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Learning about love

  • Posted on January 12, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Looking back, two words feature more on my blog than any to do with transition, and they are ‘love’ and ‘understanding’. I’m beginning to know why. Being trans forces you to dig deeper than most people ever have to, into what it means to be alone, or isolated, misunderstood – or loved. And until you understand what it is to be loved, loving another never quite feels verified. How do I know I am really loving another person, not just being there, being kind, doing what might help them to like me, stay near me? Maybe you can’t.

And me? What about the business of loving myself? I was told in no uncertain terms at an early age that to love oneself was arrogant and hubristic. Humility requires no love, and is correct. Humility gets you to heaven. How does that compare with Pride? Or indeed with being out and proud as different? Perhaps there is a big lesson in loving yourself, if you have to come out as anything marginal in society. Certainly you must dispense with any imposed ideas of shame for being as you were born.

At the core of Buddhist philosophy is the very practical idea that loving-kindness (metta) starts right in your own heart: ‘may I be happy; may I be well’. I practised another meditation recently that added ’may I be peaceful; may I be loved’. I like that. How can you love another and radiate that out, if it has no home in your own heart? I wonder if you even learn what it is to love yourself, until you have confronted what it means not to. I believe I needed to have my years alone, during which to not just grieve, but come to understand more of what makes love real, beyond liking, security, deep friendliness, affection. I missed these last four things enormously, because they are so important in making us feel included and belonging. We really do need them. I find them amongst writers and dancers, but never take them home, knowing they are there tomorrow, tonight. But they will be there next time we meet, and I shall feel reassured as a result. But loved? Do I deserve it? Have I earned it? What and how must I be in order to be lovable?

And suddenly my thinking is in quite the wrong direction again. You never earn love. You are never good enough. You never deserve it. Like dark energy, it is simply there. All that matters is how you choose to interact with it. You can let it pass through you, or be the attractor that draws it, or by not being something around which the energy must flow. Love does not wrap you up, it permeates you.

Falling in love is a strange thing, and as an adult you know that it is a muddle of chemistry, and that some features of this phase will pass. What then? Was being in love, love? Was it just the rocket booster getting you into love orbit? What is the love bit inside the being in love? What does love feel like, and how do you know that you love another at all? I have tried to analyse love many times in the three years this blog has been going, and I still feel that if your idea of love is simply that the other person completes you, makes you what you want to be, then yes, this is loving. But it is fragile and dependent and conditional. Most of the time it will make do for most of us. It makes us feel safe, secure and cared about – while it lasts. If we lean wholeheartedly into the other, and they step away, we fall. Sometimes we fall very hard, muddied with bitterness and resentment. If we don’t lean, we live with a degree of mistrust, a reserve of balance, a slight distance. Are we not then fully trusted, and do we not fully trust? Some will say that you never can really trust another person, and you must preserve yourself against betrayal for your own safety.

I read an article recently that reported research saying that the three words a relationship partner most wants to hear are not ‘I love you’, but ‘I trust you’. And another than said the two things that hold any stable relationship together are not sex or money, but kindness and generosity. How can you say ‘love’ without these things? It isn’t the whole thing, of course, but these things reveal a bit about the nature of love between people.

I still like Iris Murdoch’s statement, that love is the extremely difficult realisation that someone other than oneself is real, still very meaningful and probing. Look at the person you say you love, or wish you could say you love. Are they as real – as a person, an individual, a being – as you are to yourself? It’s a good test, a good checkpoint, when you are growing love for another. Are you looking to receive, be excited, comforted, secure? Or are you looking for what you can open up in the other, by being yourself, and giving?

And I think that is really where I am at the moment, understanding that love is something that grows and develops and can be nurtured. Jump in with a lofty definition of love, and it can seem very daunting to think of it as attainable. You’re full of feelings and emotions, searching for words that express them, and somehow afraid of saying either too much or too little. Does ‘I love you’ sound like an aspiration? Or too high an achievement in the early stages? Are you afraid of diminishing the meaning in case you want to mean more as the relationship develops? There is no ‘Instant love: just add oxytocin’. There is only a belief and trust in the other, within which you can choose either to import a preconceived idea of love – or go organic, and take care to grow something that might be quite unique, that can keep thriving, developing, deepening and giving.

I like ‘organic’, it sounds fresh and anticipatory, full of surprises, free of labels and definitions. Maybe it is time to stop analysing love and simply let it develop, mindfully, carefully, generously. All I know right now is that something mysterious is going on in and between my new lover and me, that is begging description but without borrowing any existing labels. They would all be a poor approximation.

I think we are both learning about love.