Love’s “Get Out” Clause

In my first post, I discussed about how the French view love according to a New York Times article:

To love truly is to want the other free, and this includes the freedom to walk away. Love is not about possession or property. Love is no prison where two people are each other’s slaves.

The thing is that as much as I would like to believe this, I don’t. At all!

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I come from a culture of arranged marriages. My parents had met each other a few times, perhaps three or four, before they were married, and divorce was never an option. As much as they disagreed with each other, as much as they fought, walking away would never have been allowed by either of their families, particularly since my brother and I were in the picture. Sometimes I used to think that Indian culture was too oppressive, and that they should be able to walk away if they were not happy with each other, but if I asked them now, they would have been glad they did not give up.

There are some relationships that you can’t undo. I can never be an ex-daughter or an ex-sister. Whether I am on good terms or bad, whether I speak to my family or not, they will be my family. And the fact that they are gives me an incentive to make sure things are on good terms.

I’d view my future children on the same level. Once you have children, you can’t undo that, you can’t become an ex-mother again. Even if you disown your children, give them up for adoption, the relationship never changes. They are your kids, it’s a fact. I would want to have the same type of relationship with the person I decide to marry and have children with. I don’t want there to be a “get out” clause. I don’t want there to be the option of being an ex-girlfriend or ex-wife. I’m sure nobody wants a relationship to end but I don’t even want the option of walking away to exist. I think to really love someone means to stay sometimes when you want to go. Not of course in situations where you’re being mentally or physically abused or you are being devalued and made to feel bad about yourself.

Sometimes the harder thing to do is to stay and work through it. You don’t always feel like you love your parents, you’re not always going to feel like you love your significant other.

I suppose I feel this way because I don’t understand what people mean when they say they fell out of love. I mean duh! Those lovey dovey feelings never stay the same, but they change and evolve to a deeper, more companion-type feeling. You also do your best to keep the romance alive. Maybe it’s that there are other issues in the relationship that the couple doesn’t know how to deal with, so they start becoming emotionally disconnected, and rather than addressing the disconnect, they assume that there is something inherently wrong in the relationship. And next thing you know, the love is supposedly gone and there is a reason to walk away.

I’m not saying that all relationships can work. But if you have a good foundation, someone who has the 4-5 core traits you want in a partner, then I don’t see why the relationship can’t be fixed. You just need two willing people….and you need to get the “get out” clause out of your head!

Or am I being too naive?

When do you tell someone you love them?

bellIf you’ve read the “About” section of my blog, you know I’m a big fan of Dear Sugar. I think the advice she gives is so straightforward, compelling, from the heart, and clearly from someone who has experienced a great deal in life.

I was thinking about what to write today, and it occurred to me that rather than talking about anything philosophical or biological, I wanted to share a particular Sugar letter on when you tell someone you love them.

“Johnny’s” twenty-year marriage fell apart three years ago, and he’s recently been seeing someone who is going through a bitter divorce. He thinks she is falling in love with him and he might be too, but he’s afraid of saying anything because in his experience love is “loaded with promises and commitments that are highly fragile and easily broken.”

Johnny asked Sugar, “When is it right to take that big step and say I love you? And what is this “love” thing all about?”

Before I post Sugar’s response, I will say this: 1) Yes, her response is a bit long but please please do read through all of it. It really is worth it; and 2) I don’t need to say anything or comment on what Sugar’s said because I agree with her whole-heartedly and she is far more eloquent that I could ever be.

So…here is what Sugar said:

Dear Johnny,

The last word my mother ever said to me was love. She was so sick and weak and out of her head she couldn’t muster the “I” or the “you,” but it didn’t matter. That puny word has the power to stand on its own.

I wasn’t with my mom when she died. No one was. She died alone in a hospital room and for so many years it felt like three quarters of my insides were frozen solid because of that. I ran it over and over it in my mind, the series of events and choices that kept me from being beside my mom in her last hours, but thinking about it didn’t do a thing. Thinking about it was a long dive into a bucket of shit that didn’t have a bottom.

