On Love and Fidelity

I reckon I think about love a lot. I don’t suppose I’m unusual in that regard – it’s probably one of the most thought-about topics in the history of – well – history. One thing I’ve noticed about myself and my musings on love is that no matter what age I am, I always seem to think that I’ve finally got some sort of true understanding of this love thing. You know, what love is, how to recognise it, what it means to be in love, etc, etc. The problem is, every couple of years my ideas change again, and I wonder how my previous conclusions could have been so simplistic and naïve.

I first thought I had it sussed way back when I was sixteen. Yep, knew all about it. I was in love (with a girl called Gai) and that made me an expert. I think that my idea went something like this: Being in love means you can’t live without them. Woohoo – groundbreaking stuff. It was probably a little more sophisticated than that, but you get the general gist.
Fast-forward a few years, to maybe 1989. My heart’s just been broken for I think the second time, and, again for the second time, I’m using another relationship to help me get over it. So me and this new lady (Helen, from New Zealand), we’re having this discussion about love. She’s several years older than me, she’s giving me her take on the matter, and I’m arguing with her. “Love is when you can’t live without them,” I’m saying (or something to that effect). “Love is when you get a deep, pit-of-the-stomach feeling that you want to spend the rest of your life with them.” And she’s saying that what I’m talking about is essentially Need. Or at least a very needy form of love. She put forward her notion of love, being that you can love someone quite independently of how they feel about you. In essence, you love them for their qualities, not for what they can do for you. You love them simply because they’re wonderful. I didn’t want a bar of it (needless to say, she and I weren’t in love). “No no,” I said, “you’re talking about the kind of love you can have for a painting, or your dog, or a friend. I’m talking about being in love! That chemistry, that irresistible attraction that makes every cell of your body ache to be with them.” I couldn’t see any passion in her kind of love, and I told her so. We agreed to disagree.
Back when I was sixteen, and in love with Gai, I remember reading for the first time the famous saying that I’m sure you’ve all heard: If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was. When I read that, I thought about it in the context of my relationship with Gai. “Yeah right!” I thought (I don’t think they had that expression in 1981, but you know what I mean). I tried to imagine letting go of Gai. Inconceivable. My version of the saying looked more like this: If you love something, hold on to it with all your might. If it tries to escape, hold on even tighter. Helen was completely correct, of course: it wasNeed. Well, it was incredibly needy love, at any rate.
It seems to me now that that kind of needy, jealous, clingy, possessive love is a love steeped in fear (fear of loss). I realise now that I loved that way because I was incredibly insecure. Gai was virtually the only wonderful thing in my life, and I was terrified of losing her, so I held on for all I was worth. I learnt, of course, that that kind of love can be pretty destructive (*wistful sigh*).
So here I am in 1999. I’m 34 years old, and my notion of love has changed quite a bit over the years. I’m no longer the mess of insecurities that I was back then, and Helen’s ideas are seeming more and more resonant every day. I’d like to meet up with her now and talk about them some more. I wonder if she still thinks the same….
These days, when I think of love, it inspires two feelings in me:

  1. It means that everything about the other person is fantastic. You don’t want them to change anything. You love them just the way they are. Because, if you want them to change, if you want them to be somehow different, then what exactly does it mean when you say that you love them? If your love for them is somehow contingent upon them adhering to some image you have of how they should be, then you’re not loving them, you’re loving yourself, through them.
  2. You want them to be happy, even more than you want to be happy yourself. This implies that you put their needs above your own, and furthermore, that you’ll love them regardless of whether they love you back, or, even more difficult, if they love someone else. It also inspires the common sentiment: I’d do anything for you.

