What's Love Got to do With It?
And a Happy Valentine's Day to you, too! The holiday, combined with some conversation with friends, has given me the impetus to do a bit of thinking about the abuses of love. If you've read my new book, This Endless Moment (you HAVE, haven't you???) you'll know that this is a theme dear to my heart.
The West is pretty love struck. Pole axed, actually. Being in love, falling in love, is seen as the be-all and end-all of existence. But there is so much confusion about love and about relationships that it's a wonder love hasn't been outlawed.
I suspect that the biggest "flaw" in the pseudo-love game is the expectation that, once you find someone you are attracted to, that love will lead to instant gratification of all your needs. And it doesn't matter who the "other person" is – whether a spouse, lover, parent or child.
And if there is an expectation, there is, sooner or later, going to be a problem.
Since it's Valentine's Day, I'll stick to dysfunctional love relationships between consenting adults.
While in a sense we "fall in love," in a truer sense we fall into romance or lust. There is nothing as "chargy" and hot as a new relationship. Now, a couple of things have to be factored in, even though we don't want to.
1- 100 years ago, the average lifespan was 47 years. This is relevant because our biological clocks are still set to get us to procreate. In the good old days, you got married young, had a passel of kids, and dropped dead of exhaustion. Life was hard, times were rough, and there wasn't a lot of time for sitting around dreaming up plots, games and dramas.
2- Pound for pound, biological urges are more powerful than rational thought. This is not to say that we cannot defeat our lust and our urge to merge – it's just to say that the urge is strong, and one thing the urge does is to get us to stop thinking.
So, what happens is that, as we "fall in love," we stop thinking, and simply bask in the warmth of the experience.
Until the novelty wears off.
And it does.
Virtually all relationship discord comes when the parties recognize that they have gotten into relationship with someone very different from themselves, someone with wants and needs and desires – and whose desires might run in opposition to their own. (This is also true of kids growing up and asserting independence. Suddenly, they want it their way, not their parent's way, and the trouble starts.)
So, what to do?
Well, growing up is an option. And what I mean by that is that you let go of your need to collect others whose only purpose it to pamper you, praise you and/or obey you. You let go of the childish notion that love is about being the prince or princess of the realm. This will require that you change your tune from "You are here to make me happy," to "I am here to hang out with you and spend time with you and learn about another perspective on living life."
Yet, this is seldom the tack taken, as the "relationship breakup" statistics demonstrate.
It's amazing to watch the extent and depth to which the "loving" manipulation can sink. I don't know why I thought of this, but when I was a kid we had a milkman named Ray (known to all and sundry as "Ray the Milkman." Go figure, eh?)
He was a nice guy. He'd often stand at the kitchen door and chat. Now, of course I was a perfect child (not…). I still remember, though, that on those rare occasions when my mom was mad at me, somehow Ray would find out. (It was likely the pained expression on mom's face - the wailing - the gnashing of her teeth...)
Ray would walk up to me and put a big, meaty hand on my shoulder. He'd look me in the eye and say, "Wayne, if you don't behave and stop making your mom sad, I'll have to take you to the dump, and the rats will get you."
It was so special, growing up in the 50s.
Now, I remember being scared, and fear is a typical behaviour modification technique disguised as a "love" motivator. (By the bye, I didn't get traumatized or permanently scared by Ray. This crap about verbal abuse of poor little Johnny and Susie is a topic for another time. I grew up in a mixed ethnic neighbourhood, and my Italian neighbours, especially, would regularly whap me upside the head if they caught me misbehaving. I have a funny feeling many of you in your 50s will remember similar things.)
Anyway, back to my point. In a sense, Ray was using fear, not to make me a more loving person, but to make me a more obedient one. (Too bad, Ray. It didn’t work.)
Manipulation has many guises, and always involves upping the ante. I regularly see couples move through:
> I'd really love it if you would change this one little thing. (TOLT= "this one little thing")
> I need you to change (TOLT).
> If you loved me, you'd change (TOLT).
> You obviously don't love me. You won't change (TOLT).
> That's it. You're cut off until you change (TOLT).
> I really liked him, but now I can't stand him. (said to everyone else)
> If you don't smarten up and change (TOLT), I'm leaving.
> If you don't smarten up and change (TOLT), I'm leaving. Really. This time for sure.
> I'm leaving.
> Damn! (S)he found someone else!! I'll be (s)he won't have to put up with (TOLT).
> I found someone new!!!!!!!! (S)he's perfect!!!!!!!!
> I'd really love it if you would change this one little thing. (TOLT)
Manipulation is manipulation.
As soon as you equate love with obedience, you are toast. This applies in all pairings. To the day she died, my mom trotted out, "If you loved me, you'd…" I'd grin and say, "When was the last time that worked?" She'd smile a rueful smile, and say, "When you were 17."
The way out is to come to focussed attention. I was working with a 20-year-old and her mom a few weeks ago. The kid is sad, and has some good reasons. She and those surrounding her try to cheer her up. There was relief on her face when I simply suggested it's OK to be sad until you aren't. Thus, her attention is on her sadness, and on her next feeling and her next feeling, as opposed to beating herself up over how she "should" be feeling.
Applied to couples, it's the same. I am with Dar how I am with Dar, moment by moment. There is no "how I ought to be with Dar," nor an "I'm feeling lousy because Dar isn't doing (TOLT) right." In the course of any day, I am a multiplicity of thoughts and emotions, and none of them come from outside events or circumstances.
Once I recognize this and remember to remind myself of this, I can be romantic without being "in romance." I can be loving without being "in love." I can be sad without blame.
The key to a rich and fulfilling life is being present with oneself and with others, in honesty, vulnerability and openness. It's about forgiving and forgetting – and remembering that forgiveness is always self-forgiveness, and forgetting is letting what is past slip gently into the past.
Honour your urge to merge. Honour your hormones. Honour your thoughts and feelings. And notice them passing away, moment my moment.
And have a piece of dark chocolate, and smile.