A while back, drinking with a friend, I was trying to explain my worldview with regard to relationships and poly, and was struggling to explain how I view love and behavior as different beasts. Since then, I've added attraction to the mental mix, and the result is this blog post, still a work in progress-- an unfinished reflection on how my mind, heart, and spirit work.
I love almost everyone. Not just like. Not just care for. Love. LOVE-- got it? Honestly, it's so hard to describe to most people, and I'm not sure that I, myself, could have wrapped my head around what this feels like has someone tried describing it to me a few years back. Love is just so easy for me. It flows so naturally into my life, through my heart, and (hopefully) out into the world. I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time blabbing about the ways I try to manifest (or have manifested) love into the world, because that would be awkward, but suffice to say that the majority of the last 16 years of my life have had service to others, and to improving the world in general, as a prime theme. I've done paid work in service fields, organized volunteer work, and have (on multiple occasions) reached out to someone when I felt led to extend myself for them in love, service, and solidarity. Sometimes, it's a small thing-- a kind word, a gentle touch, a ride home from work. Other times it's a big thing-- a place to stay for as long as needed, a U-Haul full of furniture for a single mom, or a voice on the phone until the police arrive for safe escort out of an an abusive home. But love is both noun and verb for me-- it is the essence of our connectedness as humans and the feelings that accompany unqualified connectedness with another, and it is the action of that essence expressing into manifest reality.
Some of my favorite writings on love are from M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled (a book I highly recommend). Peck defines love thus: "The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." He adds, "as defined, love is a strangely circular process.... When one has successfully extended one's limits, one has then grown into a larger state of being. Thus the act of loving is an act of self-evolution even when the purpose of the act is someone else's growth." There's a lot more fabulous reflection on love in this chapter-- so much that I can't even begin to touch its intensity here. Read it.
The ultimate points I glean from this definition and my own reflection upon it are:
- Love is a cosmic, soul-expanding, mind-blowing, indescribable feeling, as well as a chosen action to express.
- Love grows me. When I love you, I grow. When I love me, I grow. When my love for you causes me to extend myself beyond my own comfort zone, within the boundaries of my own mental health and physical and emotional safety, I grow in ways I cannot imagine.
From experience, I can add that this is not an altogether reasonable proposition that can be trusted innately, but that once I began to trust in the process of love, I began to see the ways in which my expressions of love have grown, challenged, and healed me. There was a time when I was scared of giving love that was misused or not returned. Now that fear has faded considerably. I love because it is the right action, not because I have an expectation. I might still take a little time to sort out what the best way for us to be connected and share love might be (it won't be the same with every relationship, of course), but I'm not afraid of loving you, or me for that matter.
While I feel strongly that love is love, all love springs from the same source and can carry the same definition, and that I'm not very good at loving some people more than others, I can tell you that attraction, for me, is separate from love. I love my partner, my closest friends, my peripheral friends, my kids, my dad, and my coworkers. I don't lust after all of them.
Love is the same, and love is the underlying nature of the universe.
Attraction is what sets my heart on fire with desire for greater closeness with someone. Attraction can be a simple longing to know more of someone, to be closer to them, to be more open in what shared love might be there. I'm attracted to all sorts of people, although I'm not attracted to every person I love. Usually, I'm also pretty good at keeping my attraction to someone else in check. If someone is of a gender identity and/or sexual orientation that would make a relationship with me a high impossibility, my attraction will probably never expand beyond a desire to know more of someone or be closer. If someone is a potential romantic partner (in terms of gender identity and sexual orientation) and lets me know they are not interested in or comfortable with a relationship with me, that's also a deal-breaker. I'm not much for pining after or longing for someone who doesn't want to partner with me in that way, although I'd love to continue the friendship in whatever way is comfortable.
But if someone to whom I feel attraction expresses an attraction in return, that's when simple attraction to the idea of closeness becomes something more, and becomes desire for intimacy, contact, and physical connection. It might be slow going (because all omnipolysexuoamorous leanings aside, I'm still pretty old fashioned and cautious), but things do (ideally) start moving in the direction of increased intimacy and trust.