And yes, of course, you also want to bonk their brains out, not to mention be with them for the rest of your life, if not longer.
All of which makes me a little worried. Because I look around at the rest of the world, and, in most relationships that I see, it isn’t like that. It seems that, in most cases, love is about getting your needs met. You know – “I love such-and-such because they love me. I love them because they’d do anything for me. Because they make me happy. Because I couldn’t live without them” (I know all about that one). A different bunch of sentiments altogether. So have I got it wrong, or has most of the rest of the world?
Furthermore, a truly mature and secure love, it would seem, wouldn’t place any conditions or limitations upon the other, meaning that you continue to love them regardless of what they might do. Whatever they might do. Otherwise, as in point (1), you don’t really love them, you love some idealised notion of who they would be if they behaved the way you want them to.
This is a little contentious. Take the standard and obvious example of learning that your partner has just had sex with someone else without your knowledge or consent. An affair, in other words. There’s no question – this has got to hurt. But the question is, how does that affect your love for them? Can you continue to love them as always? If not, why not? They’re still the same person that you loved before their indiscretion, after all. Surely whatever you loved about them before is still there?
Yes, of course, I know it’s not as simple as that. Let’s see if we can get to the bottom of this without using words like “unfaithful” or “infidelity.” Most probably the very least you can say is that they’ve broken a promise to you. If you’re married, then it was probably a promise they made publicly. And so now you learn that they are the sort of person that either breaks promises or doesn’t have the self-control to resist their biological yearnings, or maybe doesn’t care enough whether you get hurt. Perhaps all three. This may well cause you to reassess what kind of person you think they are, and you may find that you cannot love the kind of person that you now realise them to be. If so, then it’s simple – you leave. But is it ever that simple? Is it ever that black and white? Unlikely. Because, of course, part of you does still love them, a great big part of you still wants to be with them, you just wish they hadn’t behaved that way, hadn’t done that dreadful thing to you. So it usually ends up coming down to: “Well, I forgive you, but if you ever do that again, you can kiss my love goodbye.” Perfectly reasonable, on the face of it, but it means, of course that your continuing love for them is contingent upon their good behaviour. And so you both live in guilt and fear ever after.
But let’s try to imagine another kind of relationship. In the true spirit of If you love something, set it free …., you make no promises of fidelity to each other. No promises of any kind. You give each other the gift of total freedom. Actually, believe it or not, they already had total freedom all along, so it’s not really yours to give. Maybe you simply acknowledge that they have it, and that you would never try to interfere with it. And you tell them simply that you love them regardless, and that you want to be with them. Then you sit back and see if they indeed stay with you, see if they come back, as the saying goes. Pretty scary stuff. No promises, no commitments, nothing to keep them with you besides your dazzling personality.But what if they leave me? Well, then I would say it’s fairly clear: you’re not right for them. A damn shame, to be sure, but ask yourself: Would you rather live with someone who would leave if they had the choice? And let’s look at your love for them. If you love them, surely you want them to be happy. Is that a fair assumption? If yes, then would you want to force them to stay with someone that they didn’t want to stay with because they promised that they would?
So let’s assume they don’t want to leave, but instead, an even harder scenario: They stay with you, maintain that they love you, then go off and sleep with someone else. Now in this version, they’ve broken no promises, so the only feeling you’re left with is: They want something that you can’t give them. And of course, that hurts. A lot. So far I think we’re all agreed. But here’s the contentious part: If you say that you love them, you’d be being inconsistent if you weren’t happy for them (assuming they enjoyed it, of course). Happy for them? Cheating bastards! How could I be happy for them? Because you love them and they were just being themselves – doing something they wanted to do, something that made them happy. And your love for them means that you want them to be happy, remember? Yeah, but not at the expense of my own happiness! Aha! There lies the crux of it! Whom do you want to be happy the most? Quite an important question in any relationship between people who claim to love each other, I reckon. If you’re in a loving relationship right now, spare a moment and have a think about that one.
If you agree that to love someone means that you love them whatever they do, and then they go and do something that you don’t like, then you’ve got to ask yourself, well, do I really love them? And if the answer is, yes, but only if they behave the way that I want them to, only if they don’t hurt me, then that’s fine, as long as you now recognise your love for what it is – conditional.
Now I’ll throw this into the pot: Even if they don’t sleep around, if they have a normal libido, they’re almost certainly going to want to. It’s part of being a healthy sexual individual. And the only reason that they don’t, if they don’t, is because they don’t want to hurt you. Which is wonderful, of course, but if you love them, and they want to, then why shouldn’t they? (What if, in fact, it didn’t hurt you?)
I can tell I’m skating on thin ice here. Let’s try a little make-believe conversation ….
“Honey, there’s this new girl at work. She’s kinda cute, she’s giving me the come-on look, and I can’t stop thinking about her.”
“And, to be honest, I want to bonk her brains out. How do you feel about that?”
“Well, I’d rather it was my brains, of course, but if it makes you happy….”
“Thanks honey, I love you.”
“I love you too. And darling….?”
“Wear a condom.”
Pure fantasy, right? Well, probably. But that’s not the point. The point is, he wants to. So bad he can taste it. Whether or not he actually does, whether or not he tells his wife about it, he still wants to.
OK. Let’s assume he keeps his longings to himself. He loves his wife, and he knows that such an admission would crush her. So we have a fellow who can’t stop thinking about the floozy at work, probably thinking about her even when he’s in bed with his wife, but she doesn’t know. So how does he feel? Probably ashamed of his feelings. Guilty, almost certainly, that he’s having these unwholesome desires. And sad – sad that the trust in his marriage doesn’t extend to his telling his wife about his true feelings. And let’s not forget the reason that he wanted to sleep with the babe in the first place – he’s horny and feels like something new (if only for an evening). So we have sexual frustration, shame, guilt and sadness, all because he’s not allowed to have those feelings. His marriage vows made no mention of floozies.
And the wife is blissfully unaware. We all know how commonplace affairs are, so in many cases, he’s going to go ahead and do it anyway, still without her knowledge, which of course breeds even more shame and guilt. How would it feel, being a wife in such a situation? You’re in a relationship with someone who either is an adulterer, or would be, if only it wouldn’t hurt you. Either way you cut it, you’ve got concealment and guilt. I don’t think I want to be you.
The above conversation is totally alien to us because we’ve all been brought up in a culture that gives fidelity a very high value. Everywhere we look, we learn that adultery is bad. How could anyone discuss extra-marital sex like they’re going to test drive a new car? But let’s say that such a relationship is workable. So his wife doesn’t interfere with his desires, and he does indeed go off and bonk the floozy, relieving her of her brains. What happens next? Well, either he comes back to his wife, having gotten it out of his system, and loves her even more for the freedom she allows him, or he doesn’t come back – he falls in love with the new babe and runs away with her to Acapulco (this sounds terribly unlikely, if you ask me, in view of the special relationship he has with his wife).
If he leaves his wife (as I said, extremely unlikely), then they weren’t right for each other, and it’s better that she found out sooner than later. Furthermore, her pain is considerably less this way than if they’d made the standard set of marriage vows and promises to each other, and he went and did it anyway, thus breaking his vows and doing something that he promised her he wouldn’t do.
It doesn’t seem any worse in our make-believe scenario – in fact, it seems infinitely more honest, respectful and loving. Well, that’s how I see it, anyway.
(And before you start feeling sorry for the poor woman, don’t forget, she is perfectly within her rights, in this hypothetical relationship, to do exactly the same thing with the local handyman, or whoever.)
But what if he makes a habit of it? Then that’s the kind of guy he is. Love him the way he is, or don’t.
But I wouldn’t be able to let him/her just go off like that – I’d be incredibly jealous! So from what insecurity does your jealousy spring?
I guess the hardest part about learning of a partner’s liaison with a third party (permitted within the bounds of the relationship or not) is that, somehow, you weren’t enough for them. They wanted something that you couldn’t, or didn’t, give them. Inevitably, you take it personally, wondering what the other one has that you don’t. And of course, the answer is – nothing. There’s nothing wrong with you. In fact, there’s nothing wrong at all! Speaking personally, I’d be extremely surprised if, after ten years in a marriage with me, my hypothetical wife didn’t harbour a strong desire to have sex with someone else, no matter how much she loved me. I’m not saying that I’d like it (I’m not quite up to that yet), just that it would be extremely surprising if she didn’t want to. Just for something new. Just for fun. Just to reassert her sexuality – to remind herself that she can still arouse someone besides her husband. To feel sexy. To feel good about herself. As far as I’m concerned, that’s just being human.
And of course, I’d be lying if I said that I wouldn’t probably want to do the same thing after ten years of marriage as well. Probably. I think. I don’t know whether I’d actually do it, mind you, just that I’d probably want to. Whether I did or not would ultimately depend upon my wife, and the nature of the relationship we had.
So basically, I don’t know. I’ve never been married, and I’ve never been in the kind of relationship that I’ve described above. I’ve never even experienced the pain of being cheated on, so I have no idea whether I’m even capable of setting free to that extent. It’s all hypothetical. Untested. What you’re reading here is only how I feel right now (or at least how I think I feel). A couple of years from now I may look back on these words and wonder where I got such absurd notions.
What I really want, of course, is to meet someone who thinks like I do, who agrees with the stuff I’ve written here. Then, if I fall in love with her, she’d make me put my money where my mouth is – hold me to my words. Make me walk the talk, as they say. That would be a wake up call. Scary. I’ve committed myself now – I’ve got my feelings up on a bloody web page! I’d have no recourse if one day I realised that I couldn’t bear to live without her and said to her, “um, Honey? You know how I said you could do anything you wanted? Well, I’ve changed my mind. If you could just look over this list of rules I’ve drawn up….”
Aw hell, I don’t know. Whatever this love thing is all about, there’s one thing I’m certain of – it has nothing to do with rules. I can’t imagine truly loving someone and then wanting to impose my will upon her, to restrict her behaviour in any way. Similarly, I’m sure I’d get a bit antsy if she was to love me “only on the condition that ….” Another thing I’m sure of is that if the communication is good enough, and all of this stuff is understood up front, then the relationship should be able to survive anything. Anything except one of us falling out of love, of course.
Is it just me, or does the marriage vow, “I promise to love, honour and obey” get up everyone’s nose? What’s all this vowing and promising stuff? How can you possibly know how you’re going to feel in twenty years’ time? I’d feel plenty awful if, ten years into a marriage, I woke up one morning and found that I was no longer in love with my wife. That would be bad enough. I’d hate to think that, on top of that, I’d have to carry around the guilt of breaking a promise. Surely a simple declaration of love would be more fitting. Something like, “I love you. Right now I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone. Loving you is so wonderful that I hope to be able to love you forever.” No promises, no vows, no obeying. If you feel the need to make a vow, try this: “I will always be honest with you, and never hide my feelings.”
On a final note, here’s an analogy that helps me crystallise my thoughts on love: I envision a partner as a beautiful bird, that flew into my life one day and brightened up my world with its song, with its colour and with its grace. How lucky am I, to be visited by such a creature. The temptation is to put the bird in a cage, to keep it with me for evermore. But, of course, in a cage, birds can’t fly, and flying is what birds do. That’s why we love them. And birds aren’t happy in cages. So I offer the bird some food, in the hope that it’ll stay a while. And if it flies away one day, well, that’s sad. It’s infinitely sad, yet it’s worth remembering: if the bird thought it was going to be caged, it never would have come in the first place.

