Thursday, May 5, 2011

Stare at It and Go Blind

1. “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 116).

2. “If I love you, do I have to give up being me?” (source forgotten, from a self-help book on relationships)

3. “I am I and you are you. If we find each other, it’s beautiful. If we don’t, it can’t be helped” (Fritz Perls).

4. “The existence of love is as unprovable as the existence of God” (Patrick Califia).

Statement #1, from one of Shakespeare’s sonnets of the 1590s, written for a loved one whose identity is still in question, has troubled me since I first read it in my teens.

If true, did this mean that if I was “going steady” with a boy who beat me, or who was arrested for murder and armed robbery, I could never stop loving him despite the drastic change in my perception of him? (In fact, the permanence of love is the message of a song sung by Maria in West Side Story after her boyfriend Tony, based on Shakespeare’s Romeo, has killed her brother in a gang war.) Wouldn’t a blindly stubborn love that persists despite change be a sign of mental illness?

Yet passionate, unbreakable, monogamous, lifelong love was held up to me in my youth as the goal of every human being.

This leads to quotation #2. I like to think I’m logical. Therefore I’m willing to make compromises in any relationship, including a friendship. It might be inconvenient for me to do you a favour, but if I really enjoy your company and don’t want to lose it, I’ll be willing to invest in a good thing.

This is often the first step on a slippery slope.

How have I loved badly? Let me count the ways. I’ve demanded equality from Significant Others who have promised it and then pressured me to give up my time, my space, my interests, my job, my money, my library of books, my name, my friends, my only child. In such cases, I always wonder what “love” means to the other person.

I have loved (passionately!) my own image of what the other person could become (with my guidance, of course) when/if he or she gives up an addiction, gets out of debt, gets off probation, figures out what honest vocation he/she is suited for, learns to love generously. Clearly, my own image of myself as logical and sensible is sometimes as far from reality as my image of a lover of the moment as a brilliant gem deep down inside – where no one else can see the gleaming potential.

In the end, I always rediscover the wisdom of Fritz Perls. Leopards can rarely change their spots.

Thus we come to Quotation #4. Patrick Califia (a transman formerly known as Pat) is a counsellor and prolific writer of BDSM erotic fantasy who helped to form the gay/lesbian/bisexual BDSM (bondage/discipline/sadomasochistic) community of San Francisco in the early 1980s. The relationship (and the gap) between fantasy and reality might be considered his area of specialty.

There it is: the only love I can be sure of is the love I feel for someone else right now, in the moment. And the love I feel might not be for the other person as she is, but as I want her to be.

The love she claims to feel for me might simply be a love of what I can provide. And she might not even be aware of what she really loves. Or fears.

Gack. Ultimately, this chain of thought always leads me to realize that the search for love is as frustrating as a search for God or for happiness. I usually feel I’m closest to it when I think I’m looking for something else.


  1. hi Jean!

    This is a rare insight you never hear spoken much of, the fact that what we know of ourselves is a mix of reality and illusion, and the person we love is at least partly the illusion we have of them. I see this most prominantly in religion, in the image of God people make to worship.

    There is a wonderful sci fi movie called "Solaris", based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem, where after a lot of this and that, a man on a spaceship is haunted by the return, in the flesh of his wife who had killed herself years ago. So the image was made from his memories of her and the story plays with this whole idea of who we love compared to how that person sees themselves.

    Good post.


  2. Shakespeare was talking about "nice" love. What you experienced sounds like destructive love. Even Shakespeare would have said "find the door and run," only in iambic pentameter.

    Love is complicated. The failure wasn't in loving, it was in the people who couldn't be loved.

  3. Your post suggests that love is something one-sided, and perhaps that is true. We can never really know whether our lovers feel the same intensity of desire, the same sense of commitment, the same willingness to sacrifice for the sake of the relationship.

    Personally, I'm fortunate. I've experienced a good deal of "nice" love and not much destructive love, though I've seen it in operation. I suspect my sunny view of the world would cloud if I had gone through some of what you have been subjected to.

    Finally, though, I do agree (as hinted in my post) that you can't search for love. It has to find you. And perhaps it only exists in those precious, joyous moments when you realize that it has.