Something that’s been puzzling me a lot lately is my reaction to possible romantic relationships. When I was younger I remember wanting to meet someone very much, and getting into relationships almost as quickly as they became available. But I realized in the end that either my personality is not very amenable to living with another person (something I still think may be true), or I’ve been finding women who don’t really want the kind of person I am.
These days I’m averse to any sort of relationship other than friendship. When things start to get closer, I pull back, sometimes harshly so. The mere thought of it depresses me, and I find myself getting unhappier the more things might develop with someone. It has led me to believe that I might have been made for the hermit’s life, spending most of my time with thoughts and other interests. But last night a realization struck me with all the force of the truth, and I think I understand now why I’ve been avoiding it – other than the usual reasons of fear and uncertainty.
What I was thinking about was love. Most of the poems I’ve written about love start with the thought of a particular person (or persons), with real inspiration coming from the translation into the spiritual dimension. I’m thrilled by the reality of love, and find my happiness wherever it occurs: love for beauty, computers, ideas, people, food, etc. It doesn’t really matter what prompts my experience of love, since they all seem to share common traits that I connect back to their origin in God. In this way I experience God through my love of the world.
It’s been my life’s ambition to learn how to love all things. This is no easy task – many things still bother me and I wish for them to change, as if to wipe them from my experience of life – but month by month I learn more, and move further down that road. Life as I experience it today is incomparably richer than what I knew as a young person. It’s a labor I dream of, and I feel as if untold worlds await me behind each new moment.
I describe this as a pursuit of universal love, or true love; but the world’s romantic ideal seems to credit only exclusive loves. Everyone I talk to wants love, but often they want only one or a few forms: love of a person, career, family, etc. When I talk about universal love, some suggest that it’s impossible for mortal beings, or flatly state they don’t want such a thing! Of those who want it, many retain the thought that it lies always beyond reach. But I intend to find this universal love, this complete vision, or die having made of my life an earnest attempt. Yet this also where I run into problems with those who want the typical ideal.
The modern romantic ideal envisions one person as the primary focus of our capacity to love (with a possible allowance for children, though some relationships even suffer when children appear, because it distracts from that singular mutual focus). In essence, one person becomes the “sink” of the other’s best energies, and they the “source” for replenishing them. By feeding each other in this way, the relationship perpetuates with enough excess that some degree of social involvement is possible.
Too much external involvement, however, deprives one side of the pair of what they need to replenish that lost fuel. One cannot be the focus of another who is too much outwardly occupied. This is the situation of an “unloved spouse”, who must turn to others to get what he or she needs.
This dynamic is what I grew up believing in, and I used to see no problem with it. I was even eager to participate. But I found in the end that my dream of universal love is incompatible with the romantic ideal, and I am unwilling to give up that dream. Why is it so essential to me? Because I believe that if I can discover true love for all things, then I can believe – with all my mind, my heart and soul – that God loves all things in me. This is a form of my quest for God, and it seems unreasonable and unjust for a person to ask me to give up that quest. There are things we should never ask of one another.
The thing is, I have many loves – programming, reading, thinking, photography, chess, and more – and almost all of them require significant amounts of uninterrupted time to achieve fruition. This fact has been called “selfish”, because I demand time to myself to complete what I love. (To those who’ve said it, my being “selfish” is usually paying attention to things other than themselves – though they rarely see how selfish this claim of selfishness is. If a man can never expect time to himself, how are people to get anything done?)
Under pressure to be less “selfish”, I have bent to the ideal before: the belief that all my love and attention should go to one person. But when my love turned again to other things, the word “selfish” returned, and with it various forms of jealousy: anger, resentment, vindictiveness. I’ve heard my laptop called “the other woman” more than once, because I chose to focus on it rather than the person I was with. When they’re around they want it all! absolute focus and attention; an exclusive love that ignores every other thing.
Exclusive love, however, is the anti-thesis of universal love. Rather than making progress in learning to love all things, I experienced a constant pressure to love one thing above all. However much I’ve heard the desire expressed to watch my spirit to fly, I’ve felt an unconscious wish to ground me. At times, it even seemed others wished to become my God: a focus of worship, origin of laws, setter of standards. If I happened to choose one of God’s laws above their interests, it provoked anger.
Faced with this demand to relinquish my universal dream, I have at times relented. I’ve bent as far as I could, until the bitterness of despair was too great. My dream and my romantic love became at odds: pursuing my passion began to hurt the one I loved. How can I withhold my heart in this way and still have something left to give? What in the world was being requested of me??
But I can no more sacrifice my soul’s life than I could violate my integrity in the name of a just cause. They want a passion from me that asks for the muting of all other passions. Unsurprisingly, I became more and more dead inside as this progressed. I stop writing, creating, seeing people. My life became an endless hope for escape. I could neither move nor stop. My existence began to decay.
And when things ended this way, I faced a terrible realization (this is what I became conscious of last night): Where did all my love go? I spent years trying to devote the majority of my heart and soul to one person after another – curtailing my writing, hobbies, and creative output – but where is that love now? As far as I can see, it was wasted.
Whenever I pursue the universal love, the results affect large numbers of people: those who use the software I write, who read my thoughts, experience my friendship or find beauty in my art. In this way I feel worthwhile, because people around the world receive the fruits of my love. If one doesn’t care for something, another will. I don’t have to tailor my work to one bias – there are as many perspectives as there are people. As long as I honestly love what I do, someone out there will appreciate it.
The demands of exclusive love are the opposite of this. Rather than benefiting whomever is receptive, I must aim my love at one mind, one point of view, one set of prejudices. If they don’t appreciate it, it falls flat; if they do, they might keep it to their own heart. The fruits of this love rarely reach beyond that one person, unless it’s an outward-directed activity we both share in.
As a result I can spend years devoting my heart to one person, expending time and thought and energy – and then one day they leave, and all of it is lost. There is nothing to show but what I learned from the experience. Even that does not go beyond the relationship, does not touch other’s lives, except insofar as I now treat them better. It’s like a mutual navel-gazing society to which no one else is invited.
In this type of scenario I feel my capacity as a human being is wasted. This is why I fear relationships that seek the romantic ideal. When I start dating someone, they don’t want to hear about my love of all things, about how sometimes I don’t want to go out with them but would rather stay home and write. They want to hear how I love them more than anything else, how they are more beautiful than everyone else, that I would give up everything for their sake. Hence my realization: that I avoid romantic relationships because I have a dream and don’t want to be pulled away from that dream, sucked dry by a heart who in reality is thirsting for God. I am not a surrogate God by any means, and do not wish to devote my life to anyone’s quest for satisfaction. Is it really “selfish” that I would rather benefit more people than just one? Each time I’ve been married, I stopped writing. But I would rather write and offer myself to whomever passes by, than lose my writing for one person’s sake; while the person who could join me in this endeavor is the one who would cause me to write even more.