What I’ve Learned About Love, and About Myself

polyamoryI have learned an enormous amount over the last month from people I have come to love. I always get a kind of ‘high’ when I am learning a lot, and these days I’ve been walking around with a goofy smile all the time, and crying, both joyfully and empathetically, more than usual. I described the chemistry of this in a recent post, and my body these days is awash in love hormones. It’s a great feeling.

In some of last year’s articles I described my Let-Self-Change journey, the process of paying attention and appreciation, opening and letting go, loving, having fun, relaxing, focusing, slowing down, self-managing, exploring, improvising and being resilient — that allows you to learn, discover and self-adapt, to self-evolve in positive, healthy and evolutionary ways, to come to be who you really are.

In the process of loving and Letting-Myself-Change I have learned some important new things about love, and about myself. I don’t know if they are useful to anyone else, but I thought I would share them anyway. These are complex, subtle, paradoxical discoveries, so please think about them before you judge what I’m saying:

  1. I have learned that I tend to idealize the people I love, to make them larger-than-life. I imagine them to be astonishingly emotionally intelligent, sensitive, strong, perceptive, mature, wise, aware. If I have not met them physically I imagine them to be extraordinarily beautiful. I suspect this is because I want them to be these things. I’m a romantic, an artist, a dreamer, and kind of immature emotionally, and I do have an exceptional imagination, so perhaps this tendency is understandable. In any case I can’t seem to change it, to just see and accept people for what they really are, warts and all. So when they turn out to be different from what I’ve imagined I tend to be shocked, disappointed, disillusioned. This is not fair to them. I wonder if this tendency to idealize those one loves is common to all artists, and hence perhaps why artists are so difficult to love. I also wonder if this is why I’m so infatuated with Second Life — it enables and encourages me to idealize and romanticize the people I meet more than in Real Life.
  2. I have learned that it is who I imagine people to be that I really love, more than who they really are. This is a kind of corollary of the above. But I suspect it is rather more universal than the above. I don’t think we can ever hope to even begin to know who other people really are, so we can only know who we imagine them to be. When I watch two people in love with each other (even when one of them is me), I get a strong sense that their love is as much self-love as love-of-other. They can only really know themselves, so what they perceive the object of their love to be is largely a projection of what they know, what they can imagine, who they are or know they could be themselves. You may be surprised to learn that I think this delusion is very healthy, for two reasons: (a) It makes it easier for us to love others, and (b) It makes it easier for us to love and feel better about ourselves. Delusional or not, these are both good, aren’t they? But it’s a double-edged sword: when the person we love lets us down, it becomes harder for us to love others, and we also become disappointed with ourselves.
  3. I have learned that, despite appearances, women are usually the ones who precipitate both the beginning and ending of loving relationships. Although our society encourages men to make the first move, it is almost invariably women who decide whether a new relationship will be a loving one. The woman is the one who gives permission for love to begin. That’s an enormous responsibility, but it’s probably fortunate, because women are, I think, usually more sensitive and more connected with their emotions, so their judgement is likely to be better than the man’s. And because they are more in tune with their emotions, they also seem to know when love has run its course, when it is no longer healthy and the relationship should evolve or end. Ask the couples you know who have divorced, and you’re likely to find that regardless of who walked, it was essentially the woman’s decision. And when it seemingly was the man’s, that’s often because another woman recognized the relationship had failed and took him away. There are of course exceptions to this, but I think it’s usually true.
  4. I have learned that women are often extraordinarily generous and accommodating of men who they love or intend to love. Most men I know are intoxicated by love, self-preoccupied and selfish, and rather more demanding than women in loving relationships. It is up to the woman, usually, to adapt, to accommodate, to Let-Self-Change, to become more what he wants her to be, to love him more generously, to give him more room. I suspect this is nature’s way of encouraging stability and allowing love to flourish and endure when the circumstances are far from perfect. I don’t think this is a conscious willingness to adapt by women; it is just who they are.
  5. I have learned that most women are more monogamous than most men. A more precise term would be monoamorous (“loving intimately only one person”). This seems to be more a practical accommodation by women than something that is inherent in human nature. Loving relationships are difficult to manage, and it is women who usually (see discovery #3 above) accept the responsibility to manage them. The more relationships there are to manage, the more challenging this task becomes. When lovers lack maturity and experience, more complex relationships can get messy and their emotional fallout can be devastating. Our society as a whole frowns on such relationships because of strong cultural conditioning and religious dogma. Recently I’ve written about polyamorous (“the desire, practice, or acceptance of having more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved”) relationships, as being more natural and healthy than monoamorous ones. I believe that a community of, say, ten women and ten men in a consensual polyamorous relationship with each other would be blissful — providing an abundance of love instead of the scarcity, jealousy, possessiveness and loneliness that pervades our current society and causes so much pain and violence. But if we’re to get there, I think women need to take the lead. I think this is possible, but will take a lot of effort and practice to make it work. The principles for such communities are known (polyfidelity, trust and respect, mutual support, communication and negotiation, compersion, empathy and non-possessiveness). I’ve written a story and a short play and a utopian fantasy about polyamorous communities to describe how they might work, and the challenges they present. But I think they would be worth it. I am increasingly convinced that the reason today’s Intentional Communities are so limited and fragile is because they are unnaturally monoamorous. And I believe the creation of successful models of Intentional Community is essential to the future of our species, so there is a lot at stake. And love underlies it all.

