And then, my eyes opened and love became less about the object of love and more about the Love itself. It was not whom I loved, but that I loved that became important.
I was sitting in an airplane on my way to a conference in Cancun, Mexico, of all places, when this revelation occurred to me. I planned to stay there for a couple of extra days, and I was meeting very good friend there who would help me while away my time on the beaches, in the bars, and in the bedroom. Our relationship was very complicated and had had a lot of twists and turns. I felt excited to meet him in Mexico, but also a little bit nervous. Should I be doing this? Was it a bad idea? Would it just make things more complicated and painful?
My plane reading was a book that I'd had on my shelf for awhile, but that I'd never been able to get to. Eight plus hours of plane and airport time finally gave me the window of opportunity, and I eagerly cracked the book. I don't think I put it down for the whole trip . The book is called A Vindication of Love, by Cristina Nehring, and she uses characters from literature and real life to illustrate the fact that love is rarely as simplistic, safe, and consistent as we are told it should be in our culture. Using the examples of the most famous lovers of history and literature - from Romeo and Juliet to Heloise and Abelard to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera - the author points out that love has nothing to do with contracts or social rules, and everything to do with emotion, difference, and tension.
The book, for all of its intellectual flaws, was fun to read and made it OK for me to be flying towards yet another adventure with someone whose relationship to me not many people in my life - including myself - seemed to understand. It gave permission for me to explore the idea of loving without limits, of dropping my expectations (even if only temporarily) for the safe, simple, and quietly happy one man-one woman relationship that I had always assumed - and been told - was the norm and my birthright.
And then, in the midst of relaxing my judgments around the consistently supreme weirdness of my romantic life, the veil dropped from my eyes, and the love I felt for this man became not something he did for me, but something that I always held, something that I created out of my own heart. It wasn't about him; it was about me. It was a gift that I carried with me always, something I could give away endlessly and never lack. It's the first time I've felt that in any relationship, always assuming as I have that any love I felt was directly linked to a particular person, and always feeling that that person, somehow, had control over me because he had the power to create or destroy that feeling within me.
Love is not something that someone else does for us; love is something that's always around us, in us. The person we're in love with acts as a mirror, a prism, for the love that already exists. When we feel love for another, we can absorb that love, sit in it, feel it, embody it, and use it to remind ourselves of the love that surrounds us like air. And when the love we have with another doesn't look the way we're told it's supposed to look, or if it goes awry, we can still feel the love itself, and make the decisions that are right for us, but know that the love itself is still there, no matter what happens. It's in our heart, and not dependent on what anyone else feels for us, or what happens to the relationship.