Monday, March 13, 2017

Love, Sex, and Pie

“I Love you.”
“I just love pizza.”
“I love those shoes.”
“Love your neighbor.”

I’ve noticed the word love gets thrown around a lot these days, and maybe it always has. But I’ve also noticed that it’s very hard for many of us to articulate exactly what we mean when we say the word.

Is it the deep meaning of agape, or selfless love, that we are called to for all other humans? Well, not generally. Most of us couldn’t really explain that one on a bet.

Is it interpersonal attachment? The emotion we experience for our parent or our child, or our adored pet? Perhaps.

Is it the twining of erotic attraction and personality match that we call romantic love, or being “in love”? Sometimes. But our Judeo-Christian heritage has convinced us that, somehow, we can only be said to be authentically “in love” with one other person at one time and then only if a certain exact particular level of depth of feeling is present. If we claim to be in love with more than one person, we are told that we are indecisive; that only one is long-lasting and “real” and that for any other the red of love waters down to the pinks and roses of like, or enjoy, or that it flames to the crimson of desire, which is transient and will fade. We are told that sex has to come into the equation somewhere, or else we are talking about friendship once again.

Our love for food or shoes or the wallpaper we saw at a store we can never afford is a misnomer; we are quite fond of these things, or we are attracted to them like ravens with a shiny stone, but there is, in the majority of cases, no true depth to our statement. We are saying “I like this thing more than other similar things” but there is no personal connection. I do not care about this piece of pizza more than another piece of the same pizza, and I love my shoes but when they fade I will buy another identical or similar pair and be instantly comforted.

Most of the time Americans navigate these muddy linguistic waters without serious thought. We know what we mean, and convention and habit give others a good idea of our intent.

But what about the other times?

Love can be a tricky thing.

We have been sold a bill of goods here in the United States, and it is half rotten. We’ve been told that love fits neatly into one of those categories, and that any deviation is awkward.



We don’t even have words to explain the places where categories of love diverge and overlap and sometimes just explode.

By the time we reach 18, we have been exposed to society, and books, and movies, to friends, and to family, and to all of the boxes we are expected to put things in. We have learned the rules of love.

Straight men love women. Straight women love men. Gay men love men. Lesbian women love women.

Trans people and people of fluid gender orientation are just supposed to be very, very, quiet. We get to go stand next to the bisexual folk somewhere in a dark and soundproofed room. From time to time other people debate the possibility of nailing up the door behind us, and maybe covering the airholes.

If you are female, with a female friend, depending on depth of emotion and closeness, she is your friend, or your BFF, or your bestie. You are allowed to say you love her, but if you say you are in love with her you are assumed to be declaring a sexual orientation.

Men can have a male wingman, or friend, or best friend, or bud. In moments of deep emotion, he can admit to loving him, but only if everyone around understands that the words “but not, like, love love, no homo” are implied.

We pick a partner, based on a host of factors from physical compatibility to intellectual stimulation, financial status or lack of, hormonal response, and personality.

We learn to fit neatly in a box.

Only, sometimes, we don’t.

And then our lack of words becomes painful.

I have a friend, a long-term part of my life. We have no sexual relationship. I love her deeply. I am in love with her and always will be, and as far as I know the feeling is shared. She is as deep and real a part of my life as my husband. I introduce her as my beloved friend.

And when she dies, if it is before me, I will grieve as completely as if I had lost a wife, but there are no words for what she is to me.

There are other families like my own. Other combinations and expansions, other alternate normals and unique relationship structures.

We as a society have become convinced that love is like pie, and that if I give you a piece I am taking away something which rightfully belongs to someone else, and worse, is going to make us run out quicker. We’ve learned that we can only love so much, and that we can only like one flavor. We’ve learned that taking too much will make you ill, and that eating more exotic flavors is poisonous. We’ve learned that we can only eat from one piedish, and that sharing forks is absolutely forbidden.

You know what?

Everything you’ve learned is wrong.

Love isn’t the problem, but honesty is.

Human beings are intelligent, territorial, phone using, latte-sipping, upright apes. Biologically we are pushed by a host of drives- pheromones, the need for reproduction, safety, hormones, pleasure, pain… We are not, however, hardwired for only monogamous pair-bonding.

We are capable of so much more.

We can put down the pie dish; love is not an exhaustible resource. We can’t continue to exclude any relationship or set of relationships for which we do not have an easy label. We can’t continue to turn our backs on any relationship we don’t understand.

We don’t have to understand. It isn’t our relationship. It exists, they exist, whether we get it or not.

When in doubt, create more words.

Or simply learn to call it all family. Radical welcome, radical love, means that just because I don’t know what to call you I cannot make you invisible.

I cannot wipe you away.

I want us to learn to honor and welcome the beloved friends and the additional thirds, or fourths. To respect the alternate relationships, and the compound hyphenate loves. To realize that it is none of our business who is sleeping with who as long as everyone is adult, and honest about who is loved and how within their own relationships.

I want us to recognize that mine does not have to look like yours, or theirs, or theirs over there. You can eat pie and I can eat cake with pizza, and they can have a smorgasbord.

Love is real, even when the definitions change from person to person and house to house, and no human being deserves to have their loving relationship ignored because it doesn’t fit in a box.

Boxes are for those shoes.

You know, the ones you love.

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