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
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
- Preacher’s Kid (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- Stalked… But Still Hiding Some Of Me (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- Touch (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- Child-free Emotions (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)