September 27, 2007

The Vulnerability of Love

Anyone who's ever been in love knows just how vulnerable it makes you. Not just romantic love, any love. Love that's true, deep, intense, and real makes you vulnerable like nothing else in life can. Your heart is on display, outside a protective glass box. Anyone can throw a dart and pierce it so easily, when you love someone.

I've loved many people in my life. The obvious ones: parents, grandparents, blah blah blah. And I do love those people dearly. This is where one aspect of the vulnerability appears. My great-grandmother, a woman I truly love dearly, is 97 years old. She has breast cancer, and at her age, there is nothing that they can do that would serve any real purpose to help her. I'm 28 years old. I've lost other family, I've lost friends, to death in various forms, including to breast cancer. But this love that I feel for this woman, this love makes me nothing more than a child. I've accepted that she will die, I have for many years. I'm not living in a fantasy world, I know that eventually, all those that I love will die...that's life. But accepting an abstract concept of reality, and facing the rather immediate reality of that same abstract concept are two very different things. Now that I'm faced with the fact that she will be gone from my life soon, I find it difficult to face. My heart hurts, my eyes well with tears and my brain just can't wrap itself around the concept. Every time I talk to someone about her, we do the usual "How's Grandma?" "The same" or "Getting worse". The answers are what I expect yes, but not what I hope to hear. I still, childishly, pathetically, ridiculously, hope to hear someone say that her cancer has miraculously cured itself. I've never wished so hard for a cure for cancer than I have now.

She's not the only one I love though. I love my children even more desperately than my great-grandmother, my parents, myself. They are the beings that truly put my heart in the middle of the street for the world to run over. I would die for my children without hesitation. I would die for them on the hint of there being the need for me to do so. I want everything for them: all the things they need, the things they want, a bright future with a good job, nice home, loving wife and incredible children. I want to be able to simply hand them all these things, even though I know the only way they'll appreciate them is if they work for and earn them. Still....a mother wants to provide. That's our job. It's in the manual.

But romantic love...that's a funny one. We claim to love unconditionally. I've noticed, this unconditional part...seems to really only apply fully to those we have no choice but to love: children, parents, siblings, other family. Unconditional love when it comes to boy/girlfriends, spouses, and the like only applies when they do what we want and don't hurt our feelings. Think about it: When someone cheats, betrays your trust in someway, or does something we find morally reprehensible, suddenly we don't love them anymore. Or claim we don't, at any rate. What's up with that?

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not judging anyone for that feeling. I've done it. When my former husband cheated on me, generally the first words out of my mouth ran something along the lines of "I hate you!" or "I don't love you anymore!" Of course, in the end, those quickly spouted phrases turned out to be fateful prophecies of our future, but that's not my point. My point is, why do we claim to love someone unconditionally when, in reality, we place many conditions on them? For those of you who are sitting there right now, saying, "Hey! I've never placed conditions on my boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/person I'm seeing/insert your situation here", let me ask you these questions:

1. Do you expect him/her to be faithful?
2. Expect him/her to be honest, not lie to you?
3. Expect him/her to live without breaking the law?
4. I bet you expect him/her to work at a decent job, to want the same things you want, to have similar interests, right?

Well, look at that, there's 4 conditions right there that you place on your love, your lover, and your relationship. See? Now, don't misunderstand; again, I'm not judging. I have those conditions, too. My point is why do we want to be crow about unconditional love and such when really, we only love under certain, rather rigid circumstances?

I've had many loves in my life, some great. My ex-husband does not fall under the category of "great". In total brutal honesty, he really doesn't fall under the "love" category much at all...but that's a blog for another time.

One of my great loves was a boy I met at the very tender age of 13. He was a sweetie of a boy, and we were together for 5 years, until I was 18 and we went our separate ways. He was also the first boy I was...intimate with, hence his status as a great love. Sweet boy, and I truly, without a doubt, loved him. We just wanted different things and got to different stages in our lives, and it couldn't work anymore. We both felt bad, but we ended things amicably. I truly hope he's found happiness in his life and is with a woman who loves and appreciates all his wonderful qualities.

Another great love was a man I met when I was 18. He was my best friend for several years after we broke up. Part of why he was a great love. We loved each other even after we broke up. We looked out for each other, kept each other sane and from making huge mistakes with dating. We talked about everything. He was the first person outside my family to find out I was pregnant. He was so excited for me. Unfortunately, our friendship ended when our respective spouses found out that our very solid friendship started out with us dating and sleeping together. They were not happy, and both insisted we end the friendship. Although it was painful, we did what we felt we needed to do out of respect for our spouses. They deserved to know they could trust us, and we both could see how they might feel they couldn't in those circumstances.

The greatest love of my life, though, was a indeed a very tragic story. OK, not really, but it really does kind of suck. He's a sweet, really incredible guy I met when I was 19, and we've been friends for all these years, with an on-off relationship. Yes, it was off during the years of my marriage. We love (yes, I used present tense) each other so much it's just unbelievable. But, we want such different things in our lives, and can't seem to compromise. This is a man that I feel so safe, so secure with, that I felt comfortable telling him things about my marriage that I never even told my parents. He has truly, even more so than the other, been my best friend. He listens, makes me laugh, makes me feel sexy and beautiful and loved. But we're just so different. I live in a small town and love it; he wants to be in the big city. I love my children and have them with me 24/7; he loves his son, I know, but he doesn't have anything to do with him except to pay child support and ensure that his son is taken care of should something happen to him. He says he's doing that because he loves his son and he believes it's best, but I don't agree. I don't fault him; I just have a different opinion, and this is a bone of contention between us. It's very disconcerting to love someone, and yet you still can't make the damn relationship work. It also makes it hard to stay friends. That whole thing about once you say I love you, the friendship never stays the same, is very, very true. Our friendship has never been the same since we took that destined step.

Which brings me to my point...I think. Love makes us so vulnerable; puts us in a position of insecurity, doubt, and reservation, and yet at the same time makes us more powerful, safe, secure, and happy than anything else. It can hurt, and end badly, and yet we still search for it, seek it out endlessly, hoping for that happy finale. Why? Is it because we enjoy being vulnerable, being open to hurt and pain? Or is because we are so desperate to have that happy power, that security that we'll continue to risk the hurt and pain until we find it? I'd like to think it's the latter, but some of the relationships and couples I've seen make me think the former might really be the truth.

And while I'm on the subject, let's talk about the other love: who the hell is anyone to say someone is wrong for who they love? I get so sick of people who want to criticize gay and lesbian couples, and deny them the same rights as any straight person. I happen to have a very close family member who is gay, and I see no reason why he should be treated any differently. What the hell difference does it make if he loves a man instead of a woman? If he's happy, and the man he's with loves him and treats him with respect, love, and dignity, what the f*ck is the difference? I hear people say that allowing gay marriage will undermine marriage between a man and a woman. Can I tell you a secret? I was married to a man, and let me tell you, he undermined our marriage all on his own. The two lesbians five houses down or the gay guys three miles north of us didn't have a damn thing to do with it. I say if someone makes you happy, then it doesn't matter what their gender is, they make you happy. Life is too short to try to conform. Take your happiness, and your love, where you can find it. A lot of the time, love only happens once. Why on earth would you want to pass it up just in case there's something more "acceptable" and "normal" down the road? Who defines "normal"? Certainly no one I want defining it.

It's late, and I have work tomorrow. I think I'm off to bed, to dream of being vulnerable in love once more. And to contemplate once again just what lengths I would go to for love of my children and others that I love.

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