Let me start with the cliché – what is love? This trite question has all kinds of answers. Personally, I've found that it is important to distinguish between unconditional love – god's love, enlightened love, etc – and the typical "every day" love as we know it.
What is unconditional love?Unconditional love is pure appreciation. Unconditional love has no judgments, resentments, or barter. Most of us have only tasted unconditional love for brief bursts of time. Even parents have conditions on the expression of their love to their children.
What is conventional love?
Our typical love is all about investments and attachments. The more invested we are in someone, the more attachment we have to them – the more we have "at stake" in our relationship with them. When we say we "love" someone, usually what we mean is that we have a tremendous fear of losing our investment in that someone. We come to invest in people that we see high potential in, because we know there will be a good payout on our investment. There is nothing wrong with this. Rumi says that all kinds of love are worth-while, and that the "lesser" kinds are part of our path toward the enlightened, unconditional kind.
Truly, regardless of what Rumi or anyone says, my experience tells me that love is the most worthwhile part of life. I'm sure most of you will agree, particularly parents. I've often thought I wanted to give birth to many children to love. I'm not so sure that I do anymore, seeing as how I've learned the deadly truth about my own capacity for resentment. But if not children, then where to cultivate love in my life?
For me, my most profound love has always included sexuality. I've struggled deeply to find connection with people who I was entirely platonic with. It is an ongoing struggle for me – a struggle that I've stopped struggling with. That is, I am finally starting to accept my own voracious sexuality. I've learned that there really isn't a clear line between friendship and romance.
We're taught by society at large that we're only allowed to romantically, intimately love one person. But how sensible is that, really? Considering that parents love multiple children, and we often love multiple siblings, and we often love multiple friends – clearly love isn't something we share with just one person.
And what does it mean to be romantic or intimate with someone anyway?
What is romance?
Romance, as far as I can tell, is desirable manipulation. It is an agreement to be sweet, kind, and bubbly if spoken to in your love language. Someone who likes the love-language of 'service' best, will be manipulated romantically best through chores, errands, and other favors. Someone who prefers 'words of affection' will be romantically manipulated best through poetry, song, or simple well-considered words and/or love letters. And so on. Romance is manipulation – in a very good way!
What is intimacy
Intimacy is seeing deeply into someone. It is recognizing who someone is on a profound level. In some ways, this writing I'm doing now is inviting you to be intimate with me. I'm giving you a peek into my heart. I very much cherish romance and intimacy both!
If society is telling us that we can only be romantic or intimate with a single soul mate, it is no wonder so many of carry around a terrible burden of shame, because real friendship – even completely non-sexual friendship – is often both romantic and intimate. In fact, as far as I can tell, the best friendships are definitely both. A good friend fulfills needs – listening to your problems, being there for you, and speaking to you in your love language at appropriate times. A good friend knows whether or not you prefer gifts or a foot rub, and will be there to exchange displays of love.
What is the difference between true friendship and your soul mate according to monogamy culture?
After outlining the above, what is left to separate that "one special person" from "everyone else in your life"?
Sexuality. That's all monogamy can really dictate that you're allowed to do with just one person. Because how can we not have romance and intimacy with good friends and family? What would be the point of human connection at all if we couldn't support one another emotionally, come to understand one another, and connect on multiple levels?
If sexuality is what defines your one special person as your one special person, then it seems vital to ask:
What is sexuality?
Touching and suckling breasts can be considered sexual. Or it could be something a baby does to its mother.
Kissing can be considered sexual. Or it could be something one does when one greets one's grandmother.
Dressing in lacy, revealing clothing can be considered sexual. Or it could be part of a child's dance recital.
Being whipped and spanked can be considered sexual. Or it could be childhood punishment. Or domestic abuse.
Even making babies can happen in a doctor's office with a syringe these days!
Now, obviously, there are things that are more inescapably sexual acts, particularly when context is added, but my point is this: Sexuality doesn't have clearly defined boundaries. Neither does friendship. Neither does romance or intimacy. Neither does love itself.
All the limits we find on love are imagined. The limits of our relationships are contrived. There can be sexuality without romance, or romance without sexuality. There can be love without marriage, or marriage without love. There can be friendship with intimacy or without, with romance or without, with sex or without.
Relationships are boundless, limitless things. That puts the normal monogamy paradigm in a new light, doesn't it?
I invite you to explore your own relationship with relationships. Ask these questions of yourself, and have your partner(s) ask these questions of themselves. Then share your answers. Or, do this with friends for an intimate evening of heart-sharing!
- How have you been limiting your love and restricting your relationships?
- Who are you limiting or restricting your relationships for?
- What are the costs?
- What are the benefits?
- Do you feel that you’re able to be your authentic self in all of your relationships?
- How do you define a friendship?
- How do you define a spouse?
- How do you define a family member?
- What do you want most in your relationships?
The Consciousness Alchemist