I would never be with my mother when she died. She would never be alive again. The last thing that happened between us would always be the last thing. There would be the way I bent to kiss her and the way she said, “please, no,” when I got close because she couldn’t any longer bear the physical pain of people touching her. There would be the way that I explained I’d return in the morning and the way she just barely nodded in response. There would be the way I got my coat and said “I love you,” and the way she was silent until I was almost out the door and she called, “love.” And there would be the way that she was still lying in that bed when I returned the next morning, but dead.

My mother’s last word to me clanks inside me like an iron bell that someone beats at dinnertime: love, love, love, love, love.

I suppose you think this has nothing to do with your question, Johnny, but it has everything to do with my answer. It has everything to do with every answer I have ever given to anyone. It’s Sugar’s genesis story. And it’s the thing my mind kept swirling back to over these five weeks since you wrote to me and said you didn’t know the definition of love.

It is not so incomprehensible as you pretend, sweet pea. Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard. It can be light as the hug we give a friend or heavy as the sacrifices we make for our children. It can be romantic, platonic, familial, fleeting, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humor and “loaded with promises and commitments” that we may or may not want or keep.

The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it. And, Johnny, on this front, I think you have some work to do.

But before we get to that, I want to say this, darling: I sort of love you.

I love the way you wrote to me with your searching, scared, knuckle-headed, nonchalant, withholding dudelio heart on full display. I love that you compelled me to write dudelio, even though—on top of the fact that dudelio isn’t a word—I am morally opposed to the entire dude and dude-related lexicon. I love how for five long weeks hardly a day has passed that I haven’t thought: But what about Johnny? What will I tell Johnny? I love that one recent evening when I was lying in bed with my man and he was reading the New Yorker and I was reading Brain, Child, I had to stop and put my magazine on my chest because I was thinking about you and what you asked me and so then my man put his magazine on his chest and asked what I was thinking about and I told him and we had a conversation about your troubles and then we turned off the lights and he fell asleep and I lay there wide awake with my eyes closed writing my answer to you in my head for so long that I realized I wasn’t going to fall asleep, so I got up and walked through the house and got a glass of water and sat at the kitchen table in the dark and looked out the window at the wet street and my cat came and jumped up on the table and sat there beside me and after a while I turned to her and said, “What will I tell Johnny?” and she purred.

I always knew what I would tell you. Not knowing wasn’t exactly the problem. What I was mulling over is how I’d get at the layers of things your letter implies to me: the questions you didn’t ask that stand so brightly behind the questions you did.

You aren’t afraid of love, sweet pea. You’re afraid of all the junk you’ve yoked to love. And you’ve convinced yourself that withholding one tiny word from the woman you think you love will shield you from that junk. But it won’t. We are obligated to the people we care about and who we allow to care about us, whether we say we love them or not. Our main obligation is to be forthright—to elucidate the nature of our affection when such elucidation would be meaningful or clarifying.

And in your case, it will be. You asked me when is the right time to tell your lover that you love her and the answer is when you think you love her. That’s also the right time to tell her what your love for her means to you. If you continue using avoidance as the main tactic in your romantic relationships with women, you’re going to stunt not only your happiness, but your life.

I encourage you to do more than throw up your hands in your examination of “whose fault” it was that your twenty-year marriage fell apart. It was no one’s fault, darling, but it’s still all on you. It would behoove you to reflect upon what went right in that relationship and what went wrong; to contemplate how you might carry forth the former in your current and/or future relationships and quash the latter.

There’s a saying about drug addicts that they stop maturing emotionally at the age they started using and I’ve known enough addicts to believe this to be true enough. I think the same thing can happen in a long-time monogamy. Perhaps some of your limited interpretations about what it means to say the word love are leftover from what you thought it meant all those years ago, when you first committed yourself to your ex-wife. That was the past, as you say, but I suspect that a piece of yourself is still frozen there.