Phew! I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit worn out. I’m impressed if you made it this far. I’ve had similar discussions with a few people over the past couple of years, and often, after hearing me out, they’ve turned to me and said, Who are you kidding, Mark? You’re just looking for a licence to screw around. I hope that’s not how it sounds. To tell the truth, I’m well aware of how close to the heart this issue can be with a lot of people, and, seeing as I’ve got my opinion out there flapping in the breeze, I’d really like to hear your thoughts on what I had to say. Agree with me, disagree with me, love the words or despise them, this is a subject that I can’t hear too many points of view on, and I’d love to hear yours. Is there some big part of this love thing that I’m not seeing? Make your comments below…

12 Responses to “On Love and Fidelity”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Visit Anonymous

    [Editor’s comment:] The following is a transcription of part of a recent Internet chat session, in which my ramblings on Love were discussed. Greg Sullivan was one of the participants. The names of the others have been changed at their request.
    <Jack> Greg, Mark’s views on love match Robert Heinlein’s views and my own, however my decision to obey scripture prevents me from applying them.
    * Greg nods
    <Greg> He’d love it if you gave him some feedback, your reply is good, the replies on the web site ramble on.
    <Herb> they do ramble on, but distil the ideas from them
    <Greg> I don’t like it all, because everyone obviously thinks love is more important than I want to believe.
    <Jack> Greg, do you read Science Fiction at all?
    <Greg> not since high school
    <Jack> Greg, if you want to explore the implications of his views further, I suggest reading "Time Enough for Love", by Robert Heinlein (deceased). Also "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" explores the theme a bit more in a convict society akin to Botany Bay, but where monogamy was dismissed in order to better provide for the children, which is what most societies place as the priority. (Incidentally, when societies break down in some way, due to internal or external forces or resource constraints, as soon as the issues start impacting kids the air movement device becomes fouled and things start being changed.)
    [Editor’s comment:] I’ve read both Time Enough for Love and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Time Enough for Love is one of my all-time favourite science-fiction books. If you can handle sci-fi, give it a read.

  2. Leonie Gardner Says:

    Visit Leonie Gardner

    I think you should rename the section. Sex and relationships. It seemed to me to be more about that.
    When I think of love and especially unconditional love – which I think was what you were getting at, I thought you seemed preoccupied with sex. I think of sex as two things.

