Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Looking Back at Love
A simple enough question, I guess, yes or no. Yet when I man I'd met on an online dating service asked me I was stumped for an answer.
I had never been asked that question before. I've been married three times and was what I would have called in love with all of them at the time we tied the knot. The man asking the question had been married once, for nearly 40 years, to one woman, and had been at her side every day as she suffered from Alzheimer's until she died. That was what he meant by love, and I was not one to argue. It is the stuff fairy tales are made of, and rom-coms from Hollywood, and probably a large percentage of the fiction we read. Happily ever after, and then you close the book and never ask what happens next.
It looks so easy when other people do it, but on the other hand there are many of us who struggle with the concept for our whole lives. It would be so pleasant to have a partner for life, someone to banter with over coffee every morning, some to care for us, observe our triumphs, soothe us through difficulties, be in love with us forever. In my experience marriage itself had something to do with the loss of that "in love" feeling--time, familiarity, a growing awareness of the reality of the other and knowledge that he had the same awareness of you. My dating friend told me that he had been his wife's whole world through their marriage, and in my eyes she was fortunate that he never abused that devotion. He is a wise and courageous person. How do I, who lived a rootless, sometimes reckless, often self-centered, and always questing and questioning existence, respond to a person so sincere, so profound in his conventionality? All I could say was "I've had a different sort of life."
He chooses to believe that my last husband, whom I was with for 25 years and who died of cirhossis of the liver, was the love of my life. I would not say that. So I look back--was there a love of my life at all, or am I still seeking him? There were passionate affairs, complex adjustments, and there was a layer of love over all, but is there one person I would characterize as the love of my life?
To most people, this seems to be so easy. You are young, you fall in love, you commit for life, and the two of you suffer and grow together through life's highs and lows. You find ways to keep the illusion alive--the illusion that it is the same for always, that the magic hasn't paled or altered over time. I'm trying not to be judgmental here, so I must assume that in most cases it is not an illusion at all.
But the question came from an intimate friend, a man I respected. How to break it to him, what my life has been, how different the experience of love itself has been from my family of origin on. It's too much to answer lightly. I was in love, but I was in another world. and I don't mean the soap opera either. I was in "The Guiding Light," and in "The Edge of Night," but when I was in love I was in another world. Something inside tells me I haven't found the big one yet, or that I didn't know it when I saw it, but that there is still a chance. Every birthday that comes around makes that happenstance less of a possibility. I have learned to love myself in a broader way as time passes, to go through my days cherishing myself if possible as much as a lover would, and to be open in case something or someone comes along who would be that joyous companion for the rest of my days.
Yes, I have been in love. But probably not the way you mean.