I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of being “in love” with someone and how it differs from being personally or intimately connected to them. I’ve also been thinking about loving other people that are part of my life. Can this love thing be applied equally across all these people? Was it really the same thing no matter what? I tried to apply this concept for awhile, but it didn’t hold water. So what does it mean to be “in love” with someone and how does that differ than loving them? That is the question.
I found that in religion when they talk about love, it seems to be just one concept. A global concept that is equal all around. This was reflected in the lyrics of John Lennon, “All we need is Love”. There really isn’t a descriptor, definition or guide to understanding love. We are just left to our own experience to decide what this means to us. Is this question of love part of the experience we are looking for when we incarnate into this world? I’m starting to think so because of many reasons. You can look around you to see how people are connected. Some seem to be flawless and smooth and others – well, not so much. For example, look at the relationship between a person and their abusive spouse. More than likely, both of these people witnessed or were exposed to an abusive relationship as children. As children we are sponges soaking up what and how to BE human. We do this through observation and experience of our surroundings. If we see those closest to us (like our parents) verbally or physically abusing each other or us, we perceive and understand this as love because this is our experience of being connected so we look for that in our future relationships. Likewise if you see your parents touching, hugging, kissing, respecting each other; then this is your touchstone or basis of what is love to you.
For me, I had my own experience of knowing love from my parents and family. Being the youngest of 5 children (me being 5 years younger than my next oldest sibling) and growing up on a family farm from the mid 60’s to the early 80’s, my family was busy. My parents were constantly working on the farm and part time jobs and my siblings had their own direction with friends and each other, and then there was me. In many ways I really grew up as an only child with working parents who had little time for anything extra. This was “normal” to me and while I was provided for with food, clothing, shelter – the personal time with my parents and siblings was not as prevalent. I don’t mean to say this as a way of blaming my parents or siblings for how I am today; it just was what it was. This way of growing up afforded me the ability to discover how to take care of myself, entertain myself, become a very keen listener to those around me and to be creative with what I had. In the opposite aspect it also made me question and doubt myself constantly because I had no reference or support in knowing if I was doing anything right. I don’t “blame” my parents because I now understand that they were doing the best they could with the time and resources that they had available to them. This concept has also allowed me to forgive myself for all the dumb things I know I’ve done with my own children during their younger years.
The more I think about this as I write, I am becoming more convinced that love has as many degrees and forms as there are individuals to experience them. I can’t even think of an underlying common attribute for all forms of love – like you would think that all forms have some common ground or defining attribute. Maybe by the end of this article I might discover what that is – at least for me anyway.
As of writing this article, I’ve been married for 24 years and I’d have to say that my definition of love in this marriage has changed and transformed dozens of times over the years. For me, I started out looking for a mate because I was lonely and needed to find any connection I could with someone. This was my primary objective in re-connecting with an old girlfriend and subsequently dating, proposing and marrying her within two years. While I wouldn’t say that this is a perfect reason for getting married, but my level of self-confidence was very low so I was looking for another to bolster me, to fill that void. Luckily for me, the Universe allowed me to connect with someone who not only did this, but also allowed me to fumble, make mistakes and grow all while loving me in her own way. I knew she loved me and it was obvious considering the amount of turbulence I caused in my own life with job changes, moving where we lived and bouts with depression. I never felt that she was putting up with me, but rather that she had a good solid foundation of understanding what love is and that she loved me no matter what I did or didn’t do. I still to this day don’t understand that place of love she knows or what it takes to get there.
It seems to me that love is fluid and gives people what they need at any moment in time during the relationship. With this fluidity, comes change and allows the person to either re-establish a new connection to each other or to opt-out along the way. Love can take the form of letting go, of allowing someone to move beyond what you can give them that maybe something or someone else can. It’s important to see how love is working in your relationships and to ask if it is something that is aiding you to grow, or is it holding you in place stifling you.
For me, love at the beginning of my marriage was selfish and I’m guessing that for my spouse, she was also looking to be connected because she wanted/needed to have that connection for herself. This “co-dependence” really lasted throughout the majority of our marriage, but with lesser and lesser degrees as we grew as individuals with our careers, confidence levels and spiritually (not related to religion). As I became more self-confident in mastering my depression, outlook on direction, path and goals; this has changed how I rely on my spouse. I’ve become more independent which has changed the definition or reason why I’m married. My original need is eroding before me and there hasn’t been something to replace this space being created. At the same time, the expectations or needs of my spouse (from her perspective I’m guessing), hasn’t changed much from the beginning. What I’ve come to understand however, is that her love co-dependence of me is now being challenged and that she is being forced to look at her own self – to understand who she is as an independent person and daring to know how to love herself without the support of anyone else. You might think that I owe it to her to stay in a relationship that she has “put up with” for so many years. I’ve thought of that, but I think the reality is that we both received exactly what we needed from each other for the time we were together. Now, we’ve come to a place that the definition of our relationship needs to be re-defined, altered and the established again in whatever form suits us best for our highest and greatest good.
