What Love Isn’t

This pretty much says it all!
Image credit: Anna Strumillo/Fotopedia.com

I grew up in a pretty traditional, nuclear family and was fortunate to have both parents, who lived together and loved each other.  I was pretty lucky really as I know so many children don’t have that experience.  I in no way want to disrespect the wonderful job that sole parents do, but I know that to have a loving relationship in front of me every day had to be a good thing for me in terms of learning about love.

I also grew up in a strongly Christian family as I talked about in Preacher’s Kid.  This also influenced what I knew about love and perhaps the strongest influence there was this Bible passage:

1 Corinthians 13
(NIV)

If I speak in the tongues[a]   of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy   and can fathom all mysteries   and all knowledge,   and if I have a faith   that can move mountains,   but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor   and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b]  but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient,   love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,   it is not easily angered,   it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil   but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies,   they will cease; where there are tongues,   they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part   and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes,   what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood   behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror;   then we shall see face to face.   Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.   But the greatest of these is love.

I wouldn’t normally be quoting the Bible in my blog.  I consider myself a Christian but I do not attend church and haven’t for a long time.  It’s a personal thing for me, not anything I wish to force onto anyone else.  That’s just not me, but the reason I quote it now is that I learnt this so young, and it is so firmly drummed into my mind, that this is my first thought of what love is.  I know it’s a Christian perspective, and that’s not always acceptable to some people but it is actually some pretty sound ideals.  Maybe I don’t accept all of it, maybe not all of it is relevant, but it is what I think of when I think about what love is.

This is, of course, all fine and dandy in a perfect world, and I’d like to think I can work towards this idea.  But it’s not a perfect world and the real difficulty for me is the what love isn’t.  While I am grateful to have had this learning to create my own version of love, what love isn’t has tripped me up far too many times. Let me explain.

My parents were good, but they weren’t emotionally demonstrative people.  I saw very few displays of affection, and all that I really observed was the odd peck on the cheek.  I knew in my head that they loved each other but as a child, it wasn’t something I could see or comprehend.  Also, emotions were rarely talked about in the family.  Feelings were a completely foreign word to me until well into my twenties, because we never talked, or were asked how we felt.  How we might feel just wasn’t an issue.  There wasn’t much conversation about relationships or growing up either and when I got my first boyfriend at fourteen, I was in for more than a few surprises.

Aside from those surprises this relationship turned for me into a perfect explanation of what love isn’t.  I was excited to have my first boyfriend but was soon overwhelmed and feeling trapped.  I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was losing grasp of who I was, and I was being somehow swallowed up by this person.

I made my escape after about nine months.  It took that long because I had been taught to be nice, and I somehow thought being nice meant accepting something that wasn’t me.  I can remember vividly that after we split I was running down the road with my best girlfriend shouting “I’m free”.  It was the most amazing feeling (it was a feeling but I didn’t recognise it as such at the time).  I just knew I was relieved to be free.  To be perfectly honest I don’t remember a lot of the content of the relationship.  It was a long time ago and much has happened since.  I only knew I felt trapped… and that would repeat itself throughout my life in the years ahead.  Constantly trapped, always feeling like I couldn’t breathe in the relationships I later went into.

Unfortunately, life still wasn’t perfect and the boyfriend I just thought I was free from became obsessed.  I wrote about that in Stalked… But Still Hiding Some Of Me.  Suddenly he literally couldn’t live without me, and tried to kill himself (stating loudly that the reason for this was that he couldn’t have me).  When that didn’t work he persisted, and eventually gave me a loaded gun and asked me to kill him for the same reason (that’s where my objection to firearms comes from).  I was followed constantly and it was a regular for me to see him just waiting for me… anywhere and everywhere.   He was completely obsessed.

It occurs to me as I write this that, as I was 14, so I have a 14 year old nephew; one of my favourite people along with his younger brother and sister.  The idea of something this traumatic and damaging happening to him at 14 appalls me.  I would move heaven and earth to do all I could to protect him from such harm and make sure he was okay.  But no one did it for me, and leaves me feeling rather tearful for that 14 year old girl (me) who was pretty much alone.

I described above what my family dynamics were and that is pretty much why no one really knew the extent of what was happening to me, and no one stepped in to help me.  I just assumed this was normal post-relationship behaviour.   As a Christian I had been taught to be nice to people, feel sorry for them if they’re struggling, and to forgive them if they hurt me.  The problem with that was… what about me?  Who was looking after me?  Actually no one was.  I now just had this completely screwed up idea of what love was, let alone having any idea of a healthy relationship.

