September 7, 2016

Maybe Love Isn’t A Sham, But The Way We Think Of It Is

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I used to fall in love with strangers ten times a day. There were so many hotties at my Orange County college, it was overwhelming. I had no particular type: skateboarders, surfers, business majors, activists, film school nerds; my heart didn’t discriminate. I would actually feel sad just looking at them, because they were so beautiful and I wanted them so badly. Yet they were so unattainable; either too cool, too hot, too taken, or too straight. I drove myself crazy over these men I never even knew.

When I wasn’t fantasizing from afar, I was taking #RelationshipGoals into my own hands and scavenging the dating apps. I auditioned plenty of prospective lovers, but I was never interested in seeing any of them beyond a first date. None of them gave me the butterflies I was craving.

As Chuck Palahniuk once wrote, “The one you love and the one who loves you are never, ever the same person.” For many years, I believed this to be true. I believed I was destined to spend my life wanting the wrong guys, until one day, I met someone–organically, in person–who proved me wrong. I fell in love with someone who loved me back. After twenty years of waiting not so patiently, it finally happened: I found myself in a real relationship!

…and then it fizzled out after just a few months.

I was devastated. Emotionally, it was my lowest point ever, but now I am so grateful that it happened. It turned out to be the most consequential learning experience of my life and the beginning of my spiritual journey. Along the way, I learned to accept myself, love myself, be confident, and be happy. One thing I also walked away with was the realization that love is a sham.

I learned that love in the real world is nothing like the movies. It’s not even like what you see on the Degrassi. It’s a cat and mouse game. It’s anxiety and power dynamics and emotional manipulation and disappointment. It’s a wild rollercoaster that keeps you strapped in with transcendent moments of authentic human connection and pure full-bodied ecstasy, sprinkled few and far between.

But just in case I thought it was a fluke, that maybe love really is all it’s cracked up to be, I went ahead and fell for someone all over again.

And history repeated itself.

Once bitten and twice shy, I took a step back from the dating scene. This whole year, I’ve been questioning the value in pursuing relationships at all. From a logical standpoint, the whole premise of love is flawed. Everything we are taught about romance, relationships, and how things should be between two people is fictitious. It’s simply made up. There is no fairy tale or happily ever after. There is no person on this planet of over seven billion who is tailor made for you. Even the whole notion of separate couplings and monogamy and individual family units are just social constructions, ones that seem to me to be past their expiration date.

Back in the day, human beings were community-oriented. They belonged to the collective whole, taking care of one another and sharing what they had. The lines of intimacy were blurred and crisscrossed. There were no exclusive couples or strict relationship guidelines to conform to. You didn’t isolate yourself and rely on one person for your happiness. You didn’t hide behind your significant other and use them as your identity. You didn’t get jealous when you saw your man weaving baskets next to Becky with the Good Headdress.

For our ancestors, love was less of a rigid concept and more of a primal instinct, one that was fluid and free. And recently, I’ve noticed our culture shifting toward that again. More people seem to be waking up to the realities of love, and taking it out of the box the Puritans tried so hard to stuff it in. Everywhere I look, more couples than ever are having open relationships. More are waiting until they’re in their 30s or even 40s to get married, or refusing to partake in the institution at all.

But none seem to be shutting themselves off to the idea of love entirely, and that’s what matters.

So why do I?

Recently, my friend Samantha was giving me a recap of her latest dating escapade, as she frequently does. She had just been on her third date with a guy and cooked him dinner in his apartment. A few days had passed and she still hadn’t heard from him. I wasn’t surprised. Then she asked me about my own love life. I was baffled. “That is the last thing on my mind,” I told her. “I don’t even think about dating. Who has time for that?!”

It’s true: in New York City, the days fly by in half the time that they do in Los Angeles. I mean, I guess I could sacrifice an after-work yoga class once in a while, but why bother? I’m hardly available to see my real friends, why would I squander the chance to meet up with a rando? The date will most likely be a dud, anyway. And say I do meet someone I really like, why would I put myself in the vulnerable position of falling in love with somebody when I know it is definitely going to end?

Because everything is going to end. We are going to end. That doesn’t stop us from living, knowing we are going to die.

Maybe the way we view love is an obsolete, silly social construction, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get on board. I mean, using a toilet is a social construction, too, but you don’t see me digging holes in the backyard. Sometimes disappointment can make you bitter and cynical of the whole system (just ask the Bernie Or Bust folks!), but after being that way for eight months now, I’ve found that that mode of being is not beneficial to me.