The lessons in this learning for me are pretty obvious. I need to learn to curb my imagination a bit and see and love people more for who they are, so I can be more accepting of them, and even more open to love without illusion or condition. I should recognize that love is inherently mutually self-delusional, but that that is OK, and that my attitude to love should be more playful and fun and not so terribly intense, once I acknowledge that it is abundant, unlimited. I should respect that women tend to control loving relationships for perfectly good reasons, and work with them to open them to the astonishing possibility of polyamorous relationships, and perhaps encourage them to be a little less accommodating of unreasonable and demanding males, and a little more selfish about meeting their own desires and realizing their own, more completely fulfilling, loving relationships.

A lot here. Does it make any sense to you?

Category: Being Human
This entry was posted in Our Culture / Ourselves. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to What I’ve Learned About Love, and About Myself

  1. Siona says:

    This entry (I had used the word post, but ‘entry’ seems more right… it’s an entry to something, no?) feels like such a transition point, or a turning, or a bursting or breakthrough or awakening. It’s beautiful, and though I don’t necessarily agree with you on either the supposed eden of polyamory nor your views on women and relationship control, the whole expression makes a great deal of sense. Thank you, deeply.

  2. What you have said about Intentional Community is most probably right. In any native community (especially amongst animals that live in a tribe) (maybe someone Anthropologist could give better inputs/feedback about this concept).In my humble opinion, love is something just to keep the enthusiasm in life going. When everything seems to get into a rut and is getting routine or boring, we somehow seem to get attracted to someone who is not in our particular rut! We again build up the whole fantasy thing! Sooner or later we are going to be disappointed, men and women both being dynamic, change occurs and the mirage(called love) continues to keep us going to the next lover, maybe the someone special is just around the bend!!If there is one very healthy fantasy that is very good for us all, its probabily called Love.

  3. Paul says:

    I have started regularly reading your blog only recently. I’m impressed with your thoughtfulness, breadth of vision/attention, and openness to ideas and to other people–and I find myself pulled in as I recognize another’s voice articulating many of the social concerns and viewpoints that I share. I apologize for the length of this comment–it’s the first time I have responded to a blog, I’m sure this is a breach of etiquette! (Maybe best not to publish it.)You dare to present love as a social issue. Wow! How refreshing to see a social commentator make a connection between love (which is supposed to be utterly personal, and is surrounded by so many taboos and myths) and saving the world. To answer your question: Yes, your conclusions seem sensible; and your direction seems exciting.You are making people larger than life? Building relationships with objects of our imagination? Of course! Don’t we do that all the time, and not just with the people we love? Our minds are so keen on projection that we are constantly idealizing–the objects of our affection, our families, businesses, celebrities, nations, nature, social movements, history, whatever. I’m fairly cynical, definitely unromantic, but I still have to constantly confront my tendency toward idealization. When the bubble bursts and we are disillusioned, let’s hope we can come a little closer to understanding “how it all works” (gain a bit of wisdom) while also compassionately accepting others (and ourselves) in their imperfection.I don’t seek refuge in illusions, as I believe you don’t, so I’m suspicious of your claim that certain delusions are healthy. I think I see your point, that the (deluded) love may lead us to lower our defenses, become more vulnerable and engaging, more open to experiences and more active in the world, and ultimately better understand how to live in the world–perhaps understand how our cognition has been limited by our conditioning, perhaps eventually learn that the love relationship is not what we had thought it was, it needs to change!Let me suggest an alternative, that it’s easier for us to love others and ourselves not by deluding ourselves, but by learning how and why we set standards and make judgments (on appearances, attitudes, behaviors, etc.), why we believe we need a particular kind of love or redemption, why we are afraid of particular relationships, and what is really at stake in our lives. If I love someone out of a deluded idea of the relationship (who they are, who I am), I question whether that love can really be productive, can help the two of us understand how to live in the world. Yet, I grant you, there is sometimes a magic in love that might very well operate through the delusions, not just in spite of them.I suspect you are largely right about the different roles of men and women in loving relationships, and I wonder if your intentional community might help shift the culture in that regard. I think that we men usually need to become more generous and accommodating. I have always tried to be that in my love life, which I believe is one reason our relationship has lasted over 30 years. I find it harder to extend those feelings to my work life, and other more public spheres, but I think that’s important too; and it’s only recently that I have started realizing the need to be more “accommodating” to the other species we live with. Your statement that women should (in my words) expect better of men is spot on. In fact, I suspect that without women leading all of us in a “feminist” direction, the dominant cultural values will never shift enough to allow the world to improve (by the measures of sustainability, harmony, and so on).I have never explored Second Life nor attempted an intentional community. I am still terribly tied up trying to sort out feelings of despair (since the world is falling apart and people’s brains seem to be mostly wired for continuation, not evolutionary/developmental progress) and an inclination toward acceptance (why should the world be the way I want it to be) and an appreciation of the present (I can enjoy people, give to some of them, see that the autumn leaves and skies are gorgeous, and find myself amazed/delighted/learning every day). So, in my relative inaction, I marvel at your adventurousness and expect to learn something from it. Please go on!

