The Ineffable Quality of Love

ineffable: too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words. 

The other day I ran into someone who uses the L word a lot. In the course of regular conversation, she expressed it no fewer than 10 times, to encompass everything, from the latte she was drinking, to her new bag, to the latest episode of some vapid TV show she watches but I’m glad to say I’ve never seen.

I nodded along, but inside I was counting, and thinking to myself, “You can’t possibly love all of these things.” I realized one of two things in that moment. Either she honestly believes she loves all of these things, or she hasn’t really taken the time to analyze her feelings for each one, and love is simply a placeholder until she decides she wants to dig a little deeper. If she ever decides she wants to dig a little deeper.

Too often people don’t. Too often they grab a word, put it in their pocket, and pull it out whenever the mood strikes, whenever they can’t think of anything that fits the situation they’re in. That’s why we often say we love others too soon, when all we can possibly feel is attraction, or companionship, or relief, or any number of a million other feelings that often masquerade as love.

We see others living the lives we want, having the love we wish we had…

Continue reading “The Ineffable Quality of Love”

Love Lessons

“This old heart of mine, been broke a thousand times. Each time you break away, seems like you’ve gone to stay.” ~The Isley Brothers

I am no love expert. I feel like I should qualify that first. Love is not always sunshine and roses. I feel the need to qualify that second. Because, while love can be the most beautiful feeling in the world, it can also be the most confounding, the most frustrating, the most devastating at the same time.

For me, love has been several roller coasters, going everywhere but never really stopping. And it’s taught me a lot, in its various incarnations.

  1. Unrequited love is the worst. Having feelings for someone who doesn’t share those feelings can drive you insane. Keep in mind, though, that unrequited means they know of your love for them but do not reciprocate. If you love someone but keep it to yourself, it doesn’t qualify in this category. I’ve learned that it’s best to be honest, to get it out there, because keeping it in doesn’t help.
  2. Love has expectations. It’s interesting to me when people say that love doesn’t expect anything from you but to be yourself. This isn’t true, specifically because most relationships are doomed by a lack of communication. When you love someone you should stretch outside of your comfort zone at times so you can understand each other.
  3. You can’t force love. No matter how “great” someone looks on paper, no matter how many of your friends think you’d be perfect together, it’s not about paper, and it’s not about friends. It’s about how you feel inside, and you can’t make yourself love someone you don’t love. Yes, you can cover over your true feelings, but eventually they will come out, and regret will set in.
  4. We don’t stop loving people. If it’s real love, it doesn’t just go away. Sometimes it can morph into a different level, or it can be put on the back burner because of the actions of the individual. Often, love isn’t enough to keep people together because there are so many other factors that influence that, but the excuse that “love died” is not true. If you feel that way, then you never loved in the first place.
  5. Don’t mistake lust for love. In true Romeo & Juliet fashion, too often we are struck by the newness of a situation, we are overcome with emotions that are attached more to our libidos than to anything else. It’s easy to think this is love, but it’s really love-adjacent. It’s really one facet of a multi-faceted emotion, and often times we can have lust without love. Beware.
  6. Love needs cultivation. Just like with anything else, if love stagnates it can be detrimental to you overall as a person, and to your relationship. Taking love for granted, settling into routines where you aren’t receptive to the other person’s needs, is easy to do. It’s one of the reasons love isn’t enough by and of itself. You need to show that love instead of letting it settle.
  7. Love can be harsh. Because we can’t choose who we love we can get ourselves into situations that are detrimental to our overall mental, physical, and emotional health. I’ve seen it time and again, people who are in dysfunctional relationships because they love that person even though they’re being mentally, physically, or emotionally abused by that same person.

Love is so powerful because it tugs at our heart strings. It’s the kitty in the shelter we just have to bring home with us. It’s the book we can’t stop reading even though it’s 4 in the morning. It’s the twisted sheets, the notes under windshield wipers, the pop-ins just to say hi, the shared tacos, the phone calls that never end. It’s everything. Except that it isn’t. At least, that’s what I’ve learned so far.

We Don’t Choose Love

“Love is a choice. It is the expectation of reciprocity. It is the possibility of a future, with a house, a picket fence, well-spoken kids, and a little dog. Love is the hope that it will be enough to build a life on, in the absence of anything else. Even when we know it can never be enough.” ~Anonymous

LOVE Bulb Sign

A friend and I had a conversation yesterday about love, how it can be the most devastating emotion in the startlingly long list of emotions that human beings can feel. She believes love is a choice, that we decide who we will love, when we will love, and how we will love. She thinks that when love leaves it is also a choice, that someone at some point decided to no longer love, to leave the space open that used to be filled.

I simply can’t get on board with that. For me, we don’t choose love. It chooses us. Think about all the times when a couple seemed perfect on the outside. They checked all the boxes that each other had down on paper. Yes, I also curl up on Friday nights in front of the fire with a good puzzle. Yes, I enjoy talking about long walks on the beach, but I would never in a million years actually do it. You too? Cool. We are meant to be together. This is love.