General philosophical leanings aside, I'll add the more personal caveat that I'm not likely to feel much attraction to people I don't know at all. Attraction, for me, is only minimally influenced by cultural definitions of physical attractiveness, and tends to radiate out from within someone to grab ahold of me at a similarly deep place within me.
All of which bring me to...
No matter what love exists between me and another person, or how attracted I might be to someone, or what the nature of our relationship, love and attraction are still separate issues from any kinds of behaviors.
A few illustrations of this point:
- I love my kids. I am not attracted to them in a romantic way, obviously. My expressions of love for them include cooking for them, feeding them, diapering them when they're babies, making choices for them that they are too young to make for themselves, and providing healthy discipline.
- I love my primary partner. I am attracted to him in a romantic and sexual way, obviously. My expressions of love for him include (occasionally) cooking for him, helping around the house, picking up special things for him when I'm out, sending intimate (and sometimes kinky) texts and emails to him, grabbing his ass whenever the chance presents or kissing him, making love, and more. I do not make his choices for him or discipline him (not counting kink-- duh!) even though those are perfectly loving behaviors that work for my kids.
- I love my closest friends. I am attracted to them in loving ways that sometimes feel romantic and/or intimate, but are rarely sexual. My expressions of love for them include praying for them (something I obviously do for my kids and partner, too), spending time together, calling, sending texts when things remind me of them, calling or texting when I am wondering how they are doing, and picking up any sweet little things that make me think of them. I don't do their laundry or housekeeping, even though that's one of the ways I express love to my partner, and although I run in a circle of (potentially awkwardly-) long huggers who are touchy-feeling in our shows of friendship, I don't typically make out with my friends.
- I love people I don't even know well. I am usually not attracted to them in my normal ways, even if I find them to be physically gorgeous. I find that the most attractive quality for me in those I am just getting to know is a view of vulnerability as normal and human-- not as something to be feared or hidden. Usual everyday expression of this love might include learning their names, remembering things they like if they've mentioned them to me, following up about things they've mentioned are on their minds or schedules, and sharing pieces of myself as relevant. Sometimes, though, I go much farther for those I don't know well, depending on the situation. If it is in one of my volunteer capacities, in which I do crisis intervention, I step out in the way that I've been trained. If it is simply an acquaintance or coworker, I assess two main areas: First, are there other people, friends, family, or resources stepping in to help the person crawl out, and second, do I feel personally equipped (skills, emotional balance, energy) to extend myself, step out, and help? I never help if I feel like doing so hurts me or damages my family. If it seems like a need, and I feel equipped to step in, I go for it, not out of a sense of hierarchy or better-than-you-ness, but out of a deep awareness of our sameness as humans. You and me-- we're the same substance. Why should I not help you, particularly if doing so grows me in the process?
Behavior is the part where relational love is assessed for all it's complexities and facets, and a reasonable course of action is logically determined.
So, for me:
- LOVE is involuntary as a feeling, and beautiful and natural as an intention and action. It happens in the divine part of me. I don't do a great job of keeping it a secret, and regularly tell people I love them, particularly if they seem comfortable with the idea of being loved.
- ATTRACTION is complex, and while it can sometimes lead to more, it doesn't always. It happens in the feeling part of me. Attraction can be a completely inner process for me, and I can choose whether or not I let you know about it. The inner-ness of this process provides both a degree of emotional safety for me, as well as a frustration when circumstances seem to conspire against me (which is rarely, if ever).
- BEHAVIOR is a decision for the right things to do based on love, attraction (or lack thereof), and social awareness. It happens in the thinking part of me, although my intellectual process relies heavily on the strength of my intuition, which I trust almost completely. Behavior is the outer expression of how I feel about you, combined with what I know about you and how you react in relationships, expressed into our worlds.
And I love you. And depending on who you are, how you found this blog, and how we know each other, I might even be a little attracted to you. But none of that has full decision-making over my behaviors with you, which I choose based on a variety of factors.
But I do love you. What do you say about that?