I think it’s important that anyone in a relationship allow the fluid nature of love to ebb and flow and not to hold on too tight to its original state. If the fluidity takes form in a new bond that allow the two people to remain intimately close, then great. If the form changes so the two are apart but still honor one another, then that’s great too. Spending too much time holding onto an outmoded relationship will ultimately cause damage to it and cause issues with anyone connected to that relationship (especially if there are children). I believe that the more we love ourselves completely, the less we have a dependence on others to love us. We no longer need another to complete us or make us feel whole. We as people need to honor the fluid nature of love in order to be truly free and loving to all people.
As the relationship evolves and grows in a positive manner, the need and reason for love then moves beyond the selfish and, I believe, moves into the realm of being complementary. I see complementary love to be where the two people are becoming or creating something that is more than the sum of its parts. I believe this state of complementary love can be achieved and that it can take on different forms. I think that it can come along and establish itself within an existing relationship or that it can be created within a new relationship. Also, within each of these (new or existing) relationships, the people can choose whether they stay (live) together or if they move apart and establish themselves on new paths. Of the two forms (together or apart) the most challenging to me would be being apart.
If you decide to stay together in a living arrangement, the complementary love will intertwine and really be indecipherable as a unit (from the outside observer), yet each individual will be established in their own power center and path for themselves. If you decide to live apart, I believe the complementary love will only be observable by the most keen and closest individuals to the relationship. A distance complementary love while it appearing to be a good friendship, it will provide each person with a touchstone base to continue to grow from. While there is no “need” for this base, it is a gathering point of energy produced by the complementary love that then returns and amplifies the energy back to those individuals as well as other connected with them. Both the intimate and distance complementary love provide this base amplification, it’s just in the perception of those feeling that love, that it will be different. The intimate complementary love will likely feel focused and directed from the two, while distance will feel surrounding or like it’s coming from all around and without direct intent.
Next, I would like to touch on the feelings of sexual desire for another. This too has various purposes and degrees just as much as love (or any other emotion). I think too often people think of sexual desire as being in love. While I’d agree that there are complementary feelings that can occur between these, I think they are for the most part mutually exclusive. I believe that the hang-ups that society has about sex is directly related to distinguishing sex from loving or being in love with a person. I can see how wanting a sexual relationship with more than one person can cause any one of those involved to feel jealous and insecure. But I’d argue that this jealousy and insecurity is related more to a lack of self-confidence and self-love. If you are truly loving and confident in your love for another and yourself, seeing that person enjoying themselves with another would really have no bearing on you. I think this concept (referred to as poly-amorous) is easy to understand logically, but rather very difficult to implement in any long term fashion with success. I believe it will take a much more evolved society to support this, but it can be done now if you have the right kind of support system in place.
Finally, I believe there is another segment of love worth mentioning and that is the kind you would have for close friends, colleagues and family. If you could imagine love as being a sphere with the inner most center of it being the deepest most profound love possible and going out to the outer layers which is where you see and recognize the person as… well… a person – a fellow human being which may ignite some kind of compassion and caring in you. As you traverse further in toward the center you can in a way categorize groups of people that fall into the various “love levels”. For example an outer layer could be related to work colleagues, then moving in to the friends level, then to family and so on. Depending how your relationships are with each of these groups of people, their position in the “layers” may change. For example, you might have more affection or love for one of your friends than you do a sibling, aunt or uncle. I think the outer rings of love are still fluid and in flux as relationships change, grow or disappear. The important part here it to allow this flux to happen and to recognize it as a change that doesn’t have to have a meaning or reason behind it. It’s just how it is at that moment in time. This flexibility will cause a feedback loop that will amplify and provide a harmonic resonance within the relationship giving it space to grow and give the individuals involved a sense of peace and fulfillment within themselves.
So you might be asking where I am at with my marriage in the great grand scheme of love? My answer is that it has most certainly moved into the realm of complementary love in the distance form. This form is perfect for both my spouse and I and the eventuality of its form is yet unknown. As this is really one of the newest forms of love that I can imagine, it has a lot of unknown territory to discover and define. I find myself to be both excited and intrigued with its possibilities and hopeful as to being able to show this as a possibility for others who know there is another way of being together – yet apart.
Is there a common ground or thread among all these forms of love? My answer is yes and I think it’s called “fluidity”. So as the old saying goes, “Go with the flow”.