A proclamation of love is not inherently “loaded with promises and commitments that are highly fragile and easily broken.” The terms you agree to in any given relationship are connected to, but not defined by whether you’ve said “I love you” or not. I love you can mean I think you’re groovy and beautiful and I’m going to do everything in my power to be your partner for the rest of my life. It can mean I think you’re groovy and beautiful but I’m in transition right now, so let’s go easy on the promises and take it as it comes. It can mean I think you’re groovy and beautiful but I’m not interested in a commitment with you, now or probably ever, no matter how groovy or beautiful you continue to be.

The point is, Johnny: you get to say. You get to define the terms of your life. You get to negotiate and articulate the complexities and contradictions of your feelings for this woman. You get to describe the particular kind of oh-shit-I-didn’t-mean-to-fall-in-love-but-I-sorta-did love you appear to have for her. Together, the two of you get to come to grips with what it means to have an exclusive, nicely clicking, non-committed commitment in the midst of her bitter divorce and in the not-too-distant wake of your decades-long marriage.

Do it. Doing so will free your relationship from the tense tangle that withholding weaves. Do you realize that your refusal to utter the word love to your lover has created a force field all its own? Withholding distorts reality. It makes the people who do the withholding ugly and small-hearted. It makes the people from whom things are withheld crazy and desperate and incapable of knowing what they actually feel.

So release yourself from that. Don’t be strategic or coy. Strategic and coy are for jackasses. Be brave. Be authentic. Practice saying the word love to the people you love so when it matters the most to say it, you will.

We’re all going to die, Johnny. Hit the iron bell like it’s dinnertime.

Yours,
Sugar

More Love Letters

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To whoever finds this letter,

You and I don’t know one another. We may never sit and laugh over cups of coffee. We may never dance in the same circles or yawn together by the midnight hour. None of that really matters to me. It is so small and meaningless to the things I wish you would know on a daily basis: that you are lovely. That you are worthy. That those hands of yours were made for mighty, mighty things.

You probably think I am crazy. You are probably sitting here with this letter in your hands thinking, you cannot know that… you don’t know me… you don’t know a stitch of me. Yes, you’re right. But I know all the things I thought I never deserved. I know how very hard it once was to love myself and value myself and even find myself worth the reflection in the mirror. And so I know I am not alone in needing a boost some days, in needing to know that I matter to someone somewhere.

You matter to me. In a way I cannot explain, you matter to me. And you, you are a marvel… you and all the parts of you.

Love,

A girl just trying to find her way

Today was my day to sit down and continue to learn web design, but I came across a great article on the BBC website on love letters that I had to share since I’ve written previously about how I’d like to bring love letters back.

Hannah Brencher moved back to New York City after graduating and started feeling depressed and lonely, so she started writing love letters to strangers and leaving them all over the city. The above letter is the first one she left behind. She started More Love Letters and recruited others to write letters and spread the random acts of love.

According to the BBC article, random acts of kindness not only benefit the recipient but also the person preforming the act. A study published in the journal Emotion reports that performing acts of kindness may help people with social anxiety to feel more positive. Dr. Lynn Alden, one of the researchers on the study, said, “Engaging in kind acts may help the person to get out and encounter other people and then we can use other techniques to help the person change their beliefs about themselves.”

So what do you think? Are you more inspired to write a love letter now? I confess, I have not, but I give myself and you until the end of March to do so. I think that’s fair!

Love: It’s all Greek to Me

First and foremost, apologies for not having posted in quite sometime. I meant to get something up last Saturday, but didn’t make it in time before my boyfriend came to visit. He lives in London (yes, it’s a trans-Atlantic relationship) and I haven’t seen him in five months, so I basically put aside everything this past week so we could spend time together. And now, I’m “back”!

I was sitting in the Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side with my roommate last Saturday doing research for my blog (and devouring a delicious s’mores tart with a tall glass of milk while dutifully waiting for my boyfriend), when a guy sitting behind us overheared me discussing on my blog. He was flipping through Ideas that Matter by A. C. Grayling and came across a section on love that he thought sounded like a good fit for the blog, so he passed the book on to me.

I didn’t know who Grayling was so I spent some time reading his Wikipedia page as well as his website. A great deal of his recent work has focused on morality, religion, and humanism, which is reflected in the book. Since I didn’t read the whole book, the four or so pages on love seem a bit out of place given Grayling’s academic interests, but I did like what he had to say overall.