It’s not that I feel lonely; I don’t remember the last time I did. I’ve just been so busy finding happiness in myself and my friends and my passions and my dreams and my city, that I’ve not given any thought to romance. And now I’m stepping back and recognizing that something is missing. There’s a piece of the pie that is not present.

Later on in our conversation, Samantha mentioned that she was going on a month-long retreat, called a dathün, at a gorgeous meditation center in the Vermont countryside. When I expressed interest in going, she said, “You should visit the one in San Francisco. There are a lot of hot, woke gay guys there.” I rolled my eyes said, “If I’m going to go on a retreat, I’m going to be focusing on the practice, not the boys.” And then she replied, “The boys are part of the practice. Love is part of life. You can’t avoid it.”

That was an aha moment right there.

I’ve talked before about not playing hard to get, but being hard to get; not making your relationship your everything, but having it be just one piece of the pie. But I don’t even have a piece. It’s one thing to be an independent woman, but it’s another to close yourself off to love entirely. I’ve realized that by protecting my heart in the name of logic and rationality, I’m skipping over a very real, sensual part of being a human. I’m glad that I don’t want to cry when I see hot guys anymore (although that giant ad of A$AP Rocky in the Lorimer Street station almost got me), but I do wish I’d feel some of those butterflies from before. Some excitement, some attraction, some flirtation, some anything.

Yes, love is primitive. But so is eating and sleeping and shitting, and nobody seems to have a problem with those. You can’t live your life avoiding that which could bring you future pain, otherwise you will eliminate so many wonderful, colorful experiences that add up to a rich, well-rounded life. Do I cease to drink boxed wine from Trader Joe’s, knowing that it’s going to run out eventually? Hell no. I still enjoy getting drunk on it in the meantime. And love for me has always ended in a hangover, but I still think the intoxication was worth every drop. That yin and yang dichotomy is central to human life.

I’m facing a new realization right now, that maybe love itself isn’t a sham, but the way we think about it is. With that new mindset, I’m falling back in love with the idea of love, not as an attachment to cling to, but as an experience to be had.

I could wait for the day that love just happens to me spontaneously, or I could expedite the process by getting myself ready for it, mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I always say, ask and you shall receive; like energy attracts like energy. This means having a positive attitude about it, and being open and willing to ride the rollercoaster. It means getting into amazing shape so that you’re fit to impress that special person. It means putting yourself in situations where you could meet that special person, either through dating apps or out in the world, or both. And it means elevating your awareness through a daily meditation practice, so you can go through the ups and downs of a relationship with mindfulness, retaining your center and a sense of equanimity no matter the circumstances.

The original Thought Catalog superstar, Ryan O’Connell, wrote something a few years back that resonated deeply with my former angsty, young twentysomething self. He said this:

You can meet the love of your life. You can meet them in a bookstore, in a coffee shop, at a party, at a bar, through friends of friends, on the Internet, whatever. The trick to finding this person though is to never resign yourself. Never let the lonely days swallow you up, never accept that you’ll just be one of those people who doesn’t get to be loved. Because the second you start believing it, it can become true. That’s the scary part. How quickly days can turn into years. Just like that. I’ve always said that the whole “love comes to those who aren’t expecting it” is BS. Who ISN’T expecting love? I didn’t expect love for two solid years and guess where it got me? Celibacy. You should always expect to be loved, you should always expect to find somebody to love because if you don’t, you do get your worst fears confirmed and then you’re a goner. Then you’re denying yourself what you deserve. What you can certainly have.

The months could continue to roll by without any flings, if I don’t open myself up now and put those positive vibrations out there. It’s easy to be cynical. It’s easy to be jaded. It’s also easy to have conventional deluded ideas of love and get caught up in the same insanity over and over again.
But what if we stopped philosophizing and praying and pretending, and started experiencing it? And let that experience speak for itself? At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how or why it feels so magical. Whether it’s smoke and mirrors, a projection from your subconscious, or chemicals in your brain that shape the way you see things. In the same that it doesn’t matter why a sunset makes you feel infinite. It just does. And love just is.

I guarantee, now that I’m putting this energy out into the universe, my next blog post is going to be about how I met someone new. That’s how all of this works. TC mark

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