Making Love Possible
The Start of a Beautiful Friendship
Special note: Spirits of Place, my little collection of flash fiction, is free today, if you’d like to get a copy.
Valentine’s Day is the first true commercial holiday, since nothing romantic is associated with any of the Catholic saints bearing the name Valentine. Geoffrey Chaucer first wrote of it as a time when birds chose their mates, but even in England mid-February is an unlikely time for this to happen. Nonetheless, the tradition of sending adorned messages to a sweetheart began in the very late 18th century, and seemed to have arose naturally from local English customs. By the mid-19th century, it had spread to all of Europe and the Americas. Mass-produced cards became common, and various retail industries jumped on the bandwagon to hawk their candy, flowers, jewelry, and sentimental gifts. If you’ve decluttered, there’s no doubt some of the Valentine’s Day stuff you’ve received over the years is no longer around, right?
Gifts of experience are the Minimalist recommendation, and posts and comments by Jenny at Ex-Consumer and Robert at Untitled Minimalism are worth the chuckles (I will never get past the mental picture of Robert as a teddy bear singing “Teddy Bear”). There have also been several posts by mothers astounded at what’s involved in their childrens’ classroom Valentine’s Day activities, where commercialism runs as rampant as ever.
Love, however, needs room–not stuff–to grow. Love of any kind takes up a lot of space in our hearts and minds. We can feel that our love for someone, whether spouse, child, friend, parent, or mankind in general, is boundless, but the nasty truth is that the more cluttered our lives, the more worries, concerns, neuroses and distractions we have, the less we can effectively express our love, show our caring, and cherish our relationships.
There’s an old saying, “When poverty comes in the door, love flies out the window,” that serves as a warning to dewy-eyed couples that the practical concerns of making a living are still players in the game of love. A variation on it is especially appropriate for our consumer culture: “When money goes out the door, love flies out the window.” Relationships are hard enough without adding problems that could have been avoided. The Minimalist goal of a healthy balance between income (sustainable, with minimal stress) and outgo (minimal crap, maximum quality) has improved the conditions for many a loving household.
But what makes love possible in the first place? Obviously there are hormones and childish adoration, and the unconditional love of pets and babies, but let’s get serious here and look at the big picture of love: caring for someone out of compassion or affection. You can even love yourself on these terms, and in fact it’s a good idea, often necessary before it is possible to love another. Compassion for oneself is not the same as self-indulgence, but actually curbs self-indulgence by acknowledging our shortcomings and loving ourselves enough to do something about the worst ones. We can become aware of all the influences in our lives, both the good and the bad. The awareness leads to love when we are forgiving others, forgiving ourselves, and then taking responsibility for ourselves from that point on.
The awareness that makes real love possible cannot develop in an environment of fear. All our fears of abandonment, isolation, ridicule, inadequacy and other neuroses lead to further fear-based thinking and cause us to place an inordinate amount of significance on “safe” and socially-encouraged expressions of love, such as heart-shaped boxes of candy and a dozen long-stemmed red roses. Such sentimental symbols actually become substitutes for love. Without giving or receiving the real thing, however, we’re only left feeling more insecure than ever, unsatisfied, and the cycle begins anew. Fears of inadequacy and ridicule underlie dissatisfaction in looking for a mate, when great possibilities are overlooked for the beauty queen or the six-pack-abs guy.
Fear kills trust, and trust kills love. Jealousy and possessiveness so easily turn abusive, and woe to the couple with competitive issues, begrudging one another’s success. Openness and acceptance are critical elements of parental love, without which families cannot stay together. Trust allows friendships to grow–and wane–in their own time and place, without pressure or regrets. Fear prevents opportunities for relationships to occur at all, let alone grow. Likewise, betraying trust–in any form–can create fear: many of us still carry the scars of past betrayals, which trip us up in the relationships we have in the present.
Fear-based thinking keeps us from acting on other kinds of love, as well. Do you feel compassion for the homeless, for the hungry, for the disenfranchised? What do you do about it? In “Cupid’s Narrow Arrow,” Brenda Munoz considers definitions of love after a humanitarian visit to Africa. Sandra Pawula covers it even more thoroughly, with a Buddhist perspective in “Love or Attachment?” Taking action on our love and compassion for mankind is much more likely to happen when we are comfortable with our personal relationships. Being willing to expand the boundaries of our comfort zone is an act of generosity to ourselves, as well.
Love brings different beings together in mutual happiness. Think of a lemon and a green pepper, each seeming quite complete and content in itself. A bit of lemon juice or zest to stuffed peppers or a pasta sauce with green peppers is magical. They don’t have to be cooked together, though. Sometimes they just look happy sitting there companionably on the counter, each one appreciating the other with great affection. They don’t have to be red and pink, or lacy, or dipped in chocolate, or festooned with glitter and poems. They’re just a lemon and a pepper, sharing and cherishing one lovely point in time and space.