“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” –Rumi
There is something about the way much of modern society views love outside of family ties that I find deeply disturbing.
It is often thought that the only people that you should use the word love with are people in your family, or people that possibly will become your family through you being married / settled down with them. Even when you don’t settle down and get married to somebody, the concept of using the word love only for people that will most likely be in your life forever tends to predominate. Not everybody thinks this way, but it is the dominant hidden traditional social value, especially in more modernized, atomized societies.
Yes, I understand; love is a strong word. It’s not something that you want to just throw around in any situation. I agree – love is not some lighthearted feeling we just get. But I also think that our fear about using the word “love” often has more to do with being afraid of dealing with deeper feelings than it does with using the word in vain. You know … those feelings that you don’t “want to” have, or you wish somebody else did[n't] have.
But shying away from seeing love in more than just the usual places doesn’t stop it from existing. And this narrowed focus often does stop many people from realizing a connection that, in hindsight, damn well should have been made. We’ve all seen movies and heard songs about such missed connections. I think this is a major reason why so many people find themselves lonely when they grow old – because they never let themselves see love in all the places they can’t imagine it existing, even though it really does exist.
True love, as we all know somewhere down in the depths of our hearts, does not have these arbitrary limits. It exists in places it “shouldn’t” exist – places that break with tradition, and complicate things through their inconvenient truths. Love affairs that never should have taken place. “Forbidden” feelings that never should have come about. Attachments that seem to have no rhyme or reason for existing. Longings that feel so gut-wrenching on the one hand, and yet so right at the same time. Relationships that can’t go any further, due to incompatibility of desires and circumstances – and yet, somehow they do.
True love does not fit into these boxes that we are constantly trying to put it in. When our needs and desires are strong enough, they will transcend any analysis that we have made about what we think is right for ourselves. Very often, it is precisely when we are not looking for love in other places that we find it in other places. The trouble happens when our ideas about who we are and what is right for us become so strong and inflexible that they prevent us from being open to love in these other places.
Who is to say that you are always going to feel loved most strongly where you are “supposed” to feel it, in the traditional realms? There will surely be times when your closest family or significant other is not the place that you are feeling loved. This happens all the time. It’s part of life. The thinking that somehow you must find love only in certain designated places is an unfortunate byproduct of a society that classifies everything in terms of property – and the more we adhere to such rigid standards, the more we miss out on.
The reason I titled this post “the loves of our lives” (with that extra S) is because it is more accurate to speak of love as something that is in many places and many people, as opposed to just one. When we are feeling uncertainty around love, it can be hard to figure out where our next loving interaction will come from. That’s a scary thought. Modern society provides for so many eventualities; we refrigerate and store food, so we’ll never be hungry. We save money in the bank, so that we’ll never be broke. Why would we want to leave something like where we are going to find love to chance? I think this is perhaps the single greatest motivation for pair-bonding; that it looks and feels easier to guarantee a steady supply of love if you have a nice, simple source of it always handy, without the complications of juggling other relationships.
But sometimes, the story doesn’t play out is it supposed to, or as you think it will. Sometimes, things run a little bit differently – or very differently. At times like that, it is important to remember the many places where you can find love – EVEN IF yes, it would be ideal to have one primary source of it.
Some people come into your life, you love them and they love you, and then you part ways. And then there are those who are in your life to stay – that, come what may, you know that they will never leave. Even if you go 20 years without seeing the other person, the next time you see them after those 20 years, the feelings will pick up often in the same intimate spot where they left off. Love does not always follow the standard narrative, and, if you are open to its deviations, it can actually be quite an interesting and rewarding journey.
So don’t shut yourself off to all the different places you can get in touch with love. Because hey – as horrible as it is to say this, even if you do find the perfect person and spend the rest of your days with them, one of you will leave before the other and the other will hurt as a result, no matter what (the exception being if the two of you are killed simultaneously, such as in a fatal accident together). Certain avenues of giving and receiving love are glamorized and emphasized, and no, we don’t like to examine questions like these – but this is reality that is completely unavoidable if / when it hits: there’s no true protection against getting badly hurt.
Those among us that do not have multiple sources of giving and receiving love are much more likely to become desperate, to find themselves without somebody to lean on in a time of need. Some desperate folks can also unfortunately wear out the one or two people they do have much faster, precisely because they only have one or two people to turn to. Though there is no rulebook for how to get to feeling a loving connection with several people, I’d like to start out with some major principles I use in my life:
1) Stay open to those avenues of connection that you can explore, especially when those you want to explore are not open to you. Here’s one take on how that works. Be honest about what you can give and receive, but as long as the situation does not cause harm or manipulate you, stay open to it. You really never know where the next awesome experience will come from.
2) Stay far away from people who dictate to you whom you should love and how, or otherwise try to coerce you. Jealous and needy people deserve love also, but if they are unwilling to see their part in their issues, getting close to them can suck you dry. People get needy and jealous for a reason, but it must not be left to fester, and you cannot let it control you.
3) Prioritize people who want a real partnership with you. And by that I don’t mean necessarily somebody you are going to get really close to, or even see every other day; what I mean is that the best relationships happen with people who innately understand the value of teamwork in interaction – co-pilots on the journey together, even when that journey separates for periods of time. More about that can be found here.
4) Go after positive people. You know, people who value feeling good more than they value being better than other people. People who like to make other people smile. Compassionate people that are also driven, that are fun and safe to be around, with whom you feel that you are ok, that you don’t have to walk on eggshells around. People who will listen when you need to be heard, and value honesty and openness about reality. Not everybody is always like this all the time, of course – in fact, one big reason I write this blog is because so many of us are not in this mindset so much of the time. It’s important to find positive inspiration in the people you hang around. That’s why you should seek them out – they will help you to be more positive yourself. It’s a beneficent cycle.
A note about “positive people,” by the way: “positive” does not mean that a person doesn’t feel or express bad feelings sometimes. Those people who try too hard to be positive all the time are faking it. They are not living honestly, and thus they are not truly living positively. The key difference between somebody who expresses negative thoughts / feelings in a positive manner and someone who truly has a negative attitude is that the positive-thinking person understands their feelings and thoughts as just that – feelings and thoughts – and nothing necessarily more than that. A positive person understands that thoughts and feelings do not automatically lead in any specific direction; they can be talked about, meditated on, analyzed, broken down, learned from, and felt fully, without leading to immovable assumptions about blame, shame, or punishment.
5) Diversify. Not too much – it’s not like you need to form a deep relationship with everyone who walks into your life; that is impossible. But do try to always keep at least a small few good solid bonds, if you haven’t already.
6) Look forwards.
Negativity looks invariably backward. Positivity looks forward. When you are looking backward, all you can see is whom you’ve loved in the past and whom you love now – you cannot make room for those people you will love – and love again – in your future. Do not shut yourself off to this either – the future loves in your life. Keep your arms and your heart open to them, even if it’s hard sometimes – because these wonderful relationships that haven’t happened yet will need something on you to latch onto and take root.
Even if you don’t know how it will happen, or whether you are good enough – keep your arms open to this future. Change wreaks havoc on us sometimes. We should be open to using this same change to our benefit when some good luck gets thrown our way.
And may the loves of your life continuously enrich your life, that you may never forget the value of living.