    Fun (perhaps meaningful or maybe not), or
    just one way of expressing love.

    When I think of love – I remember when my Mum was dying, looking after her and doing all sorts of things that before I never thought I would be capable of. I remember my Dad looking at her and telling her how beautiful she was. He obviously could only see what was inside. These are the types of love that I would like in my life. It’s easy to find someone to sleep with – but harder to find someone who wants to be there and hold your hand after 50 years. I wish I had the recipe for it.

  3. Joanne Aalders Says:

    Visit Joanne Aalders

    I have to agree. I personally could never promise to be faithful to someone forever or for the rest of my life. "Forever" is along time, and, considering that I hate breaking promises, I tend not to make a promise unless I know I can keep it, and I wouldn’t be able to commit myself to such an unreasonable ask. I’m not necessarily saying that I would go out and bonk someone else, but everyone needs to feel that they are still attractive to their preferred sex. Most people look at me strangely when I tell them this, but I’ve seen to many marriages where people are comfortable but not necessarily happy. I want to be happy. I want to be part of one of those couples who, after 40 years of marriage, can still walk along the beach hand in hand and still be in love.
    I have another problem with marriage: What if you get bored? You know, that rut that couples seem to get stuck in. My husband would have to be the type of person who would let me be (and could be himself) spontaneous, allowing us to break out of the rut. Even if we had children (well, one), I would still need to be spontaneous. I would never want to lose my own identity in my partner. Sure, it may change or evolve, but I would still be me, not just his shadow. Too many things happen in life, good and bad, to make you who you are, and I know I don’t want to be anyone else.

  4. Pam Virtue (Mark’s mother) Says:

    Visit Pam Virtue (Mark’s mother)

    I know the saying: If you love something ….. If it comes back, it’s yours …. My feeling is that no one is ever yours. I don’t know if you remember the poster I had on the wall when you were growing up from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (a wonderful little book to buy), that goes:

    Your children are not your children, they are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
    You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
    For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls,
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
    You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
    For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
    You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
    The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
    Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;
    For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

    This was the most influential piece of writing for me when you were all growing up. It made it so clear to me that I did not have permission to influence the way your lives were going – you were to make your own decisions, your own "learnings." I tried to live by that (to me) beautiful piece of philosophy.
    He also writes beautifully about Marriage:

    You were born together, and together you shall be for evermore.
    You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
    Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
    Love one another, but make not a bond of love;
    Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
    Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
    Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
    Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
    Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
    Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
    For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
    And stand together yet not too near together;
    For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
    And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

    And so on.
    I can only speak about Love between two adults from personal experience. The only times that I have had rows with Dad have been (and can still be) when I do want him to change and be the way I want him to be. As I’ve said before, it’s expectations that bring us down. And yet, in the big picture, I love him exactly the way he his – warts and all – the way I want to be loved, the way, I believe, we all want to be loved.
    In regards to Point 1 from your definitions of love (about loving the other no matter what they do): I think the being and doing can get a bit blurry here. As I said to you when you were younger, even if you were a serial killer I couldn’t love you any the less. I wouldn’t actually like, though, what you were doing. No matter what has happened with Dad and me, I’ve never stopped loving him, even if I’ve hated what he was doing (an example actually escapes me for the moment).
    As for Point 2 (wanting the other to be happy even more than you want to be happy yourself): I’m not sure on this one. I love making Dad happy, putting his needs above my own, but I think it’s important to get one’s own needs met first, because otherwise there’s a note of sacrifice that creeps in, and that can lead to resentment.
    In the next paragraph you mention that most people say that they love their partner "because they make me happy." Totally selfishly, I would say that this doesn’t apply to me, but what does apply is, "because I am happy when I am with him." Even if he is in Kathmandu, I am with him, and he’s with me. That’s why I don’t miss Dad so much these days – he’s always with me. In the earlier days there was more need there and I indeed couldn’t "live without him", but back then I was in a different space. The beauty of our relationship is that over the last nearly forty years I believe we have evolved together and are still evolving together, and it gets deeper and richer – has done since the day we married. And then the children came along and gave that Love and evolution a whole new meaning – even richer and more expanding. I love Love.
    You ask some deep and probing questions. I don’t think our love is entirely unconditional. If Dad or I went out and screwed the brains out of someone else (by the way, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the tradesman – why not the CEO of IBM? And why the secretary? Why not Elle Macpherson?), it may not affect our Love but I think it would certainly affect our relationship. Not having had that experience, I can’t really say how I’d be, but I think it’s part of the standard we set..
    No promises? The fact that we married a generation ago and that the promises we made publicly may have something to do with the fact that I can’t imagine a relationship which was entirely free. I think that if your alternative (your "declaration of love") was put into place at the very beginning, it may well work. However, as you might have noticed, men and women’s thinking are very different. I remember someone once said, "For man, Love is a part-time thing – ’tis woman’s whole existence." I think there’s certainly truth in the last half of that. And I believe that "men are from Mars and women are from Venus."
    I think your thoughts are idealistic, and I mean that in the most complimentary way. I know that Dad and I have grown a lot of the way toward that in our relationship, in that we’ve "given" each other a lot more space over the years – a lot more freedom, and, as a result of that freedom, we haven’t abused it. I do believe it’s possible to hurt each other, and you said in Point 2, "You put their needs above your own." This fits in to what I’m saying – or trying to say. I’m not as articulate on paper as you are. I’m also not used to putting my feelings on paper.
    I think that my love for Dad is unconditional, but I’m not sure that our relationship is. It hasn’t been tested (to my knowledge!), so you’re putting me on the spot there.
    In regards to a partner having it off with a third party… I think it would be natural to think that you weren’t enough for them, and maybe nobody can be. However, I think it says more about the person seeking somewhere else and not respecting the spoken or unspoken commitment than it does for the "wronged" one. "A strong desire to have sex with someone else after ten years in a marriage"? I think it’s up to both parties to keep that spark going and introduce elements of surprise into the relationship – to go out on dates with each other, to have one-night stands with each other. If the magic goes out of a relationship it’s because the partners start taking each other for granted, and that can be the beginning of the end.
    I remember (and I’ve probably mentioned this before) that when Dad and I were about to be married, Dad’s brother-in-law, John, a man of few words, said to us, "Just one word of advice – never underestimate the importance of the other person." That has stuck with me over the years, so that, as far as possible, I’ve never undermined Dad in public or in front of you children when I didn’t agree with what he was saying or doing. These things are important in a relationship.
    I do like your "Declaration of Love" better than the Politically motivated "marriage vows," yes, but whence did they originate? From caring?
    Look at the number of people we like, and then we spend some time with them and it becomes a little more difficult. And then they come to stay – forever, it seems. The longer they stay the harder it is – simply because both people’s stuff starts getting in the way. But I do believe that Love is the bottom line.
    To look at your partner anew every morning is so important. To ask yourself, "Would he/she still be attracted to me if we met today? Do I still have those qualities that attracted him/her in the first place?" I don’t believe you have to "work" at a relationship. I do believe in playing a lot, laughing a lot, keeping your mouth shut a lot (I’m still working on that one!). The brackets bring me to another point. It’s not about working on a relationship, it’s about working on me.
    Reasserting one’s sexuality doesn’t depend on being able to get someone else into the sack. It’s about reasserting it to yourself. It’s like self-worth. If it depends on someone else’s praise, then it ain’t self-worth. Same with sexuality. There’s always going to be someone who thinks you are sexy and there’s going to be someone who thinks you ain’t. Sexuality, in my book, comes from inside.
    Finally, I love your analogy about the bird flying into your life. Surely it could only fly into your life if you were also a beautiful bird that it was attracted to in the first place. Surely you can envision the bird staying with you without feeling the need to put it into a cage. If it’s offered caring and nurturing and one’s whole heart, surely both birds could fly together in the same direction, with enough space between you to remember your own essential bird-ness.