The stalking continued actively for years, and while it stopped when I left the city some 14 years later (in my last ditch effort to get away) I know it would still be an issue for him today, if he knew where I was.  My first experience of love (or a 14 year old’s version of love) was a long running nightmare and I learnt quickly to expect that with every future relationship.  Even when I married, one of the reasons I did was that I feared my future husband would do the same.  If I didn’t agree to marry him, he would haunt me for the rest of my days.  That wasn’t because he did anything to make me think that but I just thought that’s what men did.

I got two lessons in what love isn’t.  Actually more, but I won’t go into that now.  Firstly love was a trap.  Secondly, my needs didn’t count.  The people who said they loved me were more interested in Christian compassion for others (the perpetrator) than in protecting me.

It’s really not surprising that I opted to be alone eventually, if that was my understanding of love.  It was a safe thing to do.  To be alone was the best way to protect myself, and you know, in that respect it worked.  It was probably the best course of action at the time.  Nobody could hurt me, because I didn’t give them a chance.

But alone has drawbacks.  Not only can no one hurt me but I can’t experience loving someone, I know I can do the ‘alone’ thing if that’s how life works out, but do I want to?  Actually I think I’d like a chance to change my understanding and experience of love.  That has to be the healthier option and the more enjoyable one.  To put away what love isn’t, and find my own version of what love is.  It’s a chance to live again, without the fear.  This is all pretty weird for me right now.  I’m just becoming a bit more open to life (and love) than I was, and that has to be a good thing.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” 

―    C.S. Lewis,    The Four Loves

 

38 responses

  1. Thank you for this beautiful post, Cate. It certainly got me thinking about all the ways I’ve learned what love isn’t over the years. Though I’ve been fortunate enough to have never been stalked by an ex (mine tend to go completely in the other direction), I know I’ve stalked and tortured myself in the wake of failed relationships, if that makes any sense. And so, like you, I’m abstaining from all of that, at least until I know I’m in a healthy, wholr place with myself.

    • ^whole

      But what I love most about your post is the hope that pervades it at the end. We’ve all been hurt and damaged by love, for various reasons, in various ways. And for some of us, the safest way to respond has been to shun that particular closeness. But, yes, as you write,

      • To love and be loved back is a glorious thing. And it doesn’t have to be painful or unhealthy. It can be good. Your willingness to stay open and receptive to this possibility is and inspiration to me. So is your hope. Truly, a terrific share, Cate. Thank you.

        And now I am going to throw my “smart” phone off of a VERY tall building.

      • Thank you. I love your comments and even your “smart phone” which I guess is dead by now. :-) I truly believe that there is hope for us, and we will get through and enjoy some good times, including love. :-)

  2. I was raised in a very similar household. Luckily, I was never in a relationship such as you experienced. I married my college sweetheart after 5 years of dating. Fourteen years later, he decided he loved someone else. It took a long time for me to assess and accept what had happened. Since that time, I have chosen to be alone, at least in the sense of having a ‘boyfriend’ because I meet too many men who want to take over my life immediately and I know that isn’t love. I am not truly alone, as I have family and friends who add joy to my life. I hope one day I will find love again. If I do, that will be great. If I don’t, then I will be okay.

    • Hi, That’s pretty much how I feel too, although it is a new idea for me to re-open to the possibilities. What love isn’t is far too often what so many people experience, and I hope one day we will experience what it really is. And thanks for the follow. :-)

  3. Hi. I have nominated you for a Sunshine Award because I really enjoy your blog, and because I would not have found your blog if dailylifewithfibromyalgia.com and at http://walkingthroughpain.wordpress.com/ had not nominated me.

    A Sunshine Award!

    To my amazement, I have been nominated for a Sunshine Award by Ginger Ray at www. dailylifewithfibromyalgia.com! I didn’t even know there were awards, but I am so happy that someone has read my blog and likes some of my posts. This is major encouragement for a new blogger, especially since I haven’t quite gotten used to this blogging thing yet and pretty much just write whatever is on my mind that day instead of following any set topic. Thank you Ginger. You made my day.

    So, Here are the rules:

    1. If you are nominated, you must blog a post linking back to the person/blog that nominated you.

    2. You must answer some questions, nominate ten fellow bloggers and link their blogs to the post!

    3. You should comment on your nominees’ blogs to let them know you’ve nominated them.

    So, here are the questions:

    1. Who is your favorite philosopher?

    I have never thought about this. I guess C.S. Lewis.

    2. What is your favorite number?

    Seven, but I don’t know why.