There are two particular passages that I want to note here.

Santorini

 English has just one inadequate word to denote all these different emotions – these bonding, affectionate, caring, needy, desiring, dependent, nurturing, passionate, painful, ecstatic, erotic, romantic emotions – and the kinds of relationships that involve them. The Greeks, with more nuance, had several names: agape, storge, philia, kudus, eros, pragma, enabling them to discriminate more finely among them.

Ludic is playful, light-hearted love, nothing deep and meaningful. Erotic is sexual, physical love, of course. Storge is love based on deep and genuine friendship, such as that between well-functioning families and  between married couples after many years. Although Grayling does not name the source, he says that sociological research into the respective proclivities of men and women as classified in terms of the Greek notions suggest that men are more prone to ludicrous and erotic love and women to storge and pragmatic.

I grew up in a family that speaks Gujarati and a bit of Hindi and I studied Spanish in college. What always struck me is that there were numerous different words for love in Indian languages but only one in Spanish. Amor is the noun for love in Spanish, and amar is the verb form meaning “to love.” In Hindi, there are several nouns alone: pyaar, ishq, mohabaat, prem. Unlike in Greek, I’m pretty sure that in many instances these words are interchangeable, but I just feel like something as complex as love can’t be reduced to just one word.

The second passage I like is:

The reasons why any two people fall for each other and pair off, whether for the short or the long term, tend therefore to be for reasons that – whatever rationalization they gave to others – they do not themselves really understand, for they lie too deep for reasons.

So basically, this blog is pointless because we can never really understand love. Even people in love many times don’t really know why they are in love, despite all their attempts to give reason to what’s going on in their heads and their hearts. It’s just a feeling…. 🙂

How Many Times Do We Fall in Love?

(Courtesy of Elite Daily)

In We Are What We Pretend To Be: The First And Last Works, Nanette Vonnegut, the youngest daughter of Kurt Vonnegut, author of Slaughterhouse-five amongst other great novels, describes her interactions with her father:

Most times I’d find my father in a very receptive mood to my prying questions, like ‘How many times have you been in love?’ His answer was instantaneous, and he held up three long fingers.

Nanette again repeats this in an interview with The Rumpus: “He would say: ‘I think you’re allowed to be in love three times in your life.'”

Turns out Kurt’s figure was not too far off from most of our averages. A recent survey of 2,000 adults by Opera North found that the average person falls in love only four times over their lifetime. In addition, the average age to settle down is 27, and 33% of us are “lucky enough” to settle down with our loves.

I don’t like that the study specifically quotes “lucky enough.” Does marrying your first love is always a good thing? If I do marry my boyfriend, he would be the second person I’ve loved in my life so I’m officially ruled out of that 33%. My ex was a great guy, and I have nothing but great memories of our relationship, but I don’t regret not marrying him. I loved him, but I couldn’t imaging spending my life with him. And before someone says, well, then you didn’t love him, I did love him every moment I was with him and that part of me always will, but love has many shapes and plays out in many different ways. The fact that it ended does not mean that the love should be discounted. It just didn’t last, but then, does love have to last to be love? Hmm…sounds like the perfect topic for another post.

Now while the study is entirely UK-based, I can say with confidence that I’m sure the numbers can apply to at least the Western portion of the world because 1) my boyfriend is British, and men are men everywhere and women are women everywhere; 2) I lived in London for four years so I know the Brits fairly well.

Depressingly, one in four settle for the “second best” option, and a majority of those that do settle regret it. The number of people that settle is even more interesting when compared to the number of people who say that you can’t help who you fall in love with. 77% think that you can’t help who you love while 25% settle for someone. Is it entirely too random to suggest that maybe those who convinced themselves to settle down are also those who thought you could help who you love?

So what do you think? Does four sound like a fair number? Too high? Too low? How many loves have you had? I promise this is a no-judgement forum.

Let’s Bring Back Love Letters!

