Friday, January 22, 2010
Love and Risk...
As the world continues to salivate over the next twists and turns of the love-lives of the "rich and famous", an article I read recently reminds me of some observations I made long ago in my own quest for love and mutual understanding.
In Agnès Poirier's article for the Guardian in the UK, she compares some of Tiger Woods travails along with the public's reactions, to some higher philosophic writings by Alain Badiou who recently wrote a book I should probably read called "Eloge de l'Amour" (Eulogy of Love) and even Plato to Samuel Beckett. Not that the general public would spend a moment considering such philosophical pursuits, but I think the article brings to mind some solid elements of truth when it comes to love and commitment.
The key axiom is basically that "without risk there can be no passion". Most elemental humans have experienced one or many relationships with a love interest that either never had any chemistry, or was primarily based on the SEARCH for such chemistry. Some of us have tried to turn friendships into romantic love while we have also found it challenging to do the opposite...reposition from romance back to friendship.
There are few core "truths" that I find absolute for everyone living, but one that I would stick my neck out on is that "people want to be loved". Even the most prickly pear in the human bunch is usually just handicapped in their search for love and acceptance because of some early trauma or psychological maltreatment in their formative years. We animals/humans tend to reflect and imitate the behavior we grew up with or live the rest of our lives reacting to it. Many people have been hurt or burned in love so badly at some point that they no longer find it easy to trust and give of themselves freely to another. Unfortunately there is a fine line between giving and needing, love and lust. It can be very obscure to know where another is really coming from along those lines.
I have lived long and wide enough to see many contradictions to most any established guidelines to love and relationships. In the early 70s as I was coming into adulthood, the youth movement was quite revolutionary and non-traditional. We questioned everything including the moral guidelines of our forefathers. "Free love" and living in communes was a common reaction to the immoral war and loss of Victorian traditions in our youth culture. Experimentation with sex and drugs was widespread and quietly accepted. There was accommodation for counter cultural-ism and a return to fundamental questioning of "life's meaning". All institutions were up for analysis and in many cases rejection. Part of the downturn of traditional values was caused by the fundamental breakdown of traditional roles in marriage and the home. Everyone was working for materialistic gain (sometimes known as the American dream), and the post world war baby-boomer generation was coming on strong with overwhelming numbers hitting the marketplace and job markets. The divorce rates skyrocketed in America between 1967-1977...and the compensator was to get more gadgets and TVs to fill the time and void that love apparently wasn't. Ozzie and Harriet were replaced by the "Brady Bunch", "My Three Sons" and "Andy Griffith"...all modeled after non traditional family situations. American kids were increasingly rebellious and independent. There was less supervision and more freedom than previous generations. With the lack of controls, boundaries and values, many found themselves floundering in the pursuit of contentment and security.
As in all things human, the cycle came back around somewhat quickly in some regards. Teenagers in the 80s and 90s were a bit more "traditional" in my observations though much more focused on the technology boom. Video games and other fantasies were readily available in the computer age, and with the advent of the internet, all things sacred or non were at one's disposal. With so much stimuli and ongoing change, who had time to concentrate on "relationships"? Plus youngsters had many more confusing decisions to make based on the liberalization of teen media on themes of homosexuality and the new pop culture. Most of these kids came from double income families or single parent ones.
These cycles in my past observations have a lot to do with my views on love and risk. Along with rampant individualism comes varying degrees of selfishness...or maybe I should use the word "self-centered" behavior? We are still brought up to feel guilty about "selfishness" and it is still standard to attempt finding ourselves in the mirror of a significant other or lifelong partner. Those who have difficulty finding that mirror are somehow not seen as normal or mainstream. They are "funny uncles", "spinster aunts" or "solitary Sallys".
Along with this pursuit of individualism has developed a watering down of roles between the sexes. Women want to wrestle, box, play football and go into armed combat these days...while wanting the men to do more of the baby-sitting, cooking and dish washing. The push is for equality in all things...though it is still apparent to me that many women still want to be protected and coddled to by men. The risk in love right now is a somewhat mutual confusion between the sexes of who does what and what is one looking for in the opposite sex. I have heard many women in my life say they just want a man who will be responsible and uncomplicated...while many of my buddies have been wondering what happened to the feminine, soft, desirable females they used to know. The world is made up now of huge chasms of culture between the sexes. The minority of people who live in Western culture and determine much of the tradition and imagery we see in the media are all about showing the attraction of free, unencumbered members of either sex in high level careers and maintaining the image of material success that is hugely important to public perception. Yet the reality is that most people/couples live in religious families living quietly within their traditional values. In some cases they are at peace with this and in other cases they have just never risked getting outside of the "box" they grew up in. Risk taking is not the norm in most peoples lives. Our tendency is to play it safe and "practical".
I have been fortunate to live into my middle 50s having experienced a variety of relationships. Until the last fulfilling 8+ years of blissful couple-hood...I had lived more years single and independent than I had "married" or "in a relationship". While there were times that I think some of my family or close friends thought me incapable of commitment or romantic bliss...I actually feel my private life history has been quite full of intimacy and meaningful experiences that helped make me who I am today. I have taken by far my share of risks with no real regrets. Sure, I have a few scars and memories of failed relationships...but most of those represent some colorful stories and memories of which a meaningful life experience is made of. My marriage now works because of those previous lessons learned. I learned what type of partner I am looking for...and what "type" I am good for in return. And of course, with age comes the reality that love is more about the friendship and trust two people can develop at significant levels than the intensity or propensity for sexual experience/conquest. Sex and sensuality is always a part of us...but it doesn't have to completely over-run our awareness and appreciation for pure companionship and the internal traits that our partners bring to our lives.
Love is still a risk...and life without love can be...well, lets just say it can be a bit bland at times. The scariest part about love is we can only control our own actions and attitudes about those we love. We can't control or demand that they love us back. But what I have found is, if we find an equally loving and understanding person to share life with, we have a lot less risk of failure. At the end of the day, each of us has to take responsibility for our relationships. It is what we make it by our decisions and actions...plus we have to choose correctly in the first place to have that love reciprocated. It really doesn't have to be that complicated...though we sometimes have to be a bit lucky to run into that right person.
I have been a very lucky man...