But we can’t just say “This is love,” and expect it to be so. We can’t think that just because someone fits our paradigm of what we think love should be, that we can make ourselves fall in love with them. It just doesn’t work that way, no more than saying that the best swimmer will win all of her races. It’s because emotion cannot be neatly put into boxes, and for every person who is drawn to someone similar to themselves, there is another one, equally pulled toward someone opposite. That’s the glory of love, but the devastating nature of the beast as well.

Because we don’t choose love. It chooses us. Love is not always neat and clean. It doesn’t always make things nice and tidy for us. It destroys as much as it builds and connects. Love is not something we can convince ourselves of just because everything else seems to work out perfectly. We either feel it or we don’t. Of course many of us have convinced ourselves that, with time, we can grow to love someone. But it doesn’t work that way. Love decides when, and where, and why. Only love. Never us.

That’s why love isn’t always reciprocated, because it isn’t something that can suddenly dawn on us. “Oh yes, I love you now, after you’ve chased me across several states.” Sure, we can convince ourselves it’s love, but real love doesn’t take convincing. Real love just is, and it is never a choice. We choose to give ourselves over to it or to pretend it doesn’t exist, but we don’t choose to either feel it or not. That’s not something even the most emotionally strong people can accomplish. Because love is more powerful than anything we can possibly imagine.

Yet love can’t keep us together. Because there are so many other reasons for people to be together and to stay together. Because there are so many other extenuating factors that determine the longevity of relationships. We are all human, and we make mistakes. We all have other defining factors to us than just loving another person. If it were as simple as “Love conquers all,” we would be living in a perfect world, a delusional world, but still a perfect world. And we all know that’s not possible.

So, no, we don’t choose love, but we do choose whether or not to let it guide us. We do choose whether or not we want to cultivate that love, whether or not we want to give it a seat at the table. And once we agree to its terms we can’t just let it sit there. Because love is fungible, malleable, able to be shaped or crafted to our needs, but also able to change with time, just like everything else. So when love chooses us, we have to first accept it for what it is, then we must commit to it, no matter what. As we all know, time is stronger than love, so we need to ride both like a tandem bike, to give our attention to growing that love over time.

And I understand where my friend is coming from. It’s a wonderful sentiment, that we can choose who we love, that we can choose when we love, and how we love. But it’s just not very realistic, in my opinion. It seems like a fairy tale to me, because I’ve seen so much that dissuades me from that notion. I just know that when love chose me, I let it wrap me up in its warm embrace, and then I went to work making sure that it would last for all time.

Sam

First Comes Love…

“I thought I knew what love was. What did I know?” ~Don Henley

01_Robert-Indiana_LoveI first told a girl I loved her in 4th grade, when she stabbed me with a pencil and decided to go out with my enemy. These three things were unrelated. Or at least I think they were. I never really asked her to explain. I was too busy drowning in my tears, in the relative safety of my room, trying to forget her. Trying to forget love.

Love means many different things to many different people, but to me it means being always appreciative. That girl who I said I loved, she didn’t appreciate my love. To her I might as well have told her I was an albino for all she cared, but it was 4th grade, and I gave her a mulligan for it. She never came back to take me up on the idea of a second chance, which was just as well.

To me, when you love someone you show it. Not by flowers and candy, because anyone can get flowers and candy, but by being there, by letting them know you’re there, whether they admit to needing you there. Love means coming through for someone else even if they don’t realize that’s what they needed. It’s doing the little things because there really are no little things when it comes to love.

I’ve learned that love needs to be patient…

I realize now that I didn’t really love that girl in 4th grade. It was never really love because I had no idea what love was back then. What I felt for her was sheer infatuation, that kind of Romeo and Juliet feeling that would have petered out had they not been in a volatile situation that pushed them toward each other… and toward the abyss. That girl was lucky she didn’t reciprocate my infatuation because I’ve always been prone to exaggeration of emotion. Thank god she looked the other way.

But I’ve learned a lot over the years, because of heartache and a plethora of other issues and mistakes, on both sides. I’ve learned that love needs to be patient, that it isn’t about the physical, that the physical comes along for the ride when it is indeed requited, that it’s better to have loved and lost than… well, not quite. It’s better to love and keep loving, because love can shift. It can change, not precisely with the wind but sometimes it is buffeted. I’ve learned that love is complicit, if just because it makes you more vulnerable than anything else ever could.

Love is revolutionary, no matter how often it occurs…

I’ve been sparing with the word itself. Even with my closest of friends it took a while before I felt comfortable enough telling them how I felt. Even with my closest of relationships I haven’t been the first one to say it, not usually, not because I’ve been afraid but because I’ve been resistant. I’ve been resistant to the way saying those words changes things. It doesn’t change things for me. I already know how I feel long before those words escape my lips. But it changes the relationship in subtle ways that only I can tell.

