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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Men: Can't live with them...can't...what?

Love. Such a loaded word. I love my kids and I love strawberries. Surely the same word cannot be used for two such different experiences, and yet they are. The Greeks had more originality when it came to this word, using terms such as agape to denote feelings of good will and affection for family. S'agape means "I love you," in the way we might say it to our children or our spouse. However, agape also means equal opportunity love for one's friends as well as one's enemies. It is the closest to a spiritual form of love we get in this language.

Philia is the word for the love of a friend. It is a dispassionate, virtuous love. The word was developed by Aristotle and the emphasis is on virtue.

Storge is another term for affection, but specifies natural affection, as one has for their own child.

Thelema refers to desire, but not sexual desire. This is the desire to do something, to be involved in an activity that is worthwhile and fulfilling.

And then there is of course, Eros. This is the passionate sexual love that fills most of modern society with dreams of "happily ever after" and all that nonsense. It's the romantic version of love, one which is often confused with lust or infatuation. It's interesting to note that Plato revised this definition to include a platonic love, one that is more than philia but less than sexual. He also expanded the idea of this love to include the beauty of a person's soul, the beauty of a flower, the love and search of beauty altogether. He said that eros helps the soul recall beauty and contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth. When I look at all the beauty produced by various religions in the form of art, architecture, music and more, I can see the truth in this.

So, what does this have to do with the price of gas? Nothing. But it does bring me to my point, which is a question actually. Why are we as westerners, so obsessed with the notion of romantic love? Why do we feel incomplete without some romantic partner of our own with which to make love, make house or just make out? We are addicted to feeling in love. We are addicted to a cycle of climaxes, but the end result is always the same. When the initial fervor of loves wears off, which it will, we are left with reality. We are left with ourselves and a partner who may or may not know what they want or need. We are left with the knowledge that this person doesn't actually complete us the way we'd hoped.

I watched a movie last night "The Holiday", about two career women who've both been burned by love. One lives in England, one in a grand mansion in L.A. They decide to house swap, and of course, cure their broken hearts with new bo's. What the story doesn't reveal is that in six months, a year or whatever, both couples will have to choose who's going to live where, (since we feel it's essential to share a house with our romantic partners,) and both are going to have the same problems everyone has. They will also find that they didn't know each other as well as they thought and that great sex and awesome chemistry do not a marriage make.

Now please don't think I'm anti-love or anti-men or anti-relationship. I'm not. I've grown and been inspired by my love for another, and I've helped bring three amazing beings into this world through that relationship. But why the obsession? There are different ways to live. Ways other people, other societies, other cultures have found to work. Why aren't we willing to try something new? The answer, in part, lies in the way our culture is structured. We don't live in community, the individualism that makes us so American also gives us the feeling of being cut off and separate. As a result, we feel lost, incomplete, and we strive to find our"other half," or our "soul mate."

What's the difference? You may ask. Why should it matter why we mate, as long as we're happy? But are we happy? It doesn't look like it. Perhaps you are, and that's great. But would you be happy if you lost your spouse to something, anything? Death, life changes, divorce. Who knows? Would you still be happy? If not, then I would challenge your definition of happiness. If we're depending on something outside of ourselves to make us happy, then can we really claim that happiness as ours?

For years I have worked hard to make someone I love dearly, happy. I gave him everything he claimed to want, and still he's not happy. Have I failed? Yes. Did I ever have a chance of succeeding? No. I can't make anyone happy, and no one can make me happy. That's got to come from inside me. Inside him. And it is there, in all of us. We just spend so much time looking for those feelings of "eros," that we forget what we have inside us. I forgot. I still forget. But I'm fortunate that I have friends around me who remind me who I am. Who remind me that I am not separate from the love and light of God. Of the Universe. Of Life. I am connected to all and all is connected to me. In a very real way.

Does this mean I'll never have love, or even eros, in my life? Am I abandoning great sex for a life of contemplation? Not yet. I'll always have love in my life, and even eros, particularly if I incorporate some of Plato's ideas of eros into my definition. To see beauty and allow that beauty to lead me truth sounds like pretty amazing love to me. And to find the love and completeness in myself, so that I can live with or without someone and be happy, that sounds wonderful. Better than a first date, better than falling in love. Better even than great sex.

My question to you is this...what ways do you look outside yourself for feelings of completeness, happiness or love? Is it working for you? What would happen if these things stopped working, or disappeared? I challenge each of you, myself included, to examine the patterns that lead to addiction. Not just major--needing of treatment--addiction. But the addictions we all have that leave us feeling incomplete and miserable and searching for something or someone to make it all better. Are these true?

One more question. Can any of you, from experience or heresy, think of other ways relationships can be structured to support cooperation, internal happiness and less co-dependence? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Men, women, whatever your preference, we can live without them. And we can live with them if we come into the relationship complete and happy and looking to it for a mirror in which to see ourselves more clearly in order to grow. However, regardless of how miserable we feel they make us, in most cases it's not OK to shoot them. Sorry. :)