  5. Tiffany Swinton Says:

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    Is there really any global consensus on what "love" is, what it means to be in love, and how you know you’re in love?
    I personally think that it is an oft-misused and sometimes over-used word. We may "love" our parents, our siblings, our pet. We also may love Thai food, dinner-parties, cycling, skiing, languages, history. We may even love sunny days, or lying in bed with a good book (teddy-bear pyjamas, whatever). But to use the same word to describe the love of another in the relationship partner sense bears no resemblance to the use of the word in the former scenarios. Either we are forced to belittle the intensity of the emotions, the euphoria, the delight and sheer joy experienced when you "love" another person in the sense that most poems, plays, songs, movies, fictional novels try to portray, or we simply don’t have an appropriate word in the English language (and many other languages of which I am aware) to describe it. Why is this? Maybe because there is no global viewpoint on exactly what love is. It’s far from an exact science (if it were we’d all be quite well sorted out), and it’s not even explicable by the non-exact sciences (such as psychology). Rules and codes of behaviour on love fill the pages of religious texts, classical novels and girly mags (I don’t know about mags for guys, but I suspect occasionally between the centrefold shots there are probably some lines devoted to it). But, still, no consensus.
    So, how do we really know?
    I have thought I was in love a number of times. I look back now and know that in some of these situations I was most definitely not in love. But, at the time I thought I was. Well then, what was I? Where was I? Was I really there? Had my mind been overtaken by aliens? Or was it all part of a big cosmic joke with me being the butt of it? Now, that takes me back two years to a most regrettable scenario (maybe "regrettable" is the wrong choice of words – perhaps "forgettable?"). It couldn’t all have been for nothing, because it really gave me an opportunity to ponder at length (and I still do) over the issue of what I will refer to as "the honeymoon period" (and I don’t mean the conventional marriage-type honeymoon, rather the "rose-tinted glasses" phase of a relationship – the "overwhelming lust" stage ). I have heard that not all relationships have this phase, but I find that difficult to believe and I certainly haven’t experienced the lack of it, nor has anyone I have spoken to on the subject. This honeymoon phase, to me, is a blinder!!! You can’t do anything but think about the other person, you talk to each other like three-year-olds, and, at the time, nothing else in the world really matters. Your mind is transformed into complete marshmallow (you know, the marshmallow squelch after you’ve stuck one on the end of a stick and toasted it in a fire for a couple of minutes). This has been the pattern for me, but two years ago it was totally illogical, nonsensical and insane. The guy, Peter, and I had absolutely nothing in common, I had briefly met him on a number of occasions prior to the scenario of which I speak and I had then thought, What an arrogant, odd-looking jerk. Yes, it was a fated rebound (I was still in recovery mode from a seven-year relationship), and I was forewarned by friends. Alas, that rose-tinted-glasses-wearing monster entered, uninvited, and I found myself going on a date with this jerk. From there it was full-on. I really thought I was in love. It didn’t last long, thank God! But, subconsciously I suppose, I didn’t even introduce him to many of my friends (because of shame? Who knows?) What was it that had reduced my mind to pulp so that I lost all sense of rationality and fooled myself into thinking I was in love with this narcissistic nerd? And I’d already spent much thought and time pondering on love in the past, reading all the crap that those American self-appointed relationship experts publish and make a million on. I’d also read the good stuff. I had resolved to be sensible next time and ease myself into things – to be friends first, take time getting to know the other person. Despite all this, here I was falling for the This is it! feeling. Anyway, that finally ended, well over a year ago now. What did I learn? Good question! I have decided that the ‘honeymoon’ phase is a means by which more couples "get together" than otherwise would. Before the dawn of realisation hits them. Many have made plans or gone ahead with plans (marriage, children, etc) before the glasses are removed and they can see reality for what it is. It’s an essential part of the evolutionary process, but one of which I am now very wary. But, will that stop me from befalling it ever again? I doubt it, because it is too wonderful an experience to want to avoid, yet, perchance, it can also be destructive and dangerous!
    In short, I don’t really believe any more that the initial lust or honeymoon phase has anything to do with love. Sometimes it does develop into love, but it can’t be love initially, unless of course you already know almost everything about that person.