  4. Nathan says:

    Dave, I think your thoughts on love appear very honestly expressed. Interestingly, I tend to think the love is less affected by idealising (for me), and seems more like an enabler for accepting people’s faults and quirks if you like. It transforms awkward and unattractive people into something different.Perhaps Second Life just helps to get over the immediate response to a person’s superficial qualities, which is perhaps ironic as everyone appears beautiful in Second Life. Then again, because everyone is beautiful, people start looking for unique qualities beyond appearance.My personal experience of “love over the net” is meeting my wife, where email correspondence allowed us to communicate on a far more fundamental level within a few days, avoiding the usual obstacles that seem to get in the way of developing meaningful connections with people. I believe our relationship was set even before we knew what the other actually looked like.Well, I hope this gives you something more to think on, as you have got me thinking…

  5. Wise observations. I still idolise my wife after nearly forty years of marriage. Until I read your post I hadn’t realised that the reason I sometimes get angry with her is when her real – and perfectly normal – behaviour slips a little below my idealised version of how she should be. I’ll be more understanding in future.Being a Romantic myself I think Oscar Wilde got it right when he said, “People say that love is an illusion. They’re wrong. Life is an illusion.”

  6. Mariella says:

    you made me question myself about seduction : ¿what is seduction? is it the ability to make others feel and think “hey… I have what you need or want… and I can give it to you ..if….”? and vice versa…… be it true or not….-Aren´t we all the time playing this game? we play it with the dog, our children, the sexual “object” of our fantasies…. this does not makes us bad persons… it is a mechanism of interchange.. a very effective one…. ¿Why aren´t intentional communities working? Their seduction abilities can´t compete, can´t win those of the current system…I think seduction involves a lot more than only sex:sex has to come with other items attached : such as security, fun (not only sex)….., comfortable work opportunities…..: As Bill quotes : “live is an Illusión” … and seduction its strategy to make it seem real?

  7. lugon says:

    Not sure what to make of this, at all. This book about “learning to draw with the right side of your brain” suggested that when we draw a person’s face, not paying attention to the full face but rather to every wrinkle, we dismantle preconceptions and, this is where it gets relevant, the artist ends up loving the face – because even if it’s ugly it’s uniquely ugly (or so I remember from reading the book). So I’m not sure if by looking (in fascination) we accept, we invent/project, or what. Maybe we keep shifting perceptions all the time – and if we don’t then that’s not too healthy? Intriguing to say the least.

  8. Hey…I’ve known a surprising number of people who have entered into polyamourous relationships, and I have yet to see one of them derive the emotional synergy of a monamourous one. Not to say that it isn’t possible, but it still seems utopian to me. (And to balance the equation, many monogamous relationships don’t work either…)Love IS a social issue and engaging in the world with love is a bit of a trick. It not only accelerates innovation and “better”, it is a double edged sword too. I think there is such a thing as “the responsibility of love” which refers to the way we wield the weapons of the heart in the world when we are working in the territory of open heartedness. When we choose to love, we choose to elevate certain things above other things – people, paths, choices, directions. There is pain associated with this choosing, made all the more stinging by the fact that we choose and exclude out of heart-felt action, which is action we are fully committed too. It results in pain, and so much of the world that is created by love is also full of grief. Love and pain, bliss and grief are siblings in this world. If we choose to work with love, we enter this polarity. We may also choose to work with complete dispassion and equanimity, which is what the Buddha invited us to do. My path is not that refined yet. I still choose the path with heart, and that means the path of pain also.Thanks for the post.

  9. joan says:

    i’ll write more later but i just wanted to say a quick Amen!! to Chris Corrigan’s comments.

  10. beth says:

    Twelve years of a now failed marriage brought me to the same conclusions. Ironically, I still believe in true love. Only time will tell if belief will become reality.

  11. Dave Pollard says:

    Wow..what a treasure of wonderful thoughts and ideas! Thank you, everyone. Got more than two dozen additional comments by e-mail. What is interesting is that the number of responses are almost exactly 50% male, 50% female, and for each gender the number who think polyamorous relationships could/should work is about 50% and the skeptics are about 50%. I find that terribly encouraging, and enlightening.

  12. Cass Nevada says:

    What great questions and positive, open exploration. Echoing Chris Corrigan’s note above, we are all subject to the ongoing cycle of hope/idealization/desire, followed by disappointment/disillusionment/grief. The only path out of this continuing and ongoing cycle is clear-eyed equanimity in the face of a continuous barrage of changing feelings, perceptions and emotions. The idea of a polyamorous community would not necessarily end the cycle, but could just expand it over time and space, rather than the concentrated sensation one experiences in a monogamous relationship. At any rate, may we all be free to explore and know this inner terrain in order to find peace.

Comments are closed.