I made a new friend.
My column deadline past, I asked him, as I often do urgently of whomever I’m talking to at the moment, what to write about. Write about love, he urged. Do you believe that Love still exists? I’d love to hear your opinion about that.
He wrote love with a capital L, typing in the taxi on the way home.
But that would be a small story, I argued, one of those that could not fill a column.
I remembered when I’d tried to write about my mother’s love, and discovered all I could muster was two sentences. Everyone knew how much she loved me. The retired diplomat, I reminded she had died in the supermarket alcohol aisle, looked me hard in the eye and said it, as if she were revealing something I might not know, something I did not deserve. I know, I said the two words calmly; because I knew.
He disagreed. I think you could get an entire column. People love to read about love. But for most they’ve lost the ability to show love or to even receive love. I think your topic should be to reinforce that love still exists.
Well, I thought you wanted me to share my opinion, not yours, I didn’t say.
It was my 2015 reflection on Grief, Hope, Love & Activism that set me down the path of telling small stories. I talked mockingly about love and relationships with the deprecating self-disclosure that’s become a signature. By the time men reach my age, those of us capable of being in loving relationships already are, I concluded; and single people are for a reason, and the process of dating them is its discovery.
I’ve had the few big relationships in my life, I’ve long concluded. If love visits again, it will be more than I deserve.
But I don’t know if I believe that any more.
I remember the opening words of the self-help book that was all the rage in my 20s. “Life is difficult.”
Love is difficult.
So little in this culture teaches us to do it well. It fails at building our empathy or self-awareness, two fundamental pillars of being loving. One learns to love by being loved. Yet many parents aren’t given tools to teach that.
Many of us go through love untrained, using muscles we haven’t exercised, and shutting down in pain when we injure them. Love muscles pull easily when we hide away refusing to use them, then overexert them in those rare moments magic comes along.
Love finds us, and we find ourselves incapable of greeting it.
Worse, masculinity teaches men how to hoodwink others into doing loving things, while declining to be accountable to those who show us that love. Accountability is a third pillar of love. It does not mean we never do hurtful things. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” is in some ways true. Most men believe saying sorry is all they have to do. Love means having to show you are sorry; not say it.
I’m beginning to believe many of us quite capable of loving are not in loving relationships. My first conversation with my new friend pivoted on a line: “Kindness is more important than most things.” It broke the ice for both of us. Kindness comes to him so easily. So I am sure that love will too. The lesson that perhaps will get him there is that love is always difficult, no matter how rewarding.
Love is not something that befalls you. It is something that is broken open by others. But it is not something that everyone who taps and breaks in deserves. And that is the hardest lesson of love. When to know who is worthy of it.
“Love is raw and sometimes it pains. It’s scary AF. It could bring so much uncertainty. But love is a substance that continually be because it never stops existing even when you don’t want it, it’s around you.”
Oh God, no! Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other. I still remember the adolescent translation of the gay German poet’s words I held onto so tightly. Loving is about a commitment to the other’s growth. Perhaps that is what me miss most often in recognising what is love.
I never take others’ column suggestions seriously. But yesterday was El día de muertos, a celebration of how loving keeps our dear dead alive with us. So today is a good day to write about love. Perhaps the ancestors will bless us with it.
Is how you have me in a taxi and doing all this writing, LOL, I’m no writer, my friend protested. We are all writers, some perhaps better than others. And perhaps I believe now, too, that more of us can be lovers.