Now, I don’t want to come across as “high maintenance” by sounding like I’m moaning about why people don’t seem to write love letters anymore or why it’s too much to ask that my significant other write me a love letter once in a while. Of course, he will quickly retort that it’s not as if I have written one to him, which is not true! I did write one to him….four years ago. I digress…

I don’t think technology is sole reason why people don’t write letters anymore, much less love letters, although let’s be honest, it is the dominant reason. I was browsing through “Top 10 Famous Love Letters” on Time.com doing research for this post, when it occurred to me that maybe all those great love-letter writers before our time are also to blame for why we don’t write them.

Forever defamed by one of the Sex and the City movies, here is a snippet of Beethoven’s letter to his “Immortal Beloved

“Though still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, Be calm–love me–today–yesterday–what tearful longings for you–you–you–my life–my all–farewell. Oh continue to love me–never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved. Ever thine. Ever mine. Ever ours.”

Even that warmonger Napoleon found time to pour his soul into a few lines of  romantic poesy.

“Since I left you, I have been constantly depressed. My happiness is to be near you. Incessantly I live over in my memory your caresses, your tears, your affectionate solicitude. The charms of the incomparable Josephine kindle continually a burning and a glowing flame in my heart. When, free from all solicitude, all harassing care, shall I be able to pass all my time with you, having only to love you, and to think only of the happiness of so saying, and of proving it to you?

Let me be clear, it is not that I am simply lamenting at why people don’t write letters, but more so, I am lamenting that people in love are no longer inspired into action, which includes writing love letters, putting feelings into a tangible, concrete form. Last I checked, love is both a verb as well as noun describing a state of being. Where has all the action gone?

Maybe we have no good role models anymore. I mean let’s be honest, who among us can be as eloquent as Beethoven or Napoleon, and if we did manage the feat, we would surely be laughed at or worse, be accused of being insincere because our feelings appeared to be exaggerated.  I know that if my boyfriend said he had “tearful longings” for me, I would laugh at him. The words are beautiful when read, but are incredibly out-of-place in our 21st century existence.

So unless we accept the mediums of email and texts and “i luv u”–which I do refuse to accept–we need better modern role models for love letters that fit our culture and language. A good place to start with is Other People’s Love Letters: 150 Letters You Were Never Meant to See.

New York

So let’s getting writing people! You can even start with a postcard if you want….I probably will….

Male & Female Erogenous Zones and the Science of Falling in Love

I’ve been trying to read A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon for, oh, about 6-7 months now. It focuses on the science of human emotions and biological psychiatry, and has received numerous favorable reviews. My main issue is that it’s just a bit too heavy on biological functions (neural pathways, neurotransmitters, frontal cortex and such) for me to fully enjoy during my daily commute, which is my main reading time. However I do enjoy it so I will get through it, slowly but surely.

In the meantime, I found a lovely little infographic that details the science of falling in love, so you don’t have to spend hours reading the first few chapters of the aforementioned book.

Ladies, did you know that eyelids and the forehead are erogenous zones for men? Unsurprisingly, women differ in that they prefer the scalp and lips. I completely believe that since I don’t know of a single woman who does not enjoy a head massage. The ears, neck, abs, feet and the back of the knees are all hot spots for both men and women. Abs? Really? Do they mean actual abs or the region of the body where your abs should technically be for those of us who might have an inch or five of food lovin’?

Also, anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows that there is an initial “honeymoon” period of happiness, euphoria and excitement, and after a while, that phase ends as you settle into a long-term relationship. It’s usually during this transition that couples have their first significant arguments and question whether they want to be together. (Of course, the arguments and questioning continue to reoccur now and then in every relationship, both healthy and unhealthy.)

You can now blame something on the end of this honeymoon phase: nerve growth factor or NGF. Produced along with dopamine, which causes feelings of excitement and ecstasy, the amount of NGF in the body directly relates to the intensity of romantic feelings. NGF is more prevalent in people who are newly in love while those who are not in love or in long-term relationships have lower levels of it.

Here is the full infographic for you to peruse through for a step-by-step outline of what happens in your body when you fall in love (or conversely, what you experience and feel when your body is in love):