love, historically

Oh, love.
It's a funny thing. I'm convinced it makes saints of us all.

I think when I was young, I thought there was one. One kind. Perhaps, one person. This is all stuff I have said before. No new news here.

You know, I can remember--years ago--Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat, Pray, Love fame--wrote a book called Committed. And in it she was wrestling with the idea of getting married. She had had a crushing divorce and had no love of the institution. And yet. Something had happened in her life that had rendered the word "girlfriend" a useless office. I can't remember if it didn't get her on a plane with her long-time love or if it didnt get her in the hospital room.

Girlfriend is not next of kin.
Girlfriend, according to the law of the land, means next-to-nothing.

So, in this book she had been researching the concept of "marriage" as a historical concept and stumbled upon her own misconceptions, not about marriage, but about love, itself.

She found that the idea of "love" being one, single person who could possibly meet all your human needs was...well, basically it was an American Hollywood construct. Almost childishly petulant to other cultures. One person, one relationship, cannot POSSIBLY be the only house your heart loves in. Your heart is too big for that. Your heart needs too many things for a person to possibly tack that giant to-do list on the heart of only one other human being.

In Victorian and Regency--and many modern aristocratic circles love wasn't even assigned to the marriage. It was for dynasties, for perpetuation of the line. Marriage was for war, for peace. An institution, an alliance. Our American Hallmark ideology makes us think these people were sad about it, and maybe some were. But by and large--there was no expectation for anything else. Anything more.

Elizabeth interviewed women across the globe. From women in remote villages with a limited life experience to women in rich societal circles in foreign countries. And she found one common thread.

ALL knew love to be a many-spectrumed thing. The needs of men and women--from and evolutionary standpoint--are different. Women need the company of other women. Women need children...or dogs--things to take care of. These are things we are very good at. Women need their mothers. Their fathers. And men need....whatever they need. I don-t know: Sports? Relationships that don't require too many emotions, perhaps. Whatever it is that they need that women cannot provide, nor would we want to.

I've always said, "Give men ten minutes alone together, they'll start talking about sports or movies. Give women the same ten minutes, they'll talk about relationships."

And all of that is okay. Love--true love--makes you safe enough to acknowledge what another can do, but also what they can't.

I was amazed to realize that my relationship--whoever it would be when I found it (this was way before Dan)--wasn't likely going to eat up 100% of my emotional needs. It wasn't required to. It couldn't possibly do so.
And more than that? There was a certain freedom in that. Oh, of course some needs were non negotiable. But some? Eh. I have girlfriends for those.

I remember making Dan mad early in our relationship. Well, not mad. But whatever it was, I had said or did made me feel like he was less than impressed with this side of me--whatever it was.

I ran it past my friend, Amy, who said: "Yeah, men don't like catty. No matter how catty [her husband] can be--and is--he doesn't care for it in me," she said. "So I just save those kinds of remarks for my girlfriends."

And I loved that. I loved how accepting it was of both of them. It opened up my field of vision a little bit.

Love brings you clarity. A sweet clarity of time and place and grace.

Some years ago, I was talking with a friend about relationships. It is the particular burden of teachers in relationships that understanding human behavior is our life's work--and yet we don't get a whole lot of credit in personal relationships for knowing what we're talking about.

I would never in a million years tell Dan how it install a windshield--but on the subject of the psychology of human behavior, I get minimal credit for knowing what I'm talking about.

And this friend had been having this experience with her husband--or something similar. Frustrated, she let loose with all of her knowledge. She broke down his behavior to its essential parts: how he was doing it, why he was doing it, his motivation for it..everything. All words, laying bare all the vulnerable parts. And when she was finished stripping that down--she said, "And I saw his face. And I realized in that moment: You don't need to KNOW everything."

Love makes you graceful. Enough to know that you don't have to be a teacher in every room. And graceful enough to know that he hears you. It is a man's prerogative to argue. But you will hear your gentle suggestions coming out of his mouth in the future, if you can just breathe and wait.

Love--true love--makes a soul a patient one. I love that old adage: "Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience."

Dan and I were talking the other day about a young couple. He said there was some snipping going on. Not arguing. Just snipping. The turf war that young love can be. I said, "Well they are young. They still think every fight needs to be fought. And some of them do--but some of them don't."

Dan agreed. Peaceful and easy, he thought for a second. Then he said, "I think, as you get older, you are more willing to see if the compromise is in yourself, first."

Love sometimes takes your breath away. And makes you love someone else ten million times more than you did just the moment before.

A long time ago, Dan came to pick me up for dinner. Or something. A date of some kind. And in one of the early moments of the evening he sat down next to me and gave me a hug. Dan's a hugger. A deep, warm, engulfing hug that--I mean...I want to say I enjoyed it. It was nice. Not UNexpected. But not expected either.

And into the moment, he said, "I just want to say I'm sorry."

I looked at him. Waited for him to go on.

"I know sometimes I can get cold. Kind of closed off..."

I nodded.

"I should have been nicer about the words I used..."

I nodded again.
And, friends. Let me stop right here and tell you-- I literally had no idea what he was talking about. Not a single spark of an idea. Part of me wondered if he had dreamed it. And still--to.this.day--I have exactly ZERO idea what he was apologizing for. Not a single clue.

But sometimes?
Sometimes love is cagey. Opportunistic, one might even say.

I looked up at him. So sorrowful. So apologetic. I hugged him back. A deep, long, forgiving hug.

Then I pulled back. Looked him in the eyes--those warm eyes that are my favorites, and I said to him:

"Just don't do it again."

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