Here’s some reflections from my personal journey seeking – and finding – love.
It is St. Valentine’s day. He was a saint – a confirmed bachelor in love with the divine – who illegally married Christian couples. Risky business in his time. Is it an accident that Governor Christine Gregoire of my State, Washington, just signed into law the right of same sex couples to marry? Defending the right to celebrate romantic love in the face of repressive societies marches on. Saint Valentine, the near-myth goes, was beheaded. Opponents of same sex marriage are after Gregoire’s head too.
While today we celebrate Cupid’s arrows, I want to celebrate whatever might have inspired Valentine himself to the single life. We can’t consult him (if there was a him), so I’m free to riff on these other flavors of the open heart.
A long life and many loves have taught me that the heart simply wants to love. It’s actually indiscriminate – given it’s head, so to speak, the heart would pour out love in great effulgent song. In fact, music, drama, stories, art, dance all vibrate our hearts. We laugh, cry, hold our breath, worry and wonder as the stories unfold. We show up en masse to be moved in this way.
The heart without someone or something or somewhere to love ends up lonely and sad. We think we lack someone, but I think the lack is of a receptacle big enough to receive all we have to give.
I’ve noticed this with all my human loves. When they end, part of my grief is my heart’s confusion about where my love goes now. It shrinks back into its little hole in the chest and waits for another occasion to run out the door, arms flung wide.
Sometimes you encounter a love that lasts a lifetime – in your own coupling or seeing another’s. It’s sweet and tender from beginning to end. We all go to weddings and cry because our hearts recognize themselves in the willing mutual surrender – if only for a moment – to another fragile being. When our friends first fall in love, we congratulate them, sometimes squealing like teenagers whispering at their hall lockers. What is it that so loves love? That heart of our hearts that simply wants to pour out in wild abandon.
My heart – like yours – has been on a long journey. Since my partner of 27 years died, I’ve bumped along like so many confused people later in life, regressing to teenagers to run romance around the block one more time or pondering why they are alone. I’ve had some unforgettable experiences, and some I’ve resolutely forgotten. I developed an ideal that I call “bonded yet free.” Can one be both madly in love and wholly oneself? I think that’s a koan, not a blueprint, but my life isn’t over so I hold it as a possibility.
So much has been written about the expectations and projections and fears and pains of giving our hearts to romantic love. No need for more on that! Let’s move on to the singularity of love.
Over time I noticed that I was happy most of the time just being single, free to follow my intuitions and instincts.
Yet in a coupled society, be it straight or gay, my happiness as a single felt out of place.
About five years ago I found a book called Quirky Alone. It celebrated those of us who are so ourselves that even when we partner we are two quirkies getting it on. Still, “quirky alone” felt like having a chip on my shoulder in a coupled society. I often said in those days, “Anyone I partner with would actually have to make my life better and every day I like my life more so every day the bar goes up.” Did I really really mean it?
Here are some thoughts single people have in a coupled society:
Someday I’ll meet “the one”. I just have to… want it more… let go and let god… expunge my resentments from past relationships… resolve my issues with the parent of the opposite sex… be willing to surrender… to change… to let someone else lead…give up being Peter Pan and grow up… let love in… learn to ballroom dance or fish or scuba dive or ski… edit my profile on OK Cupid… get out more… lose weight… move to another city. You’re avoiding love… you have inner work to do that can only be done in a relationship… don’t give up… don’t settle… keep the faith.
Here are things friends say to single people: you’re just too smart… to accomplished… too self-centered…you want it too much… you don’t want it enough… well, if you lost 10 pounds… Don’t worry, someday you’ll meet someone!
I began to question what actually was wrong with being single? Especially at my age when there are no kids to raise. I wondered if my intermittent desires to partner arose precisely from the fact that most of my friends are coupled. Did I want to have a partner just so my coupled friends would think, “Let’s have the So-and-Sos over for dinner,” so I’d feel more normal. I started calling couples “Salt and Pepper Shakers” – at least the ones who always go around together.
Recently I found a book called Singleism about the social stigma of being single. It spoke to me so loud I thought someone would tell me to turn down the radio.
It confirmed what I’d begun to think. What if nothing was wrong with me? What if for whatever reason I am designed to be unattached to one person so I can live something deeply real about me: I love loving and I express that love through friends and communities. I receive friends into my heart and with some I can pour out my heart in a way I’ve never done in a romantic relationship. I see the needs of my beloved – friends, groups and communities I care about – and invest my creativity in finding ways to make life better for a wider circle. For several years after my partner died I prayed for someone to come and love me, support me, admire and adore me, to see me and want me and be there as I wobbled. Who doesn’t want that? The answer always came back: your singleness is precisely what I want from you. I want your longing to drive you not into couple-dom but into service.
I’m no saint (Valentine or Vicki) but I now see that single isn’t an exclusion from normal society nor is it a disease, an unfulfilled state, a failure to really love, a reflection of my selfishness or not measuring up. It’s not “quirky alone” even. It is a way of life that supports my soul. I love who I go to sleep with. I love who I wake up with. I love how my heart pours into writing and speaking and leading and friend-ing and creating and philosophizing and beauty and comedy and evolving in wisdom. I suspect that many people in long term relationships have – by my age – have evolved to this state of self-love and self-expression. Their marriages rest in companionship rather than rise in eroticism. Perhaps even some coupled people envy my singleness but loyalty and fear of reprisal keeps them mum about it.
Would I like to be fully met by another being who is also fully single, also wedded to him/herself. Always. Would I like some of the services of partnership, like help around the house and affection and a live-in playmate and support when my courage flags. Always. Can that happen outside romance? I’m beginning to think that for me it only happens outside romance.
So let me today celebrate this love in me, you and all of us. It is not incomplete, second-fiddle, sloppy seconds or almost ran. It is our nature. For me this is closer to agape than eros – I don’t want to turn these feelings into sex. Let me celebrate how juicy and sexy and sensual and delightful and freeing it is to be single without any background noise of “Don’t worry, some day you will meet someone.”
p.s. – did you know that “cupidity” means “covetousness, avidity, hunger, acquisitiveness”? Makes you wonder, no?