Monday, January 18, 2010

All the Textures of Love, Part I

Shoving an Elephant into a Shoebox

Lately, I’m slowly coming to the realization that love has more than one face. It happened when I fell in love, and our love staunchly refused to be put into any box. The details aren’t important, but what I ended up with was a love relationship that had no name – he is and was sometimes my lover, sometimes my boyfriend, sometimes my partner, sometimes even my future, but at other times, none of those things. The only constant has been that we have always felt love, but the love has looked very different at different times. And in my futile efforts to give our relationship a name, I’ve experienced sadness, jealousy, anger, disappointment, frustration, and dashed hopes. I’ve cried, I’ve writhed on the floor in pain, I’ve regretted ever meeting him, I’ve despaired of ever being able to move on. And through it all I’ve learned some deep truths about myself and the great hole of need I’m asking love to fill.

After struggling for over a year, it started to dawn on me that maybe it’s OK for it not to have a name. Maybe, it’s OK for it to be exactly what it is, and to not have me constantly trying to make it into something it doesn’t want to be, as pointless as trying to shove an elephant into a shoebox.

In my deep, far-ranging conversations with my love about love, I realized that what we have been talking about has been nothing so much as the difference between fettering love and letting it free. True freedom, I realized profoundly from this experience, is terrifying even though it’s something most of us claim to want. And having structure, expectations, and rules is comforting, even when some of the rules can chafe sometimes. What is more terrifying than letting someone you love go to be exactly who they are? With no rules, no expectations for the future, and no right to chasten them when they show a facet of themselves that you didn’t know they possessed?

The implications, for most of us are frightening and confusing. What if he meets someone better than me and wants to be with them? What if we has more fun with someone else? What if they have better sex? Can I really trust him? Is he telling me everything? What does it mean about me that he doesn’t want to be my one and only? What if, what if, what if….???

On the other hand, don’t I want my love to be happy, no matter what? Even if it means letting him go? Isn’t that the measure of true love, in the same way a mother loves her child enough to let her go into the future, knowing there will be pain and hardship, but also knowing that clutching the child to her for too long will stunt the child? Isn’t that real love?

This is the question our culture doesn’t really encourage us to ask. As I’ve looked around me for role models for nontraditional relationships, I realize that, though I suspect these types of situations are far more common than we know, there is no conversation in the mainstream - or even most of the “alternative” media that I’ve seen - about alternatives to the “One man, one woman, one marriage certificate” type of heterosexual relationship.

In the moments when my heart has opened around this issue and I’ve let go of the clinging and the rules and the expectations of relationship, I’ve experienced a lightness, a joy, and a feeling of deep love for all beings. When I’ve felt myself constrict and attempt to hold on to a static, rulebound version of my love, I’ve experienced jealousy, doubt, and mistrust. Which of these is the better state? In which of these states do I want to live?

I intended to write all my thoughts about this in one blog post, but I realized that my questions about love are far too vast and complex to cover in one fell swoop. I’ll continue to explore this topic in future installments. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from readers about their feelings, experiences, thoughts, and questions about this issue. Post a comment or write an e-mail. I’d like to hear from you!


Scott said...


your last paragraph touched my soul; How deep you can take us with such simple prose. I see the beauty of letting go like you mentioned, but I imagine it must require an immense amount of integrity between the people participating in the relationship. But then, isn't that how we should be living anyway? With integrity? Love is true when it's unconditional, yet it seems an impossibility for most of us to actually love without the conditions we have been told since childhood are appropriate for a partner relationship.

When you say you feel lightness, joy, and love for all beings by letting go of the traditional, restrictive type of relationship, it seems you may have discovered something very special and enlightening. Thanks so much for sharing it. I can't wait for the next installment.



bechtoldlifework said...

This is such a deep exploration of what love means, Melissa. The first thing that occurs to me is that love does indeed require letting go. That initially we love someone based on a projection we place on them, but as the love deepens and we grow we have to pull back that projection and love them for who they truly are (and in turn, love ourselves for who we truly are). It's taken me years to get to this point. I'm still not there yet. So to me your thoughts about this show a wise, albeit sometimes sad, understanding of what it means to be fully in relationship. And I'm really interested in reading more about your journey through this!

Take care, Patty (

Trish said...

This is a wonderful post. I think it is something many people are grappling with now that fewer people just go along to go along with the status quo. I have experienced many kinds of non traditional relationships (I'm really old so I've had a lot of time to do that lol) and what I have found is that the gift is in the loving. Period. Not the in the structure or even in being loved but simply in the loving. It's a one woman or one man band. When I love the gift is mine regardless of any other condition.

"...trying to shove an elephant into a shoebox." Brilliant!

Thanks for dropping by my site and commenting. I hope we will see more of each other :)