  6. Christel Romano Says:

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    Love – can it be defined? Can you really work out what is true love or not? I think people love differently, and the ones in "successful" relationships are perhaps not so much the ones who love more "wisely," but those who love someone who loves them back in the same way. I like the idea of loving beyond yourself – for the happiness of the other more than yourself – and it feels good (liberating even) to reach the point when you can give without thought of return and without it taking away from yourself. But that requires a selflessness which eventually may become unsustainable. Not that you stop loving, but perhaps your needs (not necessarily needy needs, but basic needs) become more important, and so you start to give more to yourself and less to the other. In an ideal relationship, you love yourself, healthily, and also love the other – very much, but you don’t let them get away with shit. I’m talking from my own perspective where I’m not too good at that, partly because deeply ingrained in my subconscious is that to love is to compromise and forgive and give, and that my self-esteem isn’t always as healthy as it could be.
    I’m not sure I understand any more than before about what love is, or chemistry, or how to know when I have met the man who will be "The One". I’ve realised, though, that it’s not the be-all and end-all of my life – that there’s shit loads more to go through before and after that much-awaited event, and that in the meantime I’d better get on with living the life I want. Also, I know that if I can keep giving of myself as freshly and openly each time, every relationship that hasn’t worked will have been an opportunity to learn – about life and myself and people. And that takes the pressure off when it doesn’t work – which will happen in most cases.
    I don’t think that everybody has to love "wisely," or learn to love better with each relationship. That is a concept that you and I embrace, being the way we are, but it’s not a rule. There isn’t a set of steps to climb, it’s not a continuum – it’s a spectrum. And if you happen to find someone like you, then, that’s it. Some people don’t even require chemistry or sexual desire or passion – it’s an individual choice. Perhaps later, as you experience different things, what was formerly quite adequate becomes insufficient and you can’t bridge the gap. There’s no doubt in my mind that you have a better chance of making it last with self knowledge and communication and some wisdom – but again, that’s purely my opinion
    Which brings me to the issue of sexual exclusivity – a touchy one for me. I think that if, within your relationship, you both have the same ideas on sleeping with other people, than there is no issue. In our society, we are not generally brought up with the idea that affairs are okay, but you’re quite right – there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it. In fact, it’s quite functional (in that it assures dissemination and keeps the species alive). But you might have to live in a polygamous society to have it truly accepted.
    Never having experienced it doesn’t give you much solid ground to stand on. You would need to be able to handle the vision of your partner – whom you cherish and to whom you have opened your heart – desiring someone else and fucking them. And that’s hard, without it changing something in you or the way you perceive them. I hope that you, Mark, can experience that, because only then will you be able to know whether it’s okay for you. And that’s not being mean. I know I can’t handle it. I don’t know if I ever will.
    Another thought: Why do people get so worked up about fidelity? Why do they get married, for that matter? The answer perhaps lies in why people get together in the first place: You want to find a mate because you’re a social creature and because there are things you want to do that you can’t do as well on your own – experience new places, lay some foundations as a team, have some stability, and then eventually procreate (which I believe is why we are here – none of that high-flying existential bullshit). If we were a different species, we could mate with different partners each season (and perhaps that instinctive drive is much stronger than we admit), but we’re human and our babies take fifteen to twenty years to raise. So it’s no surprise that when our partner sleeps elsewhere the stability is shaken – we feel that maybe they won’t stick around to be part of the team anymore. And I guess everyone gets lulled into a false sense of security. The only certainty lies in what is said in the present, you can’t promise for the future you aren’t yet experiencing. And I’m not sure we are meant to be monogamous, either – it’s too structured, not trusting enough, and people certainly can’t be bound by God or a piece of paper or a ring. The commitment is deeper, more spiritual and fluxes – because that’s life.
    There maybe are some things you have to stop asking yourself about and just live. Only then will you truly know your answers. Because I know, from experience, that you can only know how you’ll react and feel about a situation when you are in it. All the rest is speculation. So get out there and be with that girl who’s going to take you to great heights, be okay about you sleeping with others, and give you shit when you deserve it – you need that.

  7. Peter Lovett Says:

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    It’s most unfortunate that the English language has so few words for love (like, duh, one). Greek (a language I am only passingly familiar with) has many, including phileo (as in philosophy – love of osophy, and philately – love of postage stamps). Phileo is "brotherly love" – the love I have for my sister. Of course, Greek also gives us eros – hubba hubba – the love you give homage with. "And yes, of course, you also want to bonk their brains out". Greek also gives us agape – the God kind of love. This is the love that is entirely giving (the opposite of the needy love you first refer to). Of course, my familiarity with this word (and the Greek language) comes through my reading of the Bible (the New Testament was written in "Koine" Greek – a surprisingly simple language). It is "agape" love that is so often – too often – used at marriages. I think it would be much more appropriate at a wedding to have some cool passage on the "eros" kind of love (which doesn’t mean smutty or lewd, but does mean passionate).
    In your considerations of love, I think it’s useful to make distinctions between these kinds of love first. My view is that we’ve got (been given) eros to get us going, but that as time goes by, eros starts to fade, but agape (giving) love grows.
    But one thing I do believe (this is in reference to your infidelity/adultery musings), I am aware that sex is a pretty darn major event. Even more so than the "kapow" of it would attest. The big book says, "So they are no longer two, but one." Joined. Glued. In fact, the image I have is of that glue so strong, that the bond can’t break. An analogy: I don’t know if you saw the TV cabinet I made? I used MDF, the chipboard of the ’90s. I used this professional grade glue, that says on the side of the bottle that it’s "actually stronger than most woods." And it’s true. I tried pulling these two bits of woods apart. The glue holds the wood fibres, and the join doesn’t come apart. Of course, if you pull hard enough, something has to give, so the wood itself splinters and breaks up.
    So it sounds a bit heavy, and you may not have experienced it like that, but I believe that sex is that glue. It’s supposed to be (a part of) what holds people together. So, what I believe is that:
    We don’t know enough about the effect of this whole adultery thing to play with it (the old playing with fire argument),
    If you make a mistake, it can cause a lot of damage (maybe not to you – you might be the bit of wood that wins the split),
    From the people that I’ve seen split up, usually one person comes off a whole lot worse than the other, and
    Couples that say that they’re "open" and that it’s okay to sleep with others have relationships that are 1) short-lived, and 2) pretty rocky while they’re happening.

