard. But once you do it – if you can do it, and I believe if I did it anyone can – you are gloriously free and will never be bogged down by that core pain again.
So when pain is taken out of the equation, what is left of love, then? That’s what I’ve been discovering lately/trying to decipher for myself. Fortunately I have a beautiful daughter who teaches me every day what the love of a parent and child can mean, and I feel constantly honored and humbled to have such an amazing relationship in my life. Not only does the act of loving and caring for my daughter feel healing, it’s so constantly inspiring to me. I don’t feel that the act of parenting is selfless, even though it does require putting your child’s needs above yours sometimes. Somehow the rewards bestowed as a result of that sacrifice feel much greater than the sacrifice itself. In order to feel that way about parenting, though, you have to be coming at it from a place of wholeness, not with a deficiency. If your own needs aren’t met, you have nothing to give, so if you’re giving from a place of lack, you’re going to be resentful. And the same is true, of course, for romantic love.
We’ve all been told sooooooo many times in various ways, “You have to be a whole person before you can find your other half.” Wah-wah. Nobody gets it, until they really get it, because it’s just an aphorism. If you already understand the concepts behind that aphorism, fine. Then it can bear significance to you. But if you are living in such tremendous hurt and denial and pain that you can only scoff and laugh at the idea of being a “whole person,” jutting your chin out at the idea as if it’s for fools, then that phrase means nothing. It’s just another joke in a cruel world that keeps dangling carrots above your head, just out of reach. Psh, whole person, yeah right, whatever.
But once you get it – and, to quote Ira Gershwin, you can get it if you try – you get it. What I know about “love” right now – romantic love – that love you’re supposed to have with that person you have sex with – is that I know nothing about what it feels like when it’s good. And I can’t say I don’t get scared, embarrassed and shy feeling like it’s coming to me and I’m going to blush under the weight of my humility at the experience of the thing, because I’m gonna stand there like, “Oh God, this is it, I can feel it, but it’s so nice and kind and I don’t need to control it so I just have to stand here and let it wash over me and ahhhhhhhhh let me have the grace and strength to do that.” You know what I mean? What I know of this love that I have tapped into, Universal Love, is that it blisses you out. It is not mean, it is hella awesome. It doesn’t weigh you down, it lifts you up. It is how some people feel about Jesus. It comes to you when you get naked in a pool with your friend and you have a Korean lady scrub three layers of skin off your body. It comes to you when you have an amazing conversation with your daughter who you just love so much and think is so brilliant. It comes to you when you climb a mountain, or after seeing a good movie, or when you’re just a little bit buzzed and feeling like you wish this night would last forever. I’m not a totally impractical full-time hippie: the only way that feeling of bliss stays with you 24/7 is if you drop out of society and become a Buddhist monk – and even then, I bet they feel it wax and wane based on how satisfied they are with their latest sand mandala. But I know now wholeheartedly that love is not abuse, love is not painful, selfish or cruel. Love only grows and grows and grows. It never shrinks. It never dies.
How to find that with another adult you also want to have sex with? I have no idea. But I do have a tentative theory, and a game plan I’m starting to work with. I think what I have to do is instead of looking for someone to love, I need to look for a business partner. Someone to pair up with. Someone to be my teammate, not my soul mate. I’m not looking at getting to know someone as a way to flirt or to find sexual chemistry or romance, I’ve decided to start interviewing for a co-worker. I have a feeling that if I can find someone who is interested in joining forces, coming on board the Carolyn train, helping me with the things I need help with – I’m going to love him. I mean, that’s why we love our friends, right? So I figure that’s how I can love someone “romantically” too. The love hormone oxytocin is given off during sex, so if you’re having sex with someone you actually like, you’re going to end up in a healthy love relationship with them. At least that’s what I’m hoping for. (That’s also why when you have sex with someone you don’t really like or who you like but who also has behavioral issues, you still fall in love with them, causing yourself major problems.)
I’d like to find a man to do the things I need a man to do in my life. Not someone to be my everything. I’d like someone to be around who can reach up high without a ladder, someone who can lift heavy shit. I’d like someone who likes to run around chasing kids on the playground. I’d like someone who wants me to watch him play sports and cook meat. I figure if I can appreciate a man for his manliness and that’s really all I need from him, how can a love not grow if he’s someone I like? I’m not asking him to be a million things he doesn’t know how to be. That’s not to say I think men should be exempt from having good communication skills and all that jazz, because that’s ridiculous. But I don’t know – all I’m saying is, I have an idea that somehow a good relationship should be pretty simple. You’re two people who like each other, you like being around each other, you work well together and you bump uglies for a thrill and to foster your connection to each other. Is that so hard to find?
Maybe. But the difference between then and now for me is not only do I know exactly what and who I’m looking for, I know I am healed enough to find it. I won’t be derailed by the charming but smarmy guy who lures women in with promises he has no intention of keeping. I’ll just keep interviewing ’til I find the most qualified candidate. I’ve got things covered on my own until he comes along, and I’m not longing for anything anymore. I’m hopeful instead.
Photo credit: iStock.