Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Theory of unconditional love

Several events in my life recently have intersected to make me think about writing this post. Basically, it’s kind of my non-conventional theory of love, like one of the stories in Plato’s “Symposium.” Some of these events are well-known, like my blog post about the Broadway musical “Rent” closing, some are not, like my comments on other blogs and letters written to friends. But they have all been related to the topic, so like pieces in a puzzle, I’m trying to fit them together to create a unified theory, like the elusive Theory of Everything but just related to love.

So as everybody knows by now, I’m following a polyamorous lifestyle and involved in a poly relationship at the present time with my girlfriend Tara, who also has a committed relationship to Bee. Before I go further, let me share the newly included definition of polyamory that was just entered into Webster’s Dictionary:

Polyamory: the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time.

The key word of course is “open.” Poly people don’t sneak around. We are open about our wants and needs, and the people who are fulfilling them. We live authentic lives; we don’t pretend things are or are not going on. If we find someone attractive, we are free to express it. We can be open about the desire for sexual variety without feeling guilty. If our needs are not being met, we ourselves take responsibility for meeting them without expecting it from others.

Okay, enough poly propaganda.

As I’ve written before in my “Rent” post, I live my life by three core tenets - be true to yourself, live for today, and love unconditionally. Now, what do I mean by “love unconditionally”? It means I don’t place expectations from those I love, and if they don’t love me or are unable to give me as much as I want from them, it doesn’t invalidate the love I feel for them. It just means I have to take responsibility for looking elsewhere for the love and affection I need for myself instead of expecting it from them. Without expectations, there can’t be any disappointment, as happens with a typical unrequited love scenario.

Love is not always an even exchange - in fact, it rarely is. Loving unconditionally means being able to love someone without expecting an equal amount of love back, like the way you can love an infant child. Part of loving without limits is to not limit yourself to loving only those who you deem can love you back the way you want them to. Love cannot be forced - it has to appear organically when the right people come together in the right conditions, without our desires as to what we want to happen getting in the way.

This is a point that is sometimes difficult to grasp. We can all say we are “looking for love” but I don’t believe you can "find" love - it has to find you. That is, it has to appear unbeckoned when the time and situation is right, like any other natural phenomenon, like a lunar eclipse or the aurora borealis. The best we can do is be open to loving someone if the right person and situation comes along, because if we are not open to it, we will miss it if love appears. That’s one of the big problems I have with monogamy - by definition, it closes us off from being open to love. I can’t subscribe to a belief system that curtails the ability to communicate honestly and openly about your true feelings and forces you into a role where you define yourself by your relationship to another.

Obviously monogamy has its supporters, and they are legion. I’m not saying that monogamy is wrong. It certainly has its benefits, and for most people I’d say, it’s the better option. But just because everybody else is doing it doesn’t make it the only game in town. Polyamory is simply another option for people who struggle with monogamy.

The part of loving unconditionally that’s been hard for me until recently, as I’m sure it is hard for most people, is the recognition that we have no control over being in love. Once we recognize that, we can stop beating ourselves up that we’re not experiencing it. It would be like being disappointed that the sunset is not as beautiful as we’d like it to be. Each relationship is different and unique, and tends to develop as a product of the individuals involved; much like a baby becomes whatever kind of person through a combination of their parents' combined DNA and upbringing. Sure, we have an influence in the relationships we create, but we are not solely responsible for how they turn out. Whether a person becomes an acquaintance, a friend, a f**k-buddy, a secondary lover or a primary partner is not going to depend on what we WANT out of them. They will become who they are supposed to become - the only thing we can do is show up and see what direction things go.

I recently quoted Thomas Merton in my blog during one of my down periods with Tara. He said, “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” I think only by allowing others to be truly authentic and not projecting our own expectations on them can we build loving relationships that endure. Of course, one of the hardest things to do is to show your true authentic self, warts and all, to the object of your affection and hope that you don’t scare them away. But the alternative is that you always have to be on guard around them, keeping things hidden. For me, that’s not the way to love someone, but we all decide for ourselves how much we’re willing to bend to be with the people we’re attracted to.

The key to all this is acceptance. We have to believe that things happen for a reason, and accept that the world does not always give us what we want from it. If I find someone attractive, I’ll pursue them, get to know them, and some kind of relationship will form - or not. Whatever the relationship is, it will be something that’s comfortable and works for both of us. It might even change over time, but we will deal with it each and every day. I’ve become much more adept at dealing with my changing relationship with Tara than I used to be, back when I thought about the future a lot more than I should have. We simply try to be good for each other each day, and whatever happens, happens. The important thing is that we can be authentic with each other, and not put expectations on our relationship that neither of us is prepared to fulfill.

One final note - one blogger I follow was recently confronted with a situation where she was in love with someone who was in love with her partner. She felt that it was unwise to pursue the new person because she didn’t want to interfere with her partner’s advances. Personally, as a polyamorist, I don’t believe in the whole “one true love” theory. Obviously we can have loves that are greater and lesser than others, but I don’t believe that we have to stop loving once we’ve found someone we love very, very much. We as humans have an unlimited capacity to love, and all love brings something very special into our lives. Ultimately, love is the only thing that’s worth living for.

Just my opinion of course, for what it’s worth.