  8. Paul Klemes Says:

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    Mark, I’d like to hear your thoughts again after you get married. Your thoughts will probably remain unchanged because basically I can relate to and agree with everything you have said. To what degree you practice what you have said will depend on the partner you choose. Also, putting something into practice is the only real test to what we have intellectualised (surely that’s a word). It may look good on paper but to what degree would an open relationship be harmful?
    Sherry said an interesting thing: Getting married sounds like a hypocritical thing to be doing if you (not you you but everyone else you) intend having multiple partners, even if you do spend most of your time with the one mate. Using the word "marriage" in the traditional Christian Institution of Marriage sense.
    Every relationship struggles with the love and fidelity issues. And every relationship that lasts long-term has it’s own ways of dealing with these issues. Basically I’m a chick magnet. I enjoy flirting. But I have my priorities. First and foremost I want to keep Sherry. She knows that I don’t believe in monogamy and that I have instincts drawing me to other girls. But she also knows that I love her and enjoy living with her more than any other woman, past, present and future. Sherry wouldn’t tolerate being shared. I knew this before we got married. I decided I wanted her and I knew what the deal was.
    I thought that I wouldn’t mind that much if Sherry had an affair. But during our trip to Canada I found myself in a weird situation where I thought she may be having and affair. And with the thought a close reality I didn’t like it one little bit. In fact I hated it. Another example of intellectual thoughts not matching up with the practice of it I guess. It turned out that Sherry was not in fact having an affair but that instead my imagination had been working overtime. Just like you had written I thought that an affair may have it’s good points like reasserting one’s sexuality and reminding oneself that they can arouse someone other than their spouse.
    Then you have children and it makes you even more reluctant to bring a third party into your cozy little family.

  9. Mark Says:

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    Thanks Anonymous-from-Stockholm. Always good to hear from a reader of my ramblings. Sorry I haven’t gotten a reply off sooner – I’ve been busy moving to another state to be with my new fiancee. My thoughts on love have changed a bit over the past year, especially now that I am really, actually in love, and am planning to spend the rest of my life with this woman. I haven’t actually changed my mind about any of that love stuff, but I’ve realised that there is a lot more to it – like basic human needs, and desire/lust, etc.
    If I’m in Stockholm I’ll be sure to look you up. I’ll bring Karen too (my babe). You can bring your ex and we can all talk about LOVE – what do you think?

