Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The How Of It

I’m more than halfway through Eclipse now and all the unabashed love talk in there—by teenagers!—has caused me to meditate on the L word yet again. Like I need an excuse. I thought that somehow, by now, I’d have nothing to say about it, anymore. But, alas, the purging continues…

I got to thinking about Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, where Spanish painter Juan Antonio (played by Javier Bardem) tells American tourist Vicky (Rebecca Hall) that the reason his poet father didn’t want his own poems published was that the latter didn’t think humans deserved anything beautiful because, after all these years, “they still haven’t learned how to love.”

Ah, strong words. The kind that are uttered by someone who is absolutely certain of something valuable. It was all I could do then to keep from crawling into the TV screen and into the living room of the old poet in a kind of reverse-Sadako maneuver, and ask in breathless desperation, So…hhhow? How are we supposed to love?

The answer could very well be in that word “how”--or the manner with which we express love. I do think there’s some kind of clue there. Having been an avid, dedicated--“shameless”, my therapist’s word for me--student of love (meaning, spending a huge chunk of my time, attention and effort trying to figure out what “love” means and how it works) since God-knows-when, I have come to think that there are really as many ways to love as there are individuals in the world. And that our myriad problems with love stem from the assumption that there is only one or, at most, only a handful of legitimate ways to express it.

“If you really love me, you wouldn’t forget our anniversary.” “If you really love me, you should try to make more money than me because, after all, you’re the man.” “If you really love me, you’d be more patient when we’re out on a date and I’m on my cellphone half the time.” “If you really love me, you’d call me everyday just to ask how my day went.” “If you really love me, you’d compliment me all the time.” “If you really love me, you’d marry me.” “If you really love me, you won’t break up with me.”

And the litany of what love should look like, how it should be, goes on and on. I look at what we’ve made of it and can sort of understand Juan Antonio’s father’s lament. We’ve made love so small, so narrow, so limited. We’ve confined its essence and meaning to our own notions of it, to ways we recognize and are familiar and comfortable with. We try to bend and fashion love to our will (believing, of course, that we can) then we hold up this bent, shaped—or misshapen--thing and declare it as “love”. Worse, we impose this prototype upon others. Anything that doesn’t look like this, we further declare, is not love.

So when the people in our lives express their love in a way that seems unfamiliar or different from ours, in a manner that does not meet our description and characterization of what love is supposed to be, in a manner that doesn’t adhere to our prototype, we assume the worst: that they don’t love us. Or, at least, that they don’t love us as much as we love them. (As if love were a contest, as if it could really be quantified.)

I’ve been accused of not loving someone enough and I have, myself, accused someone of not loving me enough. Neither position—whether I was cast in the role of heartless biyatch or I cast myself as the KMV (Kinawawz Martyr/Victim)--was fun for me. Sure, I found the role of KMV shockingly inebriating. Like someone who’s had too much to drink and suddenly has a wonderful excuse to make an ass of herself, the role of martyr/victim can be a convenient way to vent all your life’s frustrations at one person (“It’s your fault I’m not living the life that I want!”), not to mention a fabulous modus operandi for washing yourself of any responsibility or accountability for your misery and unhappiness.

After I went through that experience, I can understand why lots of people just looooove inhabiting the kinawawz role. By staying in that role, by making themselves thoroughly at home in it like some Method actor, everything that ever happens to them—or doesn’t happen to them--is someone else’ fault, never their own. How lovely. And how tempting to want to stay in it for, oh, maybe three more lifetimes.

But even then—even as I was relishing the KMV role like Johnny Depp--I felt the strong visceral falseness of it, like watching one of those TV soap operas or worse, Wowowee. Indeed, like a party pooper, the truth of what I was really doing planted itself stubbornly in my being so that I couldn’t thoroughly enjoy my state of victimhood. I knew I couldn’t stay contented as the “wronged party” or “long-suffering partner” forever. For doing so would not only constitute a grave disservice to both my partner and myself, it would be a great insult to love itself. I would be making it small, mean, limited. Or as Bon Jovi once accused—not me, let’s just make that clear—I would be giving love “a bad name.” If I really wanted to understand and know love, nothing could be more off the mark than wanting to stay a victim forever.

Back when an ex-boyfriend and I--trying so very hard to make our relationship work--were going to couple’s therapy, our shrink, perhaps sensing the outcome of our sessions, e-mailed me the following piece, which she found on the Internet:

“We all have unchangeable parts of our hearts that we will not betray and private commitments to a vision of life that we will not deny. If you fall in love with someone who cannot nourish those inviolable parts of you, or if you cannot nourish them in her, you will find yourselves growing further apart until you live in separate worlds where you share the business of life, but never touch each other where the heart lives and dreams. From there, it is only a small leap to the cataloguing of petty hurts and daily failures that leaves so many couples bitter and unsatisfied with their mates.”

