Love: an idiot’s guide

old-couples1Recently I received some thanks for something I’d said to a forum-friend, 4,000 miles away, and I had forgotten what it was, “It saved my life” she said… wow, thank you.

What it was about was this – “what is love?” – the most frequently asked question entered into Google. A billion answers other than “Baby don’t hurt me” are also out there, maybe 10,000 that are actually helpful. My own, now extra validated, and as a divorced, then happily remarried, grandfather, goes along these lines:-

Cathexis
This is the name for that feeling you get that some call “Love at first sight”.
Sorry to deromanticise this stuff guys but while this feeling is lovely when reciprocated, it is much more of an instinctive recognition of something similar in another person than it is anything to do with love – though of course it may well be the opening of a door that then becomes love through your own joint efforts.

Cathexis can be the most exhilarating and frustrating thing – when unreciprocated it results in pages of forlorn diary entries and, these days, Forum/website postings –
I refer to the “Styles-step” beyond teenage fan worship of a pretty boy, – where the ring of fame distorts perceptions so as to render even cathexis a meaningless pop-tart of a meal.
There is no age limit on cathexis.eyelove
When you have been suffering and alone for a period of time and someone appears whose eyes meet yours and you feel they know and understand how you feel, the excitement and sense of bursting potential can be as overwhelming to a senior citizen as it is to a young student.

If you are part of the cultural west, and past the teenage years, you are most likely to have experienced this at least once. The statistics suggest that someone my age is likely to have had this experience at least five times.

So what do we learn from this experience?
It seems, “not a lot”.
We tend to throw caution to the wind, and if reciprocated for more than a fortnight or so we start talking about “soulmates” and fate, while worshipping walked-on-ground and imagining long lives of happy coupledom.
Beware…
– when this is the case our bullshit sensors are always down.

Here’s a big question:
Do we have any control over this thing we call love?
Emphatically, YES.
I believe that cathexis is the thing that we do not control, but love is certainly something that we can, and must, if it is to be true and in any way lasting.
The question I usually get asked by the young at this unwelcome point in my lecture is,
“But how!?” 

It is a lesson my father tried to teach me called, “Burnt parsnips”, it took me until my second marriage to learn it.

Let us assume that you have managed to create a relationship of apparently loving contentment, the cathexis period is over, you are living together with someone, under no duress from a hostile culture or morality police.
honey Im homeIn my father’s day, it was told with him coming home from work to find his wife stressed out over baby care, housekeeping and chores, accompanied by the smell of laundry and burnt parsnips. To which his loving reaction was to ignore the (hated) smells, ignore his own stress from having also had a stressful day, ignore the more obvious solution-focused action that men choose by default… and say, “My darling, you are wonderful, I love you, despite and because of the burnt parsnips, and I always will”.

This may or may not have had an immediate calming effect on my mother’s stress levels, but what it did do was focus my father’s thoughts and feelings on what he knew deep inside was going to maintain his love for her.

When I see my wife in the mornings it would be perfectly possible to focus on her imperfections, to see a little roll of fat here or a slightly grumpy face there, to remember the unwelcome thing she did yesterday, how her make-up remains splashed in the sink that I then clean…but I can also choose to look past those things to the deeply loving person, the one who has chosen to love me, who I have seen so much of before. It is almost as though this is the best purpose of our memories – and yet we choose to ignore it in favour of justifying some inner pessimism. Worse, we believe we have no control over this.

There are of course occasions on which this practice will fail – in trying to repair a failing marriage you may find the other partner has gone too far down the road to rejection for any amount of loving intent to win her/him back. If the other party has a level of neurosis or set of beliefs that prevent them from hearing and seeing your love – and this is most often attached to their lack of ability to love themselves as whole people – then you may have to accept the inevitable and part – for your own protection or to follow their determined course.
I sincerely believe that in my own case I failed to learn the lesson long enough and practice it early enough to assist my ex-wife from her own path of denial and self-hate. Having found the truth about second loves being not only possible but often better honed than was previously possible, I do not intend to make that mistake again.

 

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