  10. Karen Crighton Says:

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    I reckon that Love is the sweetest thing, the greatest gift you can ever bring! Actually, that’s a song I’m thinking of – or is it a song or is it something I’m making up? Please bear with me – I reckon your thoughts are most interesting – a little too much to read and respond to at once so I’m responding with bits that stand out to me…
    Firstly, I reckon, you have to expect your ideas regards to love to forever change, because you are forever changing yourself and why not look at love from naivety and simplicity, are we not naive and simple to start off with anyway? Its only due to experience that we all get fucked up by! Seriously though, experiencing what we think we know about love and loss only helps us to grow and understand ourselves what we think we know more clearly. We can only go on how we feel at the time and as long as we can think about it enough – ourselves and our feelings – then we’re doing a damn good job! I reckon.
    Anyway, Halleluiah! How refreshing it is knowing that someone else thought / thinks they have it all sussed…but that’s the rather exciting part to feeling, isn’t it? We think we’ve got it all worked out and then suddenly something comes crashing along and demolishes the whole bloody lot!
    Besides, isn’t it all part and parcel to growth and self awareness? Blah blah blah…
    Love – I used to think the same as you – love is about not bearing to be apart from them, wanting to spend the rest of your life with them…what a pile of bollocks that is! You’ll have to excuse my use of words! I’m currently out of love at the moment which is fine but it is such a fascinating subject and I’m rather quite enjoying feeling a little harsh regards it – don’t get me wrong, I’m not a cold heart, I love being in love but really, what the fuck is it all about anyway?
    I enjoyed a most enlightening chat with John the other night about love, and he got me thinking… Anyway, at the start you speak about the THEM when talking of being in love, but firstly surely, it should be about YOU first and foremost. What is the need to be in love? What does it do for YOU that not being partnered or in love doesn’t do? Okay, you mention insecurities and I agree, insecurity is a reason why people are in relationships – and please note how I use the word relationships as opposed to being in love. Following another comment you made about observing people in how you see their in-love-ed-ness to be, well, I reckon they you have it correct and the rest of the world has got it all wrong! I speak from research here, having too observed many relationships that just appear to be rather quite love-less. In fact, I really believe that so many of us are in relationships because its better that not being in them.
    Me? I’ve been a single unit for a long time – not that there’s anything wrong with me I must add at this point! but because I choose to be…well sort of! There is such a social ‘thing’ regards to single people, almost to the point that there’s something wrong with you if you are single. As a result of that, people become desperate to be in a relationship or to find the perfect partner but WHY? what is the reason for it? What’s so terrible about us being on our own? Why feel such a need to be partnered?
    I’m interested in the need aspect of love – I’m taking myself back to when I was in love. I’ve been in love twice and it was just wonderful and even with the hurt and the pain, I still look back and feel gratitude for the experience. But, I was needy and when I think about how I felt about myself at the time, I needed this person like I needed to eat. When you talk about forever, spending the rest of your life…I think that’s just a bit fucked up really, because we are only fooling ourselves and the people we partner if we declare forever love to them, because how can we? possibly? I might get hit by a bus tomorrow and my forever becomes one more day. Can’t be done, so for me the ‘right’ time being ‘this time’ is all I am willing to offer and all I can expect from my partner. I’m gonna backtrack a little – being in love to me is a feeling when you just know. Like when you KNOW that you are hungry. Its not a sit down and think to myself, “Am I hungry? It’s about eat-time so therefore I must be hungry”. Your whole self knows it, feels it, trusts it…something about this person, something that’s a little different to other persons! Almost a ‘coming together’ of mind and spirit. Can’t live without them? I think that’s a pile of toss! If you come to depend on a person its doomed before it starts! Security. Bringing myself back to my previous point, if THEY get hit by a bus, where does that leave you? This is why I trust being a single unit, I know I will survive whatever happens because I’m doing it, I’ve done it and I know I’ll do it again!
    I’m interested in the hypothetical relationships you discussed and I have to say, I agree with your mates about looking for a ‘license to screw around’. I find this most interesting, because if you are – no, I will speak of myself – If I am in what I consider to be the ‘right’ relationship and am in love with my partner, why would I possibly feel the need to look for sexual gratification elsewhere even and especially if it is for one night??? I cant get my head around that. If my partner who was in love with me wanted to have sex with another, then that tells me a lot about our relationship. I am a sexual person and the same for me, if I feel the need to have sex with another, then my relationship with my partner is not necessarily what I want anymore. If he isn’t satisfying me sexually (and sex has to be a big part of my relationship) then, again, it ain’t looking good.
    You say, reassert her sexuality – ‘feel sexy.’ Well I reckon that if either partner ceases to feel sexy with the person to whom they are ‘in love with’ then again, this relationship to me maybe isn’t working. You mention human nature, and absolutely, we are human and cant help but look. Which is fine, of course it is, but again, if one feels the need to ACT on such thoughts, then the relationship isn’t right, surely? To me partnerships are about growing together and if one aspect of it means we are no longer growing together and are drifting in opposite directions then we’d have to assess it and consider changing it. Affairs are the same thing I reckon, whether its consent or deceit, it still boils down to the same thing – the relationship I’m in maybe isn’t really what I thought it was and I would have to assess how I feel and consider how important it is to me. The difficulty is this though, because I am not in a partnership, it is difficult to know how I would feel really. Hypothetically, if my partner who I am in deeply in love with comes to me distraught due to a one night fling, I’d have to truly ask myself if I want him afterwards and if I did (but I really couldn’t imagine that I would) then I would have to trust myself enough to know that our relationship is strong enough or I am strong enough to put it behind us and move on. I couldn’t live in ‘fear’ as you write that it may happen again. I reckon, as I commented earlier, you can only surely go on how you really truly honestly feel at the time and trust that whatever decision you make will be the best / right/ correct one! Trust is a bloody big part of partnership for me, I would have more respect for the guy if he told me the truth and likewise, if it was me, then I couldn’t possibly keep it from him.
    Marriage? if it’s what you want you want then good for you – me, I don’t know. I heard myself say to John the other night, “Yeah, I’d like to get married”! It made me chuckle to myself. As a child I had the whole fantasy – big wedding, big frock…all of that! But now, these days, I really don’t see the point. Again, lf I’m in my ‘perfect’ partnership and we decide to tie the knot, then great, but it would have to be absolutely surely. And I trust on this you know, I know that it will feel right when it happens. One thing is for sure though. It wont be the fantasy big do I dreamed as a child, it would just be the two of us somewhere a bit different. And yes I agree with your comment about the vows – love honour and obey – there would be no way I would allow that at even my fantasy wedding. So, to conclude after my endless amount of babble… I reckon that being in love is about awareness, trust and respect and that it’s honest too.
    I would like to conclude with, at the moment, I am very happy being a single unit, I am very much in love with ME! I am gaining all aspects of a partnership that I think I would want from my partnership from all my friends around me right now… Until my knight in shining armour comes to sweep me off my feet, I’m just satisfied doing my own thing and pleasing my bloody self!
    That’s what I reckon…

  11. jeanne Says:

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    True love is shared between two people who love each other for who they are. The basics of a relationship are present in this kind of love, and the partners understand and practice these completely. You were right in saying that Helen thought of your notion of love as the needy kind of love. A great love affair is something that two people in love share.

  12. plenipotentiary22 Says:

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    Another juicy topic 🙂
    If you are with someone you are with someone. If you don’t want to be with someone, don’t be.
    Don’t come home because of the kids, the house, the lifestyle, the strain of divorce, the fear of being alone, because you might hurt someone if you did not etc etc etc. Such feeble reasons breed contempt.
    Come back because you want to. Stay because you want to.
    Wake up every morning and think (say even) I’m glad I am here with you. Because if you don’t, what is your relationship really?
    Partners should say everything and anything and if they can not it is a breeding ground for little white lies, for half truths, for out and out lies. If the relationship is not satisfying and you stay, then what is it based on? If you never discuss it, or worse go outside to be fulfilled, then how will it ever get better?
    Say you have a fantasy about someone else you have seen. What was it really that inspired you …..
    Most of the time we think that the energy that surges within us must be used for sex, that that is all it is. But energy is energy. You can direct it anywhere you like. Such direction is not the same as repression for that stifles the soul. The body is the soul’s vehicle and the body’s passion is what drives us forward.
    If you let your body handle the steering as well then is it any surprise if you crash?

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