Or maybe they can tell too. Love is revolutionary, no matter how often it occurs, no matter how many people know the feeling. It acts. It doesn’t react. But love is worth it, even when it’s not returned, because without that feeling life is just not as good. And I don’t mean the romantic love. I mean all the many forms of love that can shift and change, that can undulate around you like a snake, but that can keep you safe and warm, secure in its comfort.

But what do I know?

Sam

Exactly Like Amanda

478213335The girl at the Bagel Grove looks exactly like Amanda, or at least like Amanda when I knew her, 20 years ago, back when the world was fresh and new. The girl at the Bagel Grove looks fresh and new, as if she has been in a state of stasis for 20 years, as if she has been waiting for this day, and this time, to return. At the Bagel Grove in Utica, New York. I’m sure stranger things have happened.

Her nametag says “Kina,” and I’m wondering if the “i” is long or short, if she is long or short, if her name is her mantra, or if she prefers to be called “Key,” or “Ki” for short. She has a gap between her top two front teeth, just like Amanda, and I want to ask her if it affects her whistling ability. I don’t ask, but I want to. I tell her I want a garlic bagel with garlic and herb cream cheese, and she looks at me like I’ve grown two heads.

“I’m not kissing anyone in the next couple of hours,” I tell her, by way of explanation for the question her eyebrows asked.

“That’s still a pretty strong combination,” she tells me, and there is a lilt to her voice, like it’s normally an outside one but she has forced it to come inside, where she is.

The woman behind her laughs at that one, a joke, just one among many that I think the place hears during the course of an ordinary day. The Bagel Grove seems like one of those places, all cinnamon and ribaldry, baked together and warm to the touch. This other woman makes a joke about the Target shirt I am wearing, and I have a snappy comeback ready. This is not my first time. Kina smiles at the joke and hands me my change. I never realized I paid her.

I can’t help staring at her, even though I know I shouldn’t. I mean, Amanda really was my first love, and the resemblance is uncanny, especially for a girl who has such a mixed ancestry as this girl obviously does. I can see European descent in her eyes and skin, African in her nose and hair, a touch of something else in her bearing that I can’t quite place but that Amanda had as well. But Amanda would be 40 now, and this girl is only 21, at the most. I still can’t help staring.

“Toasted?” she asks, and I have no idea what she’s referencing. She points to the bagel in her hand, and I notice she isn’t wearing gloves, although they are nearby on the low counter. Amazingly enough, I don’t mind.

“Yes, please,” I answer, and I consciously try to stop staring. She will think I’m some kind of lunatic, not that I’m remembering a time long ago, and a girl long gone, lost to the overwhelming ether that has been life.

“Name?” she says, sharpie poised over the folded paper bag she is now holding, the bagel already in the toaster oven, forgotten for the moment as it browns.

“Sam,” I tell her, because it is my name, and because she did ask. She writes it down using stock letters, the “A” starting before the “S” finishes, which is not how Amanda wrote my name.

I blink, and the resemblance fades as quickly as it manifested when I walked in. The ghost of a girl I used to love fades along with it. I slide down the counter to wait for my bagel, humming to myself a tune I know by heart.

Sam

l<3ve poems

“Love is mild, except when it isn’t. Except when it’s a raging inferno with the sole intention of destroying every ounce of sanity you have left. But yes, it’s mild. And that other stuff too.” ~Anonymous

0612d8fcf89e1f08abc66fc7fc6b92f6I made the mistake of telling someone that my next book of poetry is going to be full of love poems. It seemed to me a stroke of genius, but I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to create a whole book of 50+ poems exclusively about love. In my mind it was going to be difficult because my brain creates poetry quite organically, so how was I going to shift my thought patterns and make the poetry cooperate? I needn’t have been worried, because she said:

“But most of your stuff is already love poetry.”

Which of course made me laugh, but she was deadly serious. And she would know because she’s listened to a lot of my poems at poetry night, she’s read the vast majority of the ones on my poetry blog, and she’s purchased both of my other collections of poetry. So I took stock of my poetry. I dug as deep as she probably didn’t have to in order to find out that she was absolutely right.

I write mostly love poetry. No, not the treacly sweet love poetry that would make a 1950s poet proud. Nor even the devoted, puppy dog love poetry that dominated the 1980s. No, I write the love poetry that is intense in its own analysis of itself, that drives all night to end up in the same place where it began. I write the love poetry that wishes it were something else, but it can’t help being about love.

So that makes it easy, I guess, compiling a book of my love poetry, even if it’s not the book I thought I was going to make when I started on this journey. Because this is my reality. It’s the love I’ve seen more often than any other in this world. It’s not the mild, “I want to hold your hand” kind of love, not the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse inspired love, but is instead the persistently desperate, sad love that strives for something more, the love that needs acceptance but usually breeds regret.

Which means my job is a lot easier than I thought it would be. Just write poetry and it will probably fit the mold.

Sam

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