I’ve become quite convinced that knowing oneself--what one needs and wants, what one’s personal vision of life is--and then finding another person who not only shares those needs and wants, but is actually aware of those things—and not love--is the key to successful, lasting relationships. I look at my parents’ marriage and, though I know it’s not the kind of relationship I want for myself, it works marvelously for them. They still really enjoy each other’s company, laugh at the other person’s jokes and can be such an annoying tag-team. Young as they were when they got hitched—my mom was 21, my dad, 22—I do think they were lucky enough to meet a person that early who wanted the same thing that they knew they already wanted for themselves: to start a family.

I have felt, in all my past relationships, that my partner and I wanted some of the same things. I had always thought that those similarities and, of course, the desire to make it work with the other person, were enough. The thing is, even those things would later come up short. Something else, something seemingly unexpected would crop up—a need in me that I hadn’t even been aware of before or perhaps had dismissed as inconsequential but was now undeniable, urgent, in-your-face. A need that just wasn’t being fulfilled where I was and got increasingly desperate the more it was denied. But I stayed, sometimes much longer than I probably should’ve, because that’s what I thought love meant: you stay, no matter what. No matter how wild-eyed and restless and desperate you become. No matter if you’ve made a nightly ritual of locking yourself in the bathroom and crying silently while you brush your teeth.

Loving someone, I’ve realized, should never be confused with sustaining a relationship with that person. One of the truly liberating discoveries for me, about love, is that you can actually love someone with everything you have in you yet can’t stand being in the same room as that person. Love is more than physical proximity. Or sweet text messages or romantic candle-lit dinners at expensive out-of-town restaurants or no-occasion surprise gifts or promise rings or marriage contracts or fabulous, sunset Boracay weddings. Love is all of that, yes, but it is so much more than that, too. Love can also be the courage you need to do the right thing—whether the right thing is to stay or to leave.

I’ve come to know that we give love its due when we see it, not in terms of degrees, but in variations—because, really, just how does one measure love? It can take on an infinite variety of shapes and sizes and situations and arrangements. Married, unmarried, single, widowed, remarried—love can inhabit these stations in life, if you so wish it, and not one of them is more superior or inferior to the other. Different people love differently. And we are all different.

I have promised myself to no longer assume to know another person’s capacity for love. The only capacity for love that I should know of is my own. I’ve seen me in action over the years so I pretty much know what I’m capable of. I now know for sure just how I love—I rather tend to give everything or, as Elizabeth Gilbert put it, to not only give away my hand, but “to give away the farm”, too. And so I do tend to ask for everything in return: Unswerving commitment and devotion. A solid friendship. Constant companionship. Equal partnership and teamwork. Headboard-banging, uh, chemistry. And the room to grow and evolve as individuals and as partners.

I’ve realized that, for me, it’s got to be all of the above…or nothing at all.

I have also promised myself to no longer get all bent out of shape trying to prove my love to others. Whether or not they believe me or feel my love is not my problem. I’ve learned from experience that people who can’t feel another person’s love should go to therapy or do the babaylan healing dance or get on a plane to Batanes and build boats with the Ivatans…or whatever it takes to shed the defensive armor, to remove the blinders from their eyes, to spit out the ball of bitterness from their mouth—to get some perspective, mehn!--because it’s their problem, not the other person’s. So it’s theirs to solve, not someone else’.

I should know. I kept hearing my partner’s words of love, saw him mouth them all the time. But somehow, they couldn’t reach me. His words seemed to lose steam on their way to me and dissolve to dust at my feet—I couldn’t believe them, couldn’t feel them. And I saw what that was doing to us.


I danced the dance that our priestess ancestors used for healing the villagers. Spilled my guts, bawled my eyes out and drew mandalas in my therapist’s office. Vented onto pages and pages in my journal and, when that wasn’t enough, set up a blog. Chanted Hindu deities’ names. Said novenas to Mother Mary and Saint Therese. Thrashed and spluttered through surfing lessons. Watched go-girl movies. Reread my favorite books and splurged on new ones. Started a book project. Met for tea and endless chika with good-vibe friends. Did innumerable sun salutations and warrior poses. Sang—or rather, screamed—Bono’s empowering lyrics almost every morning, upon waking, “I want you to know / That you don’t need me anymore/ I want you to know / YOU DON’T NEED ANYONE OR ANYTHING AT ALL…”

Then, one day, I felt it again. I felt loved.

And so I did what only love could give me the strength to do: I finally freed the both of us from each other.


cecilia Beltran said...

This a book! Please publish na nga!

Lami said...

"All in good time", said a dear girlfriend of mine...;)

RedAirkson said...

Love...God... People get fed what it's supposed to be, but after all the BS has been tossed about and bought, we just end up having to find out for ourselves who/what it is...as many variations as there are individuals eh?

Silly how when I finally think I know what love is and can choose a most qualified partner...I end up with someone I never had in mind.

Lami said...

;) We are the last people we look to for love. ;) But it's the solid basis for any real thing we might hope to have with another person.

Pamela said...

I love this..Came across your blog while checking out writing workshops. I think I'm a thwarted version of wander girl taken to the extreme. I got married in the process (boink!) and now going through a divorce at 30. You're entry gave me a lot of perspective on what I'm going through.