All nature unveils dazzling secrets in the springtime, ones that poets commemorate and about which songwriters rhapsodize. The season symbolizes so many real and alleged delights one might feel puzzled if not also reveling in the thick of it. It is, after all, about instinct for most life forms. This is grand regenerative drama with visual spectacles of foliage and flower. It speaks to inherent power, a bringing forth of new life with enactments of birth, a transformation of the unseen into the seen. Spring heralds a sweeping panorama of beginnings that ask us to go along for the journey. Animal and vegetable kingdoms participate amply at nature’s demand.
For homo sapiens, it’s more complicated than straight forward instinct. But this time of year we become acutely attuned to renewal on every level. It makes sense this includes a sensitivity to and a longing for romantic love. Or its reinvigoration. Its fulfillment, we learn early, is a fundamental basis of continued human endeavors. Without the dynamics of love and a passionate sexuality that attends it, life can seem bland, indeed, not to mention there would be fewer long-term commitments, extravagant weddings and babies born. Eros–that impassioned love that sparks deep attraction between two people–is important, no doubt about it.
“Love makes the world go round” or so the song intones. The gaining of it, keeping it and losing it: we are all familiar with these sooner or later. It feels intrinsic to cycles of life as we imagine a true-love-with-commitment scenario. We spend a lifetime looking for it. Spend untold amounts of money and energy to attract those we hope to identify as “ours”. There’s a complex portion of the economy dedicated to ensuring people will nurture and pursue this urge, this incarnation of happiness. From physical enhancements to emotional strategies to conversational skills, there are endless resources to aid in gaining love and a partner. We are told seduction is necessary–sexual, mental, emotional–and if one is good enough at it, the end result ought to be triumphant. It all starts to sound like a competition. As within other natural kingdoms, people seem up against the fit and fitter and fittest, just with more variations and options. So the race is on for emotional and physical security. Continuation of the species. A lasting refuge in which to raise and tend family or just enjoy the loyal, fulfilling company of another. When it comes to that, Eros may have been sufficiently satisfied and partners may move on to another phase of love. But it is still likely the glue that bonded them initially.
All this can be enough to overwhelm. The expectations, entrenched longing, requirements that seem endless. For so many, images of couples strolling hand in hand by a riverbank as butterflies flutter about don’t match reality. Such romantic interludes can feel more like a rude swat at one’s self-esteem. What if there is not another person to stroll with? Or that person is not even close to what one imagined or things have lately been on the wane or on the rocks? In that case, springtime is not much different from any other season. Or it may be that spring with its beauty and bounty is a cut to the heart.
I’ve often thought there is far much emphasis placed on an overly romantic version of love. It can get in the way of possibilities. Distort what may be going on beneath a beguiling exterior of an enamored courtship. For all its flash and shout, Eros can be less than what was wanted in just a short while. Unless one isn’t even seeking the steady presence of a long burning flame. In which case, it may be enough. And then one moves on–and this may be on repeat.
I recall my burgeoning awareness of the male of our species. As all youth surely believe, there was one perfect soul mate out there for me. I felt all I had to do was send out signals and the beloved would appear. I was sure as anyone that I’d find someone or just be found, in a packed crowd on a sidewalk, in the rustling audience of a concert, at the lake on summer vacation. I’d fine-tune wishes and requirements, become very discerning. This would enhance the potential for life mate discovery. But in the final analysis it seemed a mighty, mysterious thing. Perhaps a beam would even be emitted from my soul, heart and eyes so the right one would recognize my plaintive call. And that would be that.
Well, maybe for penguins, eagles or armadillos. Not as much for humans. Though never say never. That love hope stuff isn’t easily eradicated. Nor should it be. The wisdom may reside in broadening one’s perspective of what it can be as well as how you tend to it to keep things healthy.
It has been noted (derived from the ancient Greeks) that there are at least four types of love. My loose interpretation is as follows: affectionate regard (dispassionate, empathetic, between friends), charity (unconditional good will toward others, a love of God), erotic (romantic/sexual love), and family/community love (acceptance, loyalty). As a teen and young adult, I liked the author (and Christian philosopher) C.S Lewis as well as his ideas about this very thing, so I read and pondered.
I was eager to learn more. I already knew what love of a friend was; I had very close friendships growing up and into adolescence, some of the most intense and trustworthy I’d ever sustain. I knew about love for and from God, as I had experienced spiritual security ever since I could recall. And my family? Well, they were my tribe, they were who I shared daily life with, the ones who connected me to the past and even my future. But romantic love was a surprise, as it is for everyone growing up. Perplexing. Intimidating in ways but alluring and chock full of possibilities.
I do admit that even as a youth, I wanted it all. Who does not? I longed for a best friend who could also be a sensitive lover, someone who shared with me a deep love for God. Plus, a suitable partner with whom to raise a family, eventually. And someone with significant, incisive intelligence and a need for outdoor activity and also it’d be best if he was well-versed in the arts. And engaged in creative pursuits. Was that too much to ask? If that was what I needed to share in order to be a fulfilled human being, then it just had to happen. I dispassionately evaluated each date in this fashion even as I was enjoying the movie or concert or bike ride with conversation. I sure wasn’t necessarily thinking of marriage, just a decent, longer (more than six weeks to three months) involvement with potential for a relationship.
Wishful thinking, as we know it, does not guarantee one thing. But I was indefatigable. To my surprise as time went by, there seemed to be more possibilities than not. There wasn’t just one guy who might be The Absolute One, there was one who was this and one who was that. And some a combination of diverse characteristics I didn’t even imagine. This was confounding to my youthful sensibility. It made it harder, by far. But love? Is that what I felt? I might have said likely not, or not fully or deeply enough. What I did note, on occasion, was an appearance of two or three of the four “love types.” I thought that might be enough. It was not.