    3. What is your favorite animal?

    Dog. Now, this is strange if you knew me, because for most of my life I was terrified of dogs. All dogs, large or small, it didn’t matter. I was terrified. But, I had a child and I didn’t want him to learn my fear of dogs, so I worked very hard to overcome that fear. I now love dogs. Some more than others. I have a lovable little Shih Tzu named Lulu.

    4. What are your Facebook and Twitter URLs?

    Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/katherine.corley1

    I have a Twitter account, but never use it.

    5. What is your favorite time of the day?

    Late afternoon, when it is almost evening, and the world is slowing down. I especially love this time of day if I am at the beach or a lake. There is something so calming about sitting and watching the sun set over the water. .

    6. What was your favorite vacation?

    My honeymoon to Breckenridge, CO. Although I am now divorced, I still think that was my favorite vaction because it was my first time skiing in the Rocky Mountains. However, any vacation on a beach, particularly the Gulf of Mexico, is my favorite vacation. One day I will move there.

    7. What is your favorite physical activity?

    It is working out with weights, however, since I have fibromyalgia and migraines, I don’t do this as much as I would like. I have to be careful not to push myself too hard. Also, walking.

    8. What is your favorite non-alcoholic drink?

    Coca-cola!

    9. What is your favorite flower?

    Tulips.

    10. What is your passion?

    Reading.

    My ’10′ Blogger Nominees

    I’m so new to blogging that I don’t have 10. Sorry.

    1. http://theshowmecajun.wordpress.com/

    2. http://dearmsmigraine.com/

    3. http://infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com/

    4. http://walkingthroughpain.wordpress.com/

    Have a great day and enjoy this little bit of Sunshine!

  4. It’s amazing to me to read how many of us as children had no one to rescue us!! I see these words written by so many of us!! When you allowed me to write on your blog, that was one reason I got so angry at God: He didn’t rescue me when I called upon Him!! (When I grew older, I realized there was more to it which, I won’t get into.) It’s like I can hear right now millions of children all over the world crying out, screaming for someone to rescue them and no one but God can hear their screams!!

    Yes, there’s times for compassion and forgiveness. There’s also times for a city of refuge where you can run to and be protected and there’s times for justice when evil people are arrested, put on trial and put away for the rest of their days!! Jesus had compassion and forgiveness, but He also overthrew the tables of the moneychangers and grabbed a whip and drove everybody out of His Father’s house because they were WRONG!!

    For me, it’s worth taking a risk on love, whether’s the love between a man and a woman, the love between friends or the love for God. It’s all worth it. I’d rather have my tender heart broken, which it has been many times, than be shut off from loving others. Even if they don’t love me back, I still have the capability of giving my love to them. Love comes with no strings attached whatsoever, so I can freely give my love to whomever I choose.

    I am happy for you that you’re reaching a point where you feel safe enough to open yourself up to the possibility of love and for the courage to find out exactly what that means for you!!

    I love you, Cate, and I’m proud to call you my friend!!
    Kathy

    • Thank you Kathy, and I love that we are friends. It’s so hard to see the times when we didn’t get the protection we should have. I was so upset yesterday as I wrote when I realised my nephew was the same age as I was because I couldn’t bear for him to be hurt and then not protected. Actually I guess it reinforced for me how much I love him (and his brother and sister).

      And we definitely agree on God’s refuge. Somewhere (and my Bible knowledge isn’t great these days) there is a verse about his refuge being a rock we could run to. That’s always been a powerful image to me as I’ve journeyed through MI.
      Cate

  5. Great post! I was without love or so I thought for many years. Looking back on that period it was all around me. I was looking up in the tree for this perfect apple when laying about my feet were dozens I could have eaten. They may not have been quite what I was looking for, that is romantically but they would have been sweet enough to carry me through the day.

  6. Something I’ve come to learn about love can be stated simply as: “I’m committed to your wellbeing at any cost to myself.” This is the kind of love Jesus displays. Our fallen human nature reverses that and selfishly says, “I’m committed to my wellbeing at any cost to you.” This could also be described as love and anti-love. Most of us are a mixed bag of the two. When Jesus says, “Pick up your cross daily, and follow me,” he’s calling us to crucify our self-centered commitment to our own wellbeing over and above any and everybody else. “Come,” he says, “and let me teach you the unforced rhythms of grace. Come, let me show you how to give yourself graciously to a world bent on selfish pursuits. Let me show you how to sacrificially give your life to bring true life to others.”

    By the way, just found your blog. Encouraged by your honesty…and vulnerability.

    • Thank you for your comments. I think you’re right that Jesus offered us a very good idea of what love could be, as do many other religious leaders. I think we just have to drop the selfishness and think about the other.

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