Friday, August 29, 2008

The L-Word

So, this thing we call LOVE...what the fuck is it? In the dismantling of every belief I've ever held to be true, I find the one I've been most resistant to considering has been the ideas I hold around love. And I have come to realize, as Joni Mitchell so aptly expressed, "It's love's illusions I recall, I really don't know love at all."

Growing up in a cult, you come to see how emotionally charged language can become, how everyday words that have simple meanings for everyone else, have become overlaid with cult doctrine, expectation and emotion. For example, the word "balance", as in "live a balanced life" has come to be associated with hypocrisy. It was what JW's were encouraged to cultivate at every turn, to be "balanced Christians," but the underlying connotation of the word's usage became a vehicle for meaning "Sacrifice everything you can in order to spend more time in the proselytizing work." "Living a balanced life" meant forgoing the simple pleasures of life for more time devoted to the cult. So now, when I hear the word "balance", or the phrases "balanced life", "balanced diet", etc. my body does a little cringe and I have to remind myself or ask what the speaker of this word is actually meaning.

I have found no more highly misunderstood and emotionally charged word than LOVE. More so even than the word GOD. You tell someone you love them and you never know quite how the person has received the word. Some people think it's the request for a lifetime commitment in relationship, that you're asking for marriage, the house, the kids and the white picket fence. Others think it's an invitation for sex. Others see a red flag signaling a request to respond in kind. "She said she loves me, now I have to say it." And still others crave whatever they think this love word means, but will run in the direct opposite direction once they hear it uttered. It's just a word. Four little letters. That's all. And yet, we give it so much power.

I use the L-word quite freely. If I'm feeling connected to someone, I say I love them. It is just a response that comes from the deepest part of myself. It's not even something I think too much about until I see the receiver's furrowed brow or question-mark face, wondering how I could use that word. I will sometimes ask what is going on for the person, what the word love means to them when they hear me say it. And sometimes I just let it go, allowing someone to spin in their own story of what they interpret my use of the love word to mean. Humans are an interesting lot. Funny to watch spin they are. Including myself.

I'm not even sure that the L-word truly conveys what I want to say to people when I use it. It is a child's view of the world, to see people through eyes of wonder and laugh and love so freely. Perhaps "I bliss you" or "I see you" or "I love life living through you" would be a better way to phrase it. Or maybe I should just stop using the L-bomb all together and just smile more. (Is it even possible for me to smile more? I smile a whole lot now.)

I don't know about this love stuff. All I know is that I'm here and I think you're all pretty cool.

tall penguin


Umlud said...

It sucks when sometimes you say something and the intent is misunderstood by the recipient. Then you are left in a lurch of whether or not you should correct them, or just leave it be. I've not the JW background, but I have had similar issues when traveling around the world. Some people are very physically open and expect hugs and kisses, while others are more rigid and only allow for handshakes or bows.

What does all this have to do with anything? Well, I've found that different places and different people react to the word "love" and the phrase "I love you" in vastly different ways. The need to belong is a strong one in many people, and the idea of "love" is perhaps the strongest form of belonging.

tall penguin said...

"The need to belong is a strong one in many people, and the idea of "love" is perhaps the strongest form of belonging."

Gorgeous umlud. I never thought of it like that before.

jdbartlett said...

To me, love is affection, physical or emotional. I like what umlud said, too. When people spend too long trying to define it, they end up introducing unfair expectations ("love is unconditional") and odd stipulations ("love expects nothing in return"). Who says love is unconditional? Who says love isn't expectant?

Love is a butterfly. It usually flutters a little lopsidedly, but let's not pin it down with precise definitions just to find out why.

tall penguin said...

It's interesting jd that you bring up the idea of "unconditional" love. I've never been sure of what that means or how it relates to love. For me, the idea of unconditional love relates more to my not having any agenda for the other person, not having my deepest concern for another person's life tainted by my own view of how they should act, how their life should unfold, and how they should look.

In my experience, as long as you're still looking to someone to fill your void, or fulfill your agenda you can't love them honestly. Of course, there are basic human needs we all have, like touch and basic kindness, but here I'm speaking of that yearning for another to make us whole, to heal us, to undo all the patterning we learned earlier in our lives. As long as that's still the predominant force behind love, I think we're missing out.

Of course, this is a working hypothesis. Been in progress for eons. Don't think we'll ever have it all sorted out. I would appreciate comments on this though. This language has become so loaded that I enjoy hearing what these terms mean to others.