In the midst of all this, something happened despite calculations and magical thinking. I found myself in love at around fifteen. The sort that convinces you that the other is meant to be at your side forever. The type that brings intoxication when in another’s presence, yet even basic conversation is equally magnetic. And silence can feel a purposeful, even profound communique.
He was two years older. He was a somewhat shy, soft-spoken person who was transformed by being on the stage in many school plays. A very good student. A master of easy if sometimes sparse conversation. The opposite of myself in appearance–those clear dark brown eyes and near-black hair, much taller, skin a tinge deeper–he held a masculine, unique grace that spoke volumes. He shared a love of God, felt steady in his faith. We enjoyed many of the same interests.
We could pass hours of quiet days and nights in our pretty town. Sit on a hillside or street curb, imagine creatures in clouds, cite mythic constellations. Talk about little or much. The sound of his voice stilled and stirred me. He was more restrained, cautious. I was bolder, more open. We seemed complimentary to one another and it felt good. I thought: this covers it, it’s all four loves, he must be the one–already, so soon. What next?
We were together through that year, off and on for another. Then he graduated. We’d had many discussions about faith and philosophy, life’s challenges, what we aimed to accomplish, how we might stay together. I wasn’t that clear about a life trajectory, nor was I sure I wanted to be yet. It began to feel more complicated. The love I felt was there; a deep attachment had occurred. But I had more to explore. He was on a proscribed path to a mapped out future. And then he graduated from high school. Headed to university far away.
You know how this goes. The literal distance was great. Our differences became more diverse and persistent. I was not ready for what I considered a most ordinary lifestyle, was not going to follow him into the desert. We each had experiences that left what was “us” farther behind. I embarked on more dates, then more mature relationships. I graduated, started college. Then every few years we would hear from one another or run into each other when visiting the home town. And still, the sound of his voice; the unspoken words in his gaze…they held something true and good for both. But it was not to be; we were living other lives. We could no longer be those two youths discovering love for the first time, but could keep it private and protected, a beautiful memory.
Most of us have that first revelatory relationship against which we measure all others a long time. But eventually I moved on and so did he: we grew up. I found my way to another intense and collaborative relationship with the man who became my first husband. And I even liked marriage, that common agreement among two who commit to the old “through thick and thin.” Nonetheless, it ended. But I tried marriage again. Loving and being loved is that meaningful and hopeful.
I can be alone and well at peace with solitariness, for I made friends with my own self long ago. Yet I am not someone–despite a few wilder leanings, some brazen forays into the greater world–who prefers to experience life without a partner, if possible. Not now, in any case, as my life season moves closer to my amber days and nights. I still value love, its vast life terrains, its mysteries of heart and soul, its physical landscapes. Who among us does not want love in our lives? But there is more than one sort if you recall. I want to again revisit these with their ancient Greek descriptors: agape (spiritual, the love for humanity), phileo (friendships or platonic love), storge (family, one’s community), eros (romantic love with sexual passion). Doubtless they overlap at times. Our experiences are defined by intentions and actions, our desires and chosen paths.
I am married, have been a long while to M. But I also have intense affection and love for my friends, allegiances that will remain as long as they are wanted, needed. Some friendships don’t last forever but that is alright, too. Without these casual or close friends I would be at a loss for countless small, even rare joys. I value comfort shared between two or more who respect and cherish one another as we each are. Friendship enlarges us. It instructs us in the ways of empathy, appreciation and acceptance. And my love for family is primal, so deep is the attachment, so instinctive my responses. My wider, more dilute appreciation of those who share similar interests as mine is significant to me. We are a community even if we do not have frequent contact (hikers, writers groups, music appreciators)–or any except virtual (like a blogging community).
But my love for God is my greatest love. No matter my troubles, no matter what changes; despite failed relationships or loss of health or career impasses; regardless of whether I am happy, foolish or intimate with darker moments–I know there is always love for me. I long ago acknowledged life as lived within reach of the Divine Creator and it has remained so, first and last. I was born into such love; I believe we originate from God. Thus, return to a homeland, an everlasting existence within God’s eternity. Never have I lost my love for God although life has kicked me hard at times and I have fought back and have been alone. Because not once has God forgotten me, only waited for me to reconnect. I am as sure of God’s Presence this moment as I was as a small child when I found myself in the presence of angels. God bears our sorrows and knows our yearnings and shows us the way to fulfillment even here on earth. I am reminded daily of ineffable connections to an infinite universe. The God I know energizes and protects our very essence. Such Love is the source of all others.
I do not need anyone to tell me I am valued, worthy of love. It wasn’t always so simple; the lesson has been well learned year by year, with regard and the loss of it to teach me. But it has become a truth that aids me in living well despite trials and tribulations. I have been fortunate to care for and be cared about by many. And I do know that we can each be one heartbeat away from devastation even as we seek love. It is part of the damaging workings of this world, the errors and blindness. Yet we need to reach to others; it is in our earthly nature. Mending from our brokenness we still have the urge to offer and accept love; it is our spiritual destiny.
So if during this springtime you see quintessential young lovers and feel the acuteness of your present aloneness, try to not bemoan it much. Reach out to someone, anyway, a smile, a helping hand. Offer a word of cheer to the harried neighbor. Nod warmly at the old lady crossing the street with her cart. Hold someone who needs it–a friend, a family member– gently, tenderly, for a moment. Whatever you are able to do will make a difference that links you to another–we are built this way on purpose. So find authentic ways to give of yourself. To care without demands.
Rediscover the comfort and awe of your spiritual belief or go in brave search of it. There are marvels to behold. What you kindly share will be returned if you allow yourself to open, then again and again. It is meant for you